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One Hundred Two
Now that she’d rejuvenated, Viersunuth was a fairly typical looking great wyrm blue dragoness. To a male of the species, Iain figured she’d be fairly pretty, all sleek muscle, glossy scales, a wonderful scent and filled with a healthy vigor that was a complete lie to the reality of her undead state of existence. To him, she was big and reeked of ozone. It kept making him fight not to sneeze as she talked. “I was living in some mountains near the Sea of Fallen Stars when I was ambushed by a red dragon named Tendram.” Her wings rustled as she shrugged. “I’d hunted in his territory and damaged one of his wings when he tried to drive me away from his prized deer. He defeated me and tortured me for the location of my cave because my horde was much larger than his was. When I refused to tell him where my lair was, he trapped me in the crystal that Eirian found me in. He kept me for a few years before selling me to an illithid caravan that was passing through his territory. I passed from one illithid to another as they grew tired of trying to determine how they could immobilize me long enough to eat my brains until, finally, one of the illithids on the ship bought me. It kept me for nearly a decade before they were stupid enough to attack the Phantasmal Surveyor and Eirian found and killed me.”
“Do you think you could find your lair?”
Viersunuth nodded. “If you can put me anywhere near the Sea of Fallen Stars I should be able to, my lord. I had extensively explored the area after I chose my permanent home.” She chuckled. It was a grating, menacing sound like boulders rubbing together. “And I know where Tendram’s lair is, unless he’s moved since he attacked me. Will I allowed to have my hoard back if we can find my lair and it hasn’t been looted?”
“I need some of it for some projects that I need to fund, but I don’t see where you can’t have at least some of it back and, later we can see about adding to it.” He smiled. “Maybe we’ll end up adding part of Tendram’s hoard to your own.”
Viersunuth bared her teeth in a snarl. “You can have his hoard. I want his skull for mine.”
“That might very well be possible too.” His head turned when the door to the cargo room they were in opened and Malachite entered. “Good morning.”
“My lord,” she said. “Eirian says it’s time.” She looked up at Viersunuth. “Lower your head down to my level.” The blue dragoness dropped her head until it was level with that of the varicolored green swirled Dragoness. Malachite grasped one of the teeth that protruded up from Viersunuth’s lower jaw. “My lord, please step closer. When I am carrying another to ride you it is required that I touch you before we can mount.”
Iain stepped over and held out his arm. Malachite grabbed his wrist and Viersunuth turned to blue smoke, flowed over Malachite and onto Iain’s back to join most of his dead harem in covering his skin. Then Malachite turned to bright green smoke and joined her.
Iain left the cargo room and headed down the passage. “Do you have any questions, Phantasmal Surveyor?”
Her voice sounded from in front of him. “Sir, any questions I might have I already know the answers to. Turn right at the next intersection and enter the third door on the right.”
Iain laughed. “What about my questions?”
“I have downloaded all of my records of the time the Phantasmal Surveyor has been in Realmspace into storage and it is with the rest of the equipment you will take with you, sir. Any answers I might have to the questions you could ask and are willing to ask are there. I did not download a copy of my software. Should I?” She shook her head. “No, there is no need.”
Iain turned at the intersection and walked briskly to the indicated door, which opened for him. “Thank you.”
Eirian waited inside with Helesatra, Matilda and Sorrel. The silver Dragoness offered him a bag full of Dikon balls. “My lord.”
“Thank you.” Iain took it and shoved it into his backpack.
“I am sorry that we were unable to solve the issue with the inability to store magic items inside the Dikon, my lord. I did not think to test if they could be successfully stored before your arrival.”
Iain looked up. “I’m not worried about them right now. I’ve never had all of these magic items before and I’ve done perfectly well up to this point. Once we get settled and have a base then I’ll have them brought to the surface so we can use them, even if some of them will be more useful as gifts to curry favor with local VIPs than they would if we tried to use them.” Finished, he pulled his pack onto his shoulders. “We have seven hundred years to spend here. I suspect we will either solve the storage problem in that time or accept that storing a magic item digitally strips it of its magic. In the meantime, there are bags of holding and portable holes and lots of other magic items that will hold other magic items sitting out there just waiting to be liberated for our use.” He twisted his torso to settle the pack. “And it would be rude to keep them waiting for us.”
Eirian looked to her left. “Sorrel.”
The Armsmistress held out an armored glove encased hand. “Helesatra, take my hand.”
“I believe I can ride him without assistance,” Helesatra said firmly.
Iain looked at Eirian. “Well?”
“She has been studying hard during the month since you awakened her mind, my lord, but I do not think she is ready yet. Still there is no harm other than to her pride if she tries and fails. Will you allow this?”
Iain looked Helesatra over thoughtfully. She’d rejuvenated into a redheaded sun elf with bronze skin peppered with golden highlights. She’d scavenged some light blue robes from the loot of the spelljammers, altered the fit to accommodate her wings and wore them belted at the waist. Her horns were midnight black and her wings and tail were covered with scales the same bronze color as her skin. Her eyes were gold and flared with an inner light that extended around her. In the dark they put out the same amount of light as an oil powered lantern and flickered on and off when she blinked, which she still did out of habit. He also knew that she could shift into an elf form that lost all the identifiers of her fiendish parentage, although her eyes were still a non-glowing molten gold and her hair remained the rich red that was so rare among sun elves. That form was how she’d hidden her infernal nature while on the run from her family. She’d actually spent more time in her elf form than in her natural form. Iain suspected that’s why, now that she didn’t have to hide, she wasn’t. “You think you can do this?”
“I do, my lord.” Normally hidden behind her lips, her enlarged upper and lower canines flashed in her smile. “Even though this spell was designed by someone who wasn’t a sun elf, it is very elegant in its simplicity as well as its effect.”
Iain chuckled. “Eirian, remind me that it might be advisable to keep her and Dominique separated for a decade or so when we return. Combining sun elf and lich arrogance with the arrogance of an Archmage should probably only be done under very controlled conditions.”
Eirian laughed. “Yes, my lord. Helesatra, if you try and fail I will not let you try again for a year and a day and I will punish you for your disobedience. If you decide to do as instructed instead, I will let this transgression pass. If you try and succeed, I will still punish you for disobedience after I told you to let Sorrel carry you, but you will be allowed to ride our lord when needed. What is your decision?”
“I will succeed and tolerate your punishment as my due for my success.”
“Are you certain that these elves are not pokegirls, my lord,” Sorrel asked Iain amusedly. “Helesatra certainly sounds like one of us, prideful and arrogant to a fault.”
“DNA comparisons can wait,” Iain replied. “Helesatra, it’s time to find out what you can do.”
“Thank you for allowing this, my lord.” The lich reached under his tunic and rested her hand on his right flank, closed her eyes and flashed into red smoke that poured under his tunic to vanish.
Iain chuckled as the now empty robes crumpled to the floor. “I don’t think she intended to leave that behind. Still, she succeeded in riding me.” He felt a pulse of fury from his right hip. “Calm down.” He shrugged out of his pack. “I’ll put your clothes in a Dikon and you can get them back when you stop riding me.”
Sorrel gathered up the robes and belt. “I have them, my lord, and will give them to her when I can. Please remember that she may be like me and not wish you to see her nude.”
“You don’t want me to see Helesatra nude?”
