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Loose Threads

One Hundred Twenty


Year Two Hundred

            “Master, I apologize for bothering you during your time off, but I need your help.”

            Iain looked away from the painting he’d been working on and towards the speaker. Her name was Yuldra and she was one of a new generation of engineers that Iain had been encouraging within the clan. Yuldra was a kobold who was working with the smiths on the crucible steel project Iain had given them. He intended to use it to lead into producing vanadium steel and, eventually, stainless steel. “Just a moment.” He put the palette down and put the caps on the jars before turning to give Yuldra his undivided attention even as he made a mental note to lock the door to his workshop in the future. “What is it?”

            She strode forward and held up a bag. “I can’t make this work.”

            He realized it wasn’t a bag, it was a set of bagpipes, sized for a kobold. He carefully took it from her and examined it. The work was quite good, and it looked to be an exact scaled down copy of his reel pipes, which had the chanter and only one drone. “Did you make this?”

            She shook her head. “I helped, master. I made the drawings and worked with Rardur on the pipes and reeds. A seamstress made the bag and we assembled it.”

            “May I try it?”

            Yuldra shrugged. “It doesn’t work.”

            “It’s considered rude to use someone else’s pipes without their permission and these aren’t mine. May I try them?”

            “Oh. Yes, master.”

            The pipes, being smaller, were higher pitched than his, and, to Iain’s ear, the reeds needed some work, but the look on Yuldra’s face was priceless as he played part of a wedding dance. Iain stopped playing. “I can give you some pointers on the design process, but these aren’t bad.”

            Yuldra glared furiously at the pipes in his lap. “Master, we can’t make them work at all!”

            Iain frowned thoughtfully as he looked at her and then at the pipes. Then he realized what was going on. “Well, no, you can’t, but there’s nothing wrong with the pipes as such. Your mouth can’t get a proper seal on the blowpipe and you don’t have complete cheeks to direct the air.” He put the pipes down and flipped the pages on his sketchbook until he got to the next empty page. “There’s a solution, though.” He pointed at the stool next to him. “Sit down and be quiet for a few minutes.”

            Yuldra grabbed the stool and dragged it over to where she could watch him work. “Yes, master.”

            Iain had first started serious sketching as Elminster’s apprentice since all mages had to be able to draw and Elminster was a supreme traditionalist. But the classes he’d taken during the last two centuries had improved his skills a great deal and he worked quickly, even if it was from memory and freehand, without the tools he had at his drafting table in his bedroom. He heard but ignored Yuldra’s indrawn breath when she realized what he was doing and finished before turning to her. “This is a smallpipe and it uses a bellows to fill the bag. Would you like a copy of this or can you recreate this from memory?”

            “With my twee, master, I can recreate it, but,” she gave him a shy smile, “I would like a copy please since master drew something for me.”

            Iain glanced at her before shrugging. Sometimes kobolds were as weird as pokegirls. He took a loose sheet of parchment and laid it over his drawing. Then he took a pen from the inkwell and touched the parchment. Ink spread out from the pen and recreated the drawing beneath the parchment. Another touch of magic dried the ink as Iain put the pen back in the inkwell. He rolled up the parchment and tied it closed with a piece of ribbon before handing it to her. “Here you go, Yuldra.”

            She took the parchment carefully. “Thank you, master.”

            Iain looked at the pipes again. “Bagpipes are in use here, in other places, you know. Humans and halflings use them. This might be an export item. I’ll bring it to Quick Bite’s attention at our next meeting. Could I keep this?”

            “It is yours, master,” Yuldra said with a kobold smile, which involved lolling out the tongue through partially open jaws. “We wanted this to play here, though. The Sisters like pipes and we want to play for them.”

            Iain smiled amusedly. “Bagpipes, where I come from, have a tremendous martial history. They were used in the place of trumpets to give commands to troops all over the world. And they were often used while marching to keep the pace.”

            Yuldra slid off the stool. “I will tell the others, master. Should we use them that way?”

            “You get a working prototype and I’ll search my memory for what I can remember of martial bagpipe music. Deal?”

            She nodded vigorously. “Deal!” She ran from the room.

            Iain got up and carefully closed and locked the door behind her before settling back down at his easel. He flipped the pages of the sketchbook back to his drawing of Ninhursag so he could return to his painting.


            A three toned chime sounded in Iain’s head and he opened his eyes. This is your requested two century notification on the castle, his twee told him. You specifically requested this even if you were asleep or otherwise occupied.

            Iain sat up. He was sleeping alone tonight. Zilvra was away on a visit to Ilhar Mrimm. She was there to consult with the local head priestess on some religious matters. Iain thought it was amusing that, once she’d married him, she and Laelra had eventually become friends. I remember. Status check.

            There has been no significant activity since the satellite was parked overhead and the sensor web was spun throughout the area two hundred years ago. Some people of various species and career paths tried to break in and the automatic defenses captured them and spirited them away. Almost all animals do not go closer than the inner perimeter. Twenty nine did and were dealt with by the automatic defenses. I suspect they were more intruders and