Sorrel chuckled. “Please, my lord, be nice.” She flashed into smoke and flowed under his tunic.
Eirian laughed. “I will allow a partial success to be a full success.” She went to one knee and bent her head. “My lord, I have the memory you require.”
Iain pulled a blue globe out of her forehead and pressed it into his temple. He blinked. “What’s this other stuff?”
Eirian stood. “My lord? I gave you only what you instructed me to give you.”
Iain’s eyes sharpened on her. “That’s an interesting way to parse words.”
“My lord, I gave you the memories of my visit to the surface of Toril, as you instructed, as well as the destruction of Geraldine. Do you desire more? All of my memories are yours if you wish.”
“Never mind.” Iain shrugged back into his pack. “Ride me, ladies.”
“Yes, my lord.” Eirian dissolved into smoke and flowed onto his left forearm. Matilda followed a second later.
“Phantasmal Surveyor?” The ship’s avatar appeared. “I’m going to take this in two stages, just to be safe. I’ll emerge in my quarters.”
“I understand, sir. Passwords uploaded to your twee.”
I have them and am ready to transmit.
Iain took a deep breath, let it out and stepped forward to sink into the shadow in front of him.
The air was clear and the sun shown down brightly from a partially cloudy sky. To his left the white crescent of a moon was sitting above the horizon. Iain paused as his twee spoke. I am picking up radio and video transmissions on multiple frequencies. The language is similar to Nipponese. There was quiet for three seconds. You should see this. Secure the area and look at the video feed I’m accessing.
Iain swept the area with his perception and magic. There wasn’t anything immediately unusual, but he kept his hand near the butt of his pistol as he relaxed mentally. He’d learned a long time ago that his draw was faster if it started without him touching his weapon than when he was holding it. Show me.
He was looking at an arena where two young men stood at opposite ends of it while something fought in the center, Iain frowned at the scene. “Those are pokemon battling.”
It appears we’ve wandered into a region where those universes exist, his twee replied. Considering that pokemon were most likely used to create pokegirls, Theodora will want samples of everything you can get samples of.
“It’ll have to wait until I get done with this stupid mission.” Iain stepped. He stood in a verdant forest of blue leaved trees that towered overhead. In the distance, something howled triumphantly. The howl was immediately taken up in at least three other locations, none of which sounded close to him. Iain stepped.
He emerged in his quarters on the Phantasmal Surveyor. Passwords sent.
“Sir.” It was the ship’s avatar. “Welcome aboard.”
“How long have you been in the Toril system?”
“Sixteen days, sir. Eirian’s trip was two days ago. As per your instructions, other than the one visit allowed to Eirian and Aurum, your undead harem is not allowed in here. Do you have any change in orders for me?”
“I do not. I’m headed for the surface now.”
“Yes, sir. Good hunting.” She vanished as Iain stepped.
Iain stood in a clearing in a forest. A trail led away into the trees and what looked like a young human walked with a small yellow bear. They were holding hands and walking away from him while talking in low voices about having a significant lack of honey and what to do about it. Iain smiled and stepped.
Iain stood on a piece broken off of a much larger vessel. It floated in a completely tranquil ocean that was dark red in color. Overhead, three small blue suns shone brightly. Other than the suns and the piece of ship, Iain couldn’t see anything around him. He stepped.
He stood on a beach with quiet waves lapping up towards him. Behind him was a waist high cairn of rocks piled next to an animal trail that led inland. With his perception, Iain could see a five centimeter square machined metal box from the Phantasmal Surveyor had been buried in the middle of the cairn. A quick check showed it was empty, as expected. Iain looked around. “And we’ve arrived.”
His twee spoke. There is a partial constellation of O&I satellites overhead. They’re working on the preliminary mapping of the surface, but as expected, we’re on one of the islands in the Nelanther chain off of the coast of the realm of Keltormir. The Underdark will be more problematic to map. High powered seismic arrays will be required.
“We’ll make do somehow,” Iain said as he dug his way into the cairn until he could retrieve the box. He shoved the box into his backpack before standing and slipping his pack back on. “Drone mapping may be at least part of the way we can address the problems of the Underdark.” He shifted to his full sized dragon form and launched himself into the air, climbing and turning towards the east. “I think I know where I’ll establish my first base. Now to see if it’s available or not.”
Ninhursag shook her head slightly. “Be careful, you two.”
Marguerite smiled. “We have completely reviewed all of the information we have on the situation and we’ll have Daya with us if there’s a problem.”
Dominique rolled her eyes. “We’ll be as careful as we can,” she said. “And I’ll make sure Marguerite keeps to the mission.”
“Good.” Ninhursag rubbed her eyes and glanced around the room. “Go.”
Dominique smiled. “You too, huh?”
“What do you mean?”
“I still expect Iain to pop up and stop us.”
“He hasn’t,” Marguerite pointed out. “And if we move quickly he won’t.” She headed downstairs, taking them three at a time.
Ninhursag looked at Dominique, who nodded. “I’ll keep her as safe as I can. She’s a bright girl and won’t do anything stupid.”
“That’s high praise from you,” Ninhursag said.
“She’s a better than Poppet clone of Poppet. They’re sometimes a bit unstable, but she seems fine so far.” Dominique smiled. “Besides, you gave her this mission.”
“That’s it, remind me that whatever happens is my fault.” Ninhursag said with a grimace. “Go, before I scrub the whole mission.”
Dominique headed down the stairs and through the door to the Danger Room. She exited in the newly moved vestibule, where Marguerite was waiting in front of the door to the Ouroboros. The Unicorn opened the door for Dominique. “After you.”
Dominique nodded and headed through the doorway into an open area a dozen meters across. Rows of turreted cannon lined the walls but were currently pointed at the ceiling. “Daya?”
She appeared as Marguerite came through the doorway. “Welcome aboard, ladies. If you would proceed to Auxiliary Control, we can head out on our mission.” A white globe of light appeared. “Please follow the light.”
Dominique frowned. “We’re not going to the bridge?”
“I am upgrading the fire control runs on the bridge and, in order to facilitate the work, the bridge is currently about fifty percent demolished. I have also replaced the atmosphere on the bridge with one composed of pure nitrogen to prevent corrosion and accidental fires. But if you insist, you can go to the bridge after Marguerite completes the EVA program successfully.”
“Why are you doing upgrades now,” Marguerite asked curiously.
“I was not aware we were going to be taking this trip until after I had already started the upgrades. If you wish to wait, they will be complete in approximately two and a half million seconds.”
Dominique frowned. “How long is that in time I understand?”
“Nearly four weeks.”
“We can’t wait that long,” Marguerite said as she and Dominique began following the light. “Iain will be back by then.”
“I know.” An amused smile appeared on Daya’s face. “If you would like, I can model what his behavior is going to be when he does return and discovers what you have been up to.”
Dominique chuckled. “Thank you but I think that all of us have sufficiently active imaginations to picture what his initial response is going to be.” She frowned “Speaking of all of us, where is Zareen?”
“She’s in the armory closest to Auxiliary Command.”
Marguerite raised an eyebrow. “She wants weapons?”
Daya smiled. “She’s aware she will have to wear clothing and is trying to find something she’s willing to tolerate for the duration of our stay.”
“Let me guess,” Dominique said, “she’s looking at bikinis.”
Daya’s image vanished, but her voice continued from the same point she’d occupied. “No, she’s trying on some rather nice fitted suits using the pattern that Iain wears.”
Marguerite shook her head. “That should be interesting.”
“Oh,” Dominique asked.
“Zareen is not a nudist. She just feels clothing serves no purpose most of the time. When it does, she has never complained about wearing clothes.”
“She doesn’t wear the battledress and that’s very useful.”
“I don’t wear it either and for the same reason. She and I are both metamorphic,” Marguerite pointed out. “We can’t shift to our centaur forms if we’re wearing that gear. My leggings, shoes and shirt are designed to safely come apart if I have to change form, but the clan’s everyday armor can’t be built to do that and still serve any protective function.”
Dominique nodded. “Do you want an armor ring like I’ve made for some of the others?”
Marguerite looked thoughtful. “I think that first I should borrow someone else’s ring and then we can see if I am willing to wear one.”
“Why wouldn’t you want one?”
“While my senses are not as sharp as Zareen’s, I am used to using my eyes, nose, sense of touch and ears in a fight. If a magic field of energy inhibits those senses, I may not be willing to give them up. After all, I am already pretty durable and I agree with Zareen that the best protection is not being hit in the first place whenever possible. And when I do get injured I have healing magic to return me to full functionality.”
“Does this mean that like Zareen you will want perception?”
Marguerite smirked amusedly at the Archmage. “I already have it.”
“She smart.” Both women turned to look at Zareen. She was wearing a charcoal woman’s suit with skirt, a black blouse the color of her skin and black ankle boots. Her gold hair had been braided and then wound up tightly against the back of her head.
“Wow,” Dominique said. “Nice outfit.”
“Practical,” the Nightmare said.
Marguerite was looking at her feet. “Why boots?”
“Reinforced. Kick work right. Traction same.”
“I don’t understand.”
Daya appeared, along with a hologram of what looked like one of the boots Zareen was wearing. The boot was partially transparent and showed a flat metal plate inside the rubber heel just underneath where the foot would go. Attached to the plate was a metal rod that ended just inside the boot’s heel where it would rest on the floor. “I’ve added what is essentially an oversized tack to the heel of the boot that’s point down when the boot is worn. It’s made of battle steel and allows Zareen to use her full strength to kick almost as hard with her human foot as she can with her hooves when she’s a centaur. Like the shoes, it’s designed to rupture if she must change and can’t remove them beforehand. Unfortunately this cannot be done with tennis shoes since there isn’t enough room in the heel for the tack.”
Marguerite looked interestedly at the boot. “I wonder how that would look with leggings.”
“I’ll add a few pairs to your wardrobe,” Daya said, “and you can decide.”
Dominique shook her head. “Are you going to become as bloodthirsty as Zareen is?”
Marguerite grinned. “Become? Under the rules that Kasumi and Yuko have established within the clan Zareen is my daughter and we are more alike than you know.”
Zareen snickered. “Yes.”
“Hell,” the Archmage muttered. “Daya, are we close to Auxiliary Control?”
A door opened ahead of them. “You have arrived.”
The interior had been decorated in a pleasant array of green, brown and gold, with lengths of ivy hanging from alcoves in the walls. The temperature was decidedly on the cool side and the lighting was subdued.
Dominique grumbled to herself as she settled into a console. “I am not used to letting someone else do this. How long is it to the gate generator?”
“Arrival time is one thousand three hundred and forty four seconds, or a little more than twenty two minutes.” A wheeled remote whirred into the room from a different door. It was pushing a tea trolley and stopped at Zareen’s station. “I have drinks and snacks.” The Nightmare grinned and reached for a pastry.
“I was hoping you’d be on station,” Dominique said irritably.
“You decided to do this two days ago, Dominique.” Daya folded her arms. “Usually we plan this out better, but you had to hide this from Iain. When Ninhursag contacted me, I was in the Oort cloud and ever since I’ve been, as Iain would put it, busting ass to get to the embarkation point as fast as I could. I’m decelerating, but I’d boosted up to almost eighty percent of light speed before reaching turnover and it takes just as much time to shed that energy as it did to accumulate it.” She smiled. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m already doing the preoperational checks on the generator and Theodora vectored in a refueling ship to join me yesterday, so my fuel reserves are full. It’s still with me and will top off my fuel before we transit, so we should be able to transit within only a few minutes of arrival at the gate depot.” She held up a finger. “And, thanks to some serious reshuffling of schedules, we have a generator complex that’s going through with us. I’ll set it up on the other side of the sun from Earth so it’ll be harder to discover.”
Dominique frowned. “I can open the gate home.”
“If things work the way you hope, we will be returning there on a regular basis. Theodora and I agree that it’s best to expedite gate setup and it’ll help lower the amount of time before I can declare this system as a Class II threat and then we can switch to using a reaction force for security during visits.”
“What if it doesn’t work out the way we hope,” Marguerite asked.
“Then we’ll have another world we can use for gathering things we can market on One and another world we can use to escape any calamity that befalls the clan on One.”
“How many of those do we need?”
“Theodora and I want at least thirty viable options. That will allow us to evacuate everyone, even if they’re scattered across the solar system and even if we have to send them to different escape worlds and then consolidate the clan by cross gating.” Daya smirked. “Yes, I’m being paranoid, but that’s one of the jobs I was given and I will do it to the best of my ability.” Her smirk became a warm smile. “Who beside Zareen would like some refreshments?”
The Ouroboros floated a light second away from the portal as the generators began to tear at the fabric of reality. Inside Auxiliary Control, Marguerite watched with her twee. Near the Ouroboros waited the gate generator array and auxiliary craft that would be crossing over with them. “Where are you going to base those ships?”
“Terrans like to look at space and there might be a sophisticated orbital telescope system available, so the plan is to set up a refueling depot on the edge of the asteroid belt closest to the gate generator. Harvesting ice isn’t as efficient as using a gas giant, but it is much harder to detect. The gate complex will be closer to the sun, somewhere between the orbit of Mercury and Venus, where the sun’s light can help hide the flares from gate generation in case human spacecraft are in a position to observe that portion of space. The depot will also harvest local asteroids for raw resources so we can start building a local infrastructure. Finally, I’m putting in a small agricultural station that will grow crops, herbs and, most importantly, berries. There are magic using individuals on this Terra and those items will be useful for trade and currying favor among them if needed.” She smiled. “The gate is stabilizing. Once it’s completely stable I’ll send the recon drones through.”
Dominique raised an eyebrow. “Not missiles?”
“Warhead equipped missiles were originally used because they were disposable and already had an incorporated self destruct if they were attacked and needed to avoid capture. More importantly, we had them available for use when we needed probes. However, for what we want their sensor suites were only marginally acceptable. We have since then developed some more sophisticated reconnaissance drones that will give us a much more complete picture of what’s on the other side of a gate when they return. They’re also much more heavily armed than any single missile and they have shields, all of which help to improve their survivability. The biggest issue is, of course, the fact that free energy will not cross the horizon of a gate and so radio, subspace and laser are useless to communicate across them. Iain says there is a variant of a magical portal that allows one to see through it to the other side and provided us with details of how it works but so far we have been unable to replicate that through technological means.”
Marguerite turned curious eyes on Dominique. “Do you know that gate spell?”
“I do. The gate is transparent until you try to open one past a certain size, which is around ten meters in diameter. After that, energy fluctuations turn it opaque. Iain, Ganieda and I think it should be possible to make larger portals transparent too, but the math is complicated and our lack of free time and other, more pressing issues for what time we do have, has put the research involved on hold for the foreseeable future.” She took a sip of tea. “And all you can send across such a gate is light, so communicating through such a portal would be limited to laser communication. Well, you could also use semaphore or signs, I guess.”
“Gate structure is stable. Launching drones.”
The drones looked more like small spacecraft than missiles as they raced for the gate.
Dominique frowned. “What happened to the protocol to destroy all returning recon equipment until we’ve actually transitioned through a gate?”
“That is a safety protocol and it is still fully in effect. The drones will be destroyed when they return. Yes, those drones are much more expensive to manufacture than a missile, but the cost is still tiny in comparison to the value I place on my life and yours.”
“Why do we have a policy like that at all,” Marguerite asked curiously.
“In clan history there have been a small number of instances where returning exploratory craft had been infected with hostile nanotechnology, one with hostile magic, one with a biogenetic virus that used organic nanotechnology to break down the crew and use them to infiltrate and overcome nonsentient inorganic systems to take control of ships and, finally, two that had been partially transformed through some unknown means into antimatter, which quickly began decaying and eventually fully reacted, causing a massive explosion. Twice, hostile fleets began transiting from the other side and one of them had technology far superior to that of the clan ships of the time.”
“How were they stopped?”
“That group of organics had no experience with magic,” Daya said. “Wizards destabilized the gate from a distance. In the meantime, assault teams that teleported or phased into them captured a few of the ships and others were boarded by forlorn hopes equipped with fusion warheads to destroy their objectives. The loss of life was horrific, but the enemy fleet that made it through the gate was eventually neutralized. The ships were from an intergalactic government called the Krajeck Supremacy.”
“What happened to the crews of the ships?”
“As prisoners of war that could not be returned, they were forcibly integrated into the clans to preserve their bloodlines and today their children are still with us as full clanswomen.”
“What about the Supremacy?”
“It still exists, but no information about the clans returned to Krajeck space. That means that they do not know what happened to their recon fleet. They have the technology to open gates too and there have been a couple of incursions from them since, but the clans reverse engineered their technology and added it to that of the clans, so the recon fleets have been relatively easily overcome and they have never been able to establish a bridgehead. The clanswomen descended from the original invasion force provided the clans with spies who have gone to the Supremacy and have been sending back information as well as destabilizing portions of their empire. The hope is that one day it will fragment and no longer be a threat to the clans.” She smiled. “I have news. The recon craft have returned and the coordinates match those of the ones Theodora gave me. The Ouroboros will go through first and provide cover for the gate complex as it follows. Transition will be in five minutes from now.”
“Hey! In the cave! I realize that you’re dumber than a goblin whose head has been cut off but get out here! It’s time for a reckoning, you filthy coward!”
The red dragon snoozing in the cave came to his feet with a roar of rage. Caution held him still long enough to mutter a spell which showed a blue dragon far enough away from his cave for him to safely exit without it being able to attack him while he was trapped in the mouth of the cave. Then he charged outside bellowing. “Who dares challenge me here?”
The blue cocked its head. “You don’t remember me, Tendram? Has it been so long since you stuck me in that gem and sold me to an illithid that you’ve forgotten?”
“Viersunuth.” Tendram laughed derisively. “I defeated you last time and I have only gotten stronger. Coming here is the last mistake you’ll ever make.”
“The only thing about you that has gotten stronger is your stench, Tendram. You only beat me because you surprised me. I’m not surprised today. In fact, if anyone is going to be surprised today, it’s going to be you.”
Tendram’s roar of fury broke off when a web of red light encased him and contracted, pulling him tightly into a ball of angry dragon. He roared and breathed fire, to no avail, and his struggles did him no good.
Viersunuth stalked forward with an evil laugh. “Surprise. I didn’t come here alone.” She leaned down so her head was next to his within his cocoon. Her voice dropped to a conspiratorial tone. “What’s really amusing is that even if I had come alone, after what has happened to me, you would have had no chance against me. But this isn’t about revenge for what you did. In fact, I’m grateful to you for capturing and selling me or we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Tendram snarled softly. “What are you babbling about? Let me go this instant and I’ll forgive your trespass. If you do, I will let you leave in peace.”
“Even when I was alive I wouldn’t have ever been so stupid as to believe that. I don’t care if you live or die. Your life has no value to me anymore. You can’t destroy me and so you’re beneath my notice.”
“Even when you were alive? What does that mean?”
“It means, Tendram, that I’m not alive anymore.”
Tendram tried again to struggle and Viersunuth watched until he finally lay still, panting. “If you don’t want me dead, what do you want?”
“My lord needs the treasure you’ve accumulated over your life, Tendram. That’s why we’re here.” She chuckled. “He needs a lot of money to get established and I volunteered your hoard after I gave him mine.”
A female voice came from behind Tendram and he twisted vainly inside the net to see who the speaker was but found he couldn’t turn inside the net. “Viersunuth!”
The blue dragoness lifted her head to look over his body. “Yes, Malachite?”
“There are three eggs inside the cave.”
Viersunuth hissed. “Then he has a mate. Tendram would no more incubate eggs or raise wyrmlings by himself than I would breed with a white drake.” She leaned down to Tendram. “Where is she?”
“If she were here you’d never have won,” Tendram snarled.
Viersunuth lifted her head again. “She will return. We will take the treasure, the eggs and Tendram. We’ll wait for her and take her too when she arrives. If we can preserve the eggs safely, even better. There are wizards who would pay well to be able to raise their own red dragon hatchling slaves. They’re too stupid to realize it’ll probably end with them being eaten in a year or two, but we’ll have their gold and be gone long before then.”
Another female voice sounded from behind him. “Should we consider this mate for the harem?”
Viersunuth shook her head. “What our lord truly needs is one of the damned metallics. She would be able to change shape into an elf and openly protect him. But he won’t want us to merely take one since they’re good. However, some of them are even more arrogant than Tendram is and I’m sure we can trick one into attacking us.”
“Where are you going to take me,” Tendram demanded. “You can have the eggs but let me go.”
“Don’t worry, we won’t leave your eggs behind. And I said your life had no value to me,” Viersunuth said with a chuckle. “But your death, now that has value. Do you have any idea how much we can get by selling the complete hide of a red dragon? Dwarves would beggar their entire clans for the chance to use your hide for boots as well as your bones for weapons or decorations. And there are crazy humans who think they want to eat your flesh and wizards will want to use your organs for their magic. Soon they’ll be able to safely acquire them.” She chuckled again. “But I have been told I can have your skull. Isn’t that nice? If I were still alive I’d bury it halfway into the ground where I pee so that every time I piss it would be on your head.” She sighed. “But I’m dead now and I’ll have to find something else to do with you. But don’t worry, I will find some appropriate use for that tiny brained chunk of bone you call a skull.”
A shadow covered them and she looked up to watch as Iain circled and landed nearby. “My lord, this is Tendram. He has found a dragoness stupid enough to let him breed her since I last saw him, and they have three eggs for us to sell.”
“Reds?” Iain snorted. “Maybe some dwarf smiths can use them to heat their forges. Should we kill him here?”
“No, my lord. His mate has not yet returned and we should capture her too. And, I want to make sure we waste as little of Tendram as possible. Even his coagulated blood has value, so we will hang him like a human would a goat over a metal tub we have before slitting his throat to bleed out.” Her laugh was cold and malicious. “What was it you said about slaughtering a hog? Oh, yes, use everything but the oink. That’s what I intend to do with him.”
Iain chuckled. “Dude, she has a serious hate on for your ass. But she led me to you and your treasure, which will help me out in a very good way. Thank you.”
“Who are you? I am going to eat your liver!”
Iain laughed. “That’s rather unlikely since you’re kind of tied up at the moment and you’re not going to live that long, but I’m Iain Grey and, no, you’ve never heard of me. A lot of people will be saying that for the next few decades, so don’t feel like you’re not important because you’ve never heard of me. But hey, you’re the first to not hear of me so you should feel special for that. Other red dragons will eventually hear of me and, also eventually, they’ll reach the point where they’ll point to a map and say what I want them to, which is: ‘It’s Iain Grey. He lives around there someplace. Stay the fuck away from that area.’” Iain spread his wings and refolded them. “Now you won’t get that opportunity, but that’s because you pissed off a really, really vengeful blue dragoness. I am so glad she’s on my side.” He touched the red on the head with a claw tip. “Viersunuth, I’ve levitated him so you can fly him away.” He touched Tendram on the head again, this time with the pad of his index finger, and pulled out a blue globe, which he shoved into his forehead. “And now he’s all yours.”
She grasped the net and lifted, chuckling as Tendram squawked when he left the ground and began rotating so his center of balance was down. “Thank you for the gift of his life, my lord. I will spend him wisely.”
“You are very welcome.”
She continued. “With the help of Matilda, Julia and Ling, I should have him drained, skinned, butchered into chunks and packed into Dikon for transport in about an hour. When we get settled, I’ll finish filleting the meat from his bones so we can sell him for the most profit.”
“Excellent. Carry on.”
Viersunuth launched into the air, circled around, grabbed Tendram with her hind claws and flew away with him. The last Iain heard was the red bellowing alternating threats and pleas for mercy.
“My lord?” It was Emerald. “Do we wait for the mate?”
“Pack everything up for shipment as if she’s not going to return but post a sentry just in case. If she comes back in the next few days, we should be able to trap and capture her too. If she’s gone longer than that, we will scrap our plans to harvest her and move on to something more promising.” He rolled his eyes. “Maybe her memories will have more information and less gloating about the size of her hoard. What a freaking megalomaniac.”
“Will you want her for the harem, my lord?”
Iain shook his head. “Chromatic true dragons can’t change form, so their size is a bit problematic. We might find a magic item for Viersunuth, but I don’t see a reason to add another dragoness that we have to make larger tunnels for. I really do not want to size our entire complex for people with Viersunuth’s proportions. One we can stick in a side cave. More,” he shrugged. “No. If we catch her, we’ll turn her into salable commodities after I snatch her memories.”
“Yes, my lord. Will you remain here?”
“Yes, I will. I need to scout where I think I will be building my lair, but it’s about seven hundred miles from here and will take a few days to fly to. I could start now, but I’m going to be here for at least half a thousand years. A day or two isn’t going to change much and I want to make sure you and the others are safe. And, if I wait, you can be where you belong and riding me while I travel.”
Emerald bowed. “Yes, my lord.” She cocked her head. “We are almost indestructible, my lord. Why are you always so solicitous of our safety?”
“Sable was almost indestructible too.”
The green Dragoness nodded. “Yes, my lord, she was. But you do not live in fear of losing your life; you should not live in fear of us losing our existence. We do not.”
Iain shifted to his human form. “I’ll try to keep that in mind. Just remember I’m tired of losing people.”
“We are glad that you consider us people, but we are dead. Can you truly lose us, my lord?”
“You are inside my bubble and the fact that you are people to me means I do, in my own way, mourn your destruction. Sable not being here indicates that you can be lost.” He closed his eyes for a moment before opening them. “And you’re right. I can’t act like all of us can be protected all the time. We’re going to be here for nearly seven hundred years and it’s likely that not all of us will go back to One. And I really shouldn’t start emulating the things I don’t like about my ladies.” He smiled coldly. “But I intend to take as many of us home as I can. To that end, you’re not looting.”
Emerald laughed. “Yes, my lord. Unless we find more unexpected treasure, like the eggs, we expect we can be ready to leave in two hours.” She pointed into the cave. “Now, my lord, if you are going to remain, I suggest you do so inside so as not to ruin our trap if this dragoness returns unexpectedly.”
“Works for me.” He headed into the cave.
“We’re through and heading towards Earth,” Daya announced. “The generator and the associated ships have also exited and will hold station here while I scout. The gate just closed. Scouts are launching and will head for the far side of the solar system from Earth where they will relay conditions to me so I can find a suitable place for the generator complex.”
“Will you need to be there for that,” Marguerite asked curiously.
“No. Both the scouts and I will drop communication relays as we maneuver. They are very stealthy and will be placed several degrees above and below the system ecliptic to minimize the chance of being detected through occlusion of a stellar object.”
Dominique switched the view her twee was feeding her to be able to see ahead of the Ouroboros. “How long until we get to Earth?”
“My recon drones will enter the region around the planet in nine hours. We will intercept the Earth in sixteen hours if there are no problems. From there I will proceed to one hundred and fifty million kilometers above the Earth and maintain position there while scouting. What happens next depends on what I find. Historical information from the various Earth planets we have visited as well as reports from Iain and Kerrik suggest that the L1 and L2 points will have science satellites in them so I will avoid both. If conditions are optimal, and I strongly suspect they will be, I will move inwards and set up a parallel orbit around the sun five light seconds above the planet that keeps me stationary relative to the planet. I will put three shuttles on the planet, all of whom will have doors to the Ouroboros that were installed by Dominique some time ago. This will give each of you three rapid escape points. You’ll stay on board until they’ve landed and then to go to each of them to establish teleport points. I’ll also put a small number of O&I satellites in orbit until I have a better idea of the detection capabilities of the local technology base. Once I’ve determined they cannot be found easily, I’ll begin building a minimal constellation. At five light seconds, I will easily remain in communication range with your twee at all times, and I will put a dedicated booster satellite in a stationary orbit between me and the earth, just in case something odd happens. If you need rescue, you have all agreed that your twee have permission and orders to call for help before you tell them to. If that happens, I will rescue you. I don’t care what the situation is, I will rescue you and any dead bad guys that rescue generates will be on the heads of whoever was stupid enough to think that they could actually capture some of my family and not believe that there would be any repercussions from being that dumb.”
“Can we send the shuttles on ahead,” Marguerite asked.
“Not until I have ascertained the threat level of the planet. By then we’ll be close enough that the trip shouldn’t take long.”
Marguerite took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’d really like to get this resolved quickly, but I don’t doubt that rushing is what made me lose my arm while I was feral. We’ll follow your lead as patiently as we can.” She smiled. “After all, I like my arms and we will return to almost the same time when we return.”
“If we’re here too long,” Dominique pointed out, “we’ll have to become lovers to keep from going feral. Will that be a problem for you and Zareen?”
“She’s not really my daughter and, even if she was, it wouldn’t stop us if the alternative was to go feral. What about you? We have never been lovers. Have you and Zareen?”
“Yes,” Zareen said.
Dominique smiled. “I don’t mind Zareen and I don’t think you’ll be a bad lover either. It’s just you and I know that all three of us prefer men.”
“We will make it work.” Marguerite said confidently. “So what do we do while waiting?”
“April gave me a list of exercise programs for all three of you,” Daya said. “And I understand that all of you are interested in trying your hand at higher gravity training like Dianthus is doing.”
Dominique pulled a rectangular piece of dark blue material out of her pocket. “Marguerite.” The Unicorn looked up and the Archmage tossed it to her. “The command word is ‘dial’. Then you picture the person you’re trying to call.”
Marguerite examined the item. It appeared to be a block of ceramic that had been painted dark blue and covered with a series of drawings before it had been fired. “What is this?”
“It’s a magical phone. You can use it to call ahead and set up an appointment. Iain and I made it because we thought the number might be unlisted or otherwise hard for Daya to locate. Using that item will activate the nearest phone, be it cellular or otherwise.”
Zareen cocked her head. “Iain idea?”
“The original concept was,” Dominique said. “But he couldn’t do this without my help. It’s pretty a pretty complicated bit of magic.”
Marguerite looked at the Nightmare. “How?”
Marguerite paled. “That’s a very good question. Dominique, did Iain say why he thought you should make this?”
Dominique shook her head. “No, he came to me and explained what he wanted. He said it might be useful one of these days.” She blinked. “Fuck. You don’t think,” she broke off. “That was over a year ago.” Her eyes narrowed. “I made it, stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it until he asked me a question about it about a few days ago, which is why I remembered it for this trip. Fuck me. But how?”
Marguerite frowned. “I don’t see where he wouldn’t have stopped us if he knew about this mission.” She turned to look at Zareen. “Your relationship with him is almost as special as April’s. Does he know?”
Zareen smiled slowly. “Smart mare.” She shrugged abruptly. “Suspect. Wonder. Not certain. Not specific.”
“Would he have stopped us if he’d figured out what we’re doing?”
“No.” She smiled slightly. “Too complicated. This is the first time we’ve been away from him and he would worry but not forbid. It’s just as we worry about him.”
“He’s been pretty dead set against adding to the family,” Dominique pointed out.
“Not want. Know need. Contradiction make unhappy.”
“I can understand why that might make him grumpy,” Marguerite noted. She frowned. “Which one of you is senior?”
“I am but it doesn’t matter,” Dominique said. “This is your mission, you’re Ninhursag’s representative and that means you’re in charge. Within reason and with the understanding that you can’t stand Zareen down as our guard, we will do what you instruct us to.”
Marguerite stood, slipping the magic phone into a pocket. “Daya, it sounds like we’ve probably got a couple of days before we can really begin our mission. Correct?”
“I would estimate one and a half at minimum. I don’t expect the security preparations to take more than two days.”
“Then we train. I’d like to see what this gravity training is like, so you’re in charge of our training for today. None of us want Dianthus to get ahead of us in fighting.”
An amber globe appeared in front of the door as it slid open. “Please follow the guide to the changing room and we’ll get started.”
Iain shifted to another thermal and circled higher as he considered the map his twee was displaying in his mind. He was flying over a valley that was located in some mountains deep inside in the kingdom of Keltormir, a relatively peaceful kingdom composed primarily of moon and green elves. Normally they were quite peaceful, but recently the Elven Court had issued its First Proclamation against the sun elf Kingdom of Aryvandaar about their responsibility for the actions in the four Crown Wars that had engulfed the elf kingdoms for the previous five thousand years. That proclamation had determined that the kingdom had been the primary and ongoing instigator of all the destruction and death and leveled some pretty severe punishment against the royal family. The Vyshaan were the ruling family and had protested the First Proclamation by starting what would later be called the Fifth Crown War, with the stated goal of conquering everyone else. So Keltormir was now at war with the Kingdom of Aryvandaar, or as they currently called themselves, the Vyshaantar Empire, if only because the sun elves intended to crush them before facing their other enemies.
The mountains range he was exploring would eventually be called the Starspire Mountains by humans. He wasn’t sure what the elves currently called it and, honestly, didn’t really care. In the central part of the mountain range was the valley he circled, a lush rectangle roughly twenty miles long and ten miles wide that was bordered on three sides by some of the largest mountains in the Starspires. The fourth side had the entrance to the valley, but the access was only a mile wide and bordered on each side by soaring cliffs of granite. According to survey information from the Phanstamal Surveyor, the valley was irrigated by a river that ran all year. It was fed from several springs and snowmelt and never froze completely. It tracked across most of the valley, filling a series of small lakes as it ran east to west, before it disappeared into a cleft in the valley wall six miles from where he was and down into the Underdark. There was also a lot of rainfall in the spring, summer and fall, and lots of snow during the winter. All seasons could have fierce storms spring up, but that was to be expected in a mountain range.
A few small columns of smoke dotted a few distinct parts of the valley, an indicator of the ogre and gnoll tribes who currently lived in it. If he settled here, Iain could probably tolerate the existence of the ogres for a while, but the presence of the gnolls was another issue entirely. The tribe was probably just passing through, since the creatures were driven by their god to kill and eat sentient beings and the only ones in the valley were the ogres, which gnolls usually found very difficult to hunt unless they had the ogres substantially outnumbered. But once they knew of his living here, as the only other sentient in the valley, they’d hunt him relentlessly until he wiped them out.
And, truth be told, if he stayed here then eventually the ogres would cause trouble with him too, once they learned of his presence in the valley. After all, they would see nothing more than a single tasty elf, which was just an hors d'oeuvre as far as any decent ogre would consider. So they’d have to go too and sooner rather than later, if the valley worked out like he hoped it would.
He turned again and dove, heading for the wall of the valley and a specific destination. He landed gently and folded his wings as he scanned his surroundings. Finding nothing dangerous nearby, he changed to his elf form. He’d landed less than a hundred yards from the wall of the canyon and headed for it at a quick walk as he stayed alert for trouble.
It was during the time on Seven after his apprenticeship to Elminster had ended but still while he was doing errands for the wizard that he’d first found this valley. Elminster had sent him on a mission to scout a fortress that had been built in the valley by some paladins and priests who served the god Tyr. He’d explained to his former student that an expected letter from one of the paladins residing in the fortress had not arrived and he’d requested that Iain check up on the person who was supposed to have sent it.
As was his wont at the time, Iain had traveled on horseback into the mountains and, after he’d followed the track into the valley, had been caught in a severe thunderstorm while heading to the fortress. It was the storm’s baseball sized hail that had forced him and his horse to seek shelter and that was how he’d found the cave. After a short but spirited discussion about whether or not he could claim hospitality during an emergency with the owlbear that had been living in the first chamber, Iain had settled in to wait out the storm. He did appreciate that after the discussion, the owlbear had been willing to treat him to a nice stew of fresh meat and vegetables while he was stuck in the cave.
After it had passed, he’d continued on to the fortress to discover that it had been wiped out by a massive ogre attack, sending him back to Elminster to report.
Iain paused, spotting the entrance. It was a natural cave, with an entrance roughly five feet wide and ten feet tall that extended as a tunnel back into the mountain about thirty feet before it widened out into the first of three large chambers he’d cursorily explored during his stay.
He extended his perception as he spoke. “Eirian.”
She poured off his body. “My lord?”
“Scout the first and second chambers of this cave, please.”
“Onyx, Iolite, Liadan.” The three appeared. “What are the rules of engagement, my lord?”
“Even if I don’t decide this is going to be my primary base, I’ll be staying the night here, so clear it out but try not to bring the cave down while doing so.”
Iolite cocked her head curiously. “What about prisoners my lord,” the dark purple Dragoness asked.
“If you find sentient beings inside, only try to capture them if it’s relatively easy to do so and you can do it quickly. All we need is some stupid wizard trying some kind of earthquake spell and then you’ll get to dig me out of the resulting mess.”
The silver Dragoness grinned. “You heard our lord. Remove intruders but use hand to hand. Call if there is a problem. Sorrel, you have security on our lord.”
The Armsmistress appeared. “I have security on our lord.”
The three Dragonesses and Liadan ran into the darkness of the cave as Sorrel eyed him curiously. “What of the creatures that inhabit the valley?”
“The survey found ogres and gnolls. Between them there isn’t likely to be any other sentient beings living here. The ones the gnolls don’t eat the ogres will. And the ogres and gnolls would definitely interfere in my plans for the valley, since I want to claim the whole thing, so they’ve got to go.”
“Will it be sufficient to drive them out?”
Iain shook his head. “No. This is the best place for nearly forty miles and neither group is likely to remain away for long if we let them escape. We’ll wipe them out, and they don’t get to flee either. While I will be putting down sensors in the valley, this way I don’t have to worry about getting a nasty surprise from them. That and I want to keep my home a secret for as long as possible. Other humanoids are likely to get the same treatment if they wander into my valley.”
“And when humans or elves or dwarves enter the valley, my lord?”
“We’ll warn them off. If that doesn’t work, I’ll consider my options. Maybe we’ll set up a teleport spot in a different mountain chain a thousand or so miles from here and ship them there.” He glanced at her. “Just understand that you are not going to become my new Pandora.”
“That was not my intent, my lord. I wish to fight as much as any pokegirl. I look forward to the assault on these ogres and gnolls since I have never faced either creature.” She smiled. “I have also never fought elves or dwarves.”
“I have had the opportunity to take them prisoner, my lord, but never to fight them at full strength. As you are aware, pokegirls killing humans is against league law and Vincent McMahon was insistent that we follow league law, especially where we could be seen enforcing it.”
“Eventually we’ll be fighting some kind of bandits or pirates and you can remind me that I said you get to be involved in the fight against them.”
“Thank you, my lord. I will be happy to remind you.” Her head came up at when high pitched scream sounded from somewhere deeper inside the cave. “They have found something.”
Iain winced. “That went high into the ultrasonic. I didn’t smell anything in the entrance tunnel, but the cave extends back some ways and I didn’t have time to fully explore it when I was in its analog. It’s very likely there’s at least one more entrance.”
The screaming continued with more ultrasonic spikes to Iain’s skull before eventually falling silent. A few minutes after that, Eirian and the others appeared out of the darkness. Each was dragging some large creatures. “My lord,” Eirian said, “we found these beings. They attacked us, thinking we were alive. There were thirty five of them. None escaped.”
Iain created a light and examined them. They were pitch black, man sized bats with long tails capped with a hard, diamond shaped piece of horn. “Those are Night Hunters, a type of deep bat.” He frowned. “They do sometimes live above ground but normally they’re found in the Underdark. These caves might be much more extensive than I’d thought.”
Liadan tossed her Night Hunter to the ground. “Does that mean you will not use this as a lair, my lord?”
Iain had been considering that very question. “No. I do want an easy access to the Underdark. I’m not sure I wanted it attached to my bedroom, but I can make this work. Eirian, have the Night Hunters butchered out. I’ll build a campfire outside and those will make dinner while I’m building a smoking rack.”
“Yes, my lord.”
“After we get the meat roasting, I think we’ll clean out the first three caverns and explore back a short distance. Since there may be an entrance into the Underdark I want to keep a sentry stationed in the back of the caves until we can set up a proper surveillance network” He smiled coldly. “And tomorrow we’ll extirpate the gnolls and maybe the ogres as we lay claim to the valley.”
Eirian laughed. “Yes, my lord. We look forward to the hunt.”
“Trust me when I say that it’ll be just the first of many.”
“What is that noise?”
Morticia looked up at Mamma’s irritable question. She’d been focused on updating the house accounts in the ledger but now was aware of the rapid ringing of a bell. It stopped, only to start again a few seconds later. “I do not know, Mamma.” She gracefully rose and followed the sound into the entryway, pausing when she saw the family’s manservant. “Lurch, what is that noise?”
He groaned and pointed to a small ivory and gold telephone on a table against the wall. As if on cue, it rang again.
Morticia raised an eyebrow. “That hasn’t worked since Wednesday was six and chewed through the phone cable.” She checked to verify that the chewed telephone cable still dangled a few inches below the table. The phone rang again. Lurch groaned inquiringly. “Yes, I think you should answer it, please.”
Lurch picked up the handset from its cradle and lifted it to his head. Morticia noted idly that the cord which ran between the cradle and the handset was gone as well. He groaned loudly into the handset. He turned and held out the handset towards her, groaning again.
“For me? Really?” She took the handset. “Thank you, Lurch.” She held the handset to her ear. “Good morning, this is Morticia Addams.”
“Good morning,” a female voice said, “Mrs. Addams. I am Marguerite Grey and I am calling because you met my male and invited him to visit.”
Morticia raised an eyebrow again. “I am afraid that does not sound like something that I would normally do.”
“His name is Iain Grey and you met him after he accidentally ended up in your solarium.”
“Oh, the wizard! I did invite him a few months ago, but he never returned.”
“That is true, but he did tell us, his women, about the visit and we have journeyed here to meet you. That is why I have called, so that we could arrange an appointment sometime in the next few days. Would that be possible?”
“I would like for you to come tomorrow around eleven for tea,” Morticia said.
“That would be wonderful, Mrs. Addams. There will be three of us, myself, Dominique and Zareen, but Zareen is our security element and, while she must be present, she will not be joining us for tea.”
“You need security?”
“We are far from home and, until we know the situation better, it is necessary. Our leaders demanded it, which means I don’t have any say in Zareen’s being assigned as our security and her presence is, unfortunately, not negotiable. If she cannot be present in her role, we will have to cancel the appointment.”
“Then she may be present in her role,” Morticia said. “We Addams’ have our customs too, and some of them are just as much required.”
“Thank you for agreeing to this and I would like to happily accept your invitation to tea. I look forward to meeting you, Mrs. Addams.”
“I look forward to meeting you too, Mrs. Grey. Goodbye.” Morticia hung up the phone.
“That was powerful magic,” Mamma said from the doorway. “Who was it?”
“Do you remember the wizard I told you about meeting and considering as a potential husband for my daughter? That was one of his family. She and two other women from his family will be coming tomorrow for tea and to meet us.”
Mamma eyes widened. “They follow the old ways, Morticia. I want to meet them.”
“You are welcome to join us tomorrow, Mamma, but what old ways are you speaking of?”
“In the earliest days of the Addams’, there were many more women than men. The women would meet the families of prospective brides to see if they were worthy of having their man court them. They would also see if the two families were compatible. Alliances were very important then due to the conflicts that would often spring up between us and outsiders. If what you said of this wizard you met is true, he and his family must be very powerful. It would therefore make perfect sense that they would also be very selective in who will be allowed to join it. It would be best if we met them without Wednesday being present. If this first meeting goes well, then she can be introduced to them later. Gomez should be there too, as Wednesday’s father.”
“I will make the necessary arrangements, Mamma. As you are familiar with these old ways, would you lead the negotiations?”
Mamma shook her head. “You are the woman of the household now, Morticia, and that role is yours. However, come with me and we will have tea and discuss what you should expect from their visit.”
The moon elf slipped out of the room, shutting the door behind him and cutting off the sound of the discussion still ongoing in mid word. He looked up at the moon and placed his hands in the small of his back as he bent backwards to try and stretch out kinks from hours of sitting in one place and wracking his brain and the brains of his staff for the solution to an impossible problem.
The moon elf jumped and whirled, his hand leaping to the hilt of his sword. He didn’t relax when he saw the moon elf leaning against the wall. The stranger had positioned himself in the shadow from the moonlight and the moon elf could barely make him out, even with night vision. But nobody was supposed to be here. “Who are you?”
“I am Iain Grey and you are Duke Rhyem Ammanth of Keltormir. If I’d been an assassin you’d have never known I was here before you were dead, so please relax a little since I’m not here to kill you.”
Rhyem wasn’t ready to relax. “I don’t know that name.”
“That’s true. You’d don’t know it, but you might want to remember it since I bring welcome news.” He smiled pleasantly. “You’re facing a Vyshaantar army that’s larger than your army, has more wizards than you do, is led by the crown prince of the Vyshaantar Empire and has better morale since they’re not used to losing.”
Rhyem barked a laugh. “All of which I know and none of which is good news. I have no choice but to fight them.”
“The good news is that the command staff of that army, including His Imperial Highness, will not survive the night.”
“That would indeed be good news, if true. How do you know this?”
Iain pushed away from the wall. “Because I’m going to kill them, with a little help.”
“I have no help to give you.”
Iain chuckled. “I don’t want your help. All I need is for you to remember and report when what I told you is going to happen turns out to be what happens. Then you can believe me the next time I tell you something like that.”
Rhyem took his hand off his sword to fold his arms over his chest. “I’ll need some proof if I’m to report. That last things we need are more rumors.”
“You will come here in the morning to find bags filled with their heads,” a female voice said to his left. He whirled to face the speaker, a female sun elf whose red hair glowed ruby in the moonlight as it spilled over the lowered hood of her cloak and down her back. “Or I could leave them next to your bed for you to find when you awaken if you would prefer.”
“Who are you?”
“Helesatra is the help I mentioned,” Iain said. “She’s probably one of the few people who wants them dead more than you do.”
“Why,” Rhyem asked bluntly.
“I hate the royal family.”
Ryhem sneered at them both. “That doesn’t answer my question and it won’t satisfy my king. Many people hate the Vyshaantar royal family Why do you hate them?”
“I hate them for letting my mother be murdered before I could ever know her. I hate them for the way I was treated as a child.” Her voice dropped to a hiss and her eyes began to glow with a molten gold light that made Rhyem go for his sword again. “I hate them for the deal they made to sell me and I hate them for allowing my sire to murder my mother by getting her pregnant with me so she died while delivering me.”
“Helesatra,” Iain said calmly.
Her eyes stopped glowing. “I am sorry, my lord.”
Rhyem was staring at Helesatra. “I remember a legend from a few hundred years ago about a cursed princess of Vyshaan. The legend claims she was the spawn of a demon and her name was Helesatra.”
“I have no demon blood,” Helesatra said angrily.
“That’s good,” Rhyem said only to break off when she clamped a hand on his mouth and lifted him up onto his toes.
Her eyes flared golden so brightly that he closed his eyes against the glare. “My sire was a pit fiend from Hell, not a demon from the Abyss.”
Iain managed not to laugh when Rhyem’s eyes snapped open to bulge at her over her hand. “Helesatra.”
She released the moon elf instantly, sending him staggering backwards as the glow cooled and vanished. “I am sorry, my lord. I did not expect him to anger me so. How is it that I still feel anger?”
“We’ll discuss it later.” Iain faced Rhyem. “Do you want those heads or not?”
“Who are you?”
Iain chuckled. “You’re asking the wrong question by repeating yourself, Rhyem, but I’ll answer again. I am Iain Grey. If you get those heads, your army and you have a much better chance of surviving the next few tendays.”
“Why are you involved in this?”
“What was done to Helesatra was not her fault. She had no say in it. She has brought no evil to Keltormir. She is the innocent in this. It was all her grandfather and the rest of her relatives who did this to her and to so many elven nations. I don’t understand why sun elf nobility, zealots of elven purity that they claim to be, keep polluting their blood with that of demons and devils, but why they do it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that I think that kind of behavior needs to be soundly discouraged and, with Helesatra’s help, I have the power to chastise the Vyshaan clan for what they’ve done. You have the opportunity to profit from that chastisement. Do you wish to or not?”
Rhyem managed a shaky sounding chuckle. “Considering that if I refuse it’s very likely that the Vyshaantar will be able to put my head in a sack after they’ve destroyed my army, yes, I do. But what price?”
“This time, I only want you to remember me and perhaps I wish to build some goodwill with the royal family of Keltormir. I live within their lands, but I do not recognize them as having authority over me or mine. Eventually that could cause some conflict and the goodwill of the royal family could help to ensure that conflict doesn’t turn into violence between us.”
“Where do you live?”
Iain smiled. “That’s not a secret I’m ready to share. Right now the last thing I want is Keltormir elves troubling me in my home. I have far too much to do and, while it seems like I have a lot of time to do it in, I suspect I’m going to find out that’s not true at all.” He gave a half bow towards the moon elf. “Helesatra will leave the heads in your quarters but not next to your bed. If she is impeded by anyone it is likely they will not survive the experience.” His eyes bored into Rhyem’s. “Do you understand? Any guards should be outside unless you want them dead for some reason and, for the same reason, any servants should be told to leave her alone.”
“I shouldn’t keep my servants out too,” Rhyem asked wryly.
“Loyal servants will sometimes disobey a lord’s orders if they feel it is for his own good. I understand that. I have some servants who are likely to do that sort of thing.”
“I will not harm anyone who merely witnesses my arrival and departure,” Helesatra said. “I will ignore any who seek to speak with me and I will destroy any who try to keep me from completing my task.” Her eyes met Rhyem’s “I do not have nor do I seek to have any issue with you or your household, but I will not hesitate if someone seeks to have an issue with me.”
“I will make sure you are undisturbed.” He looked at Iain. “What is the question I should have asked instead of asking who you are?”
“You should have asked what I am.”
“I will remember that should we meet again.”
Iain chuckled. “Good.” He took Helesatra’s hand, she muttered a spell and they vanished.
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
Dianthus – Elfqueen
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
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
Viersunuth – Blue Dragon
Helesatra Vyshaan – Half pit fiend sun elf
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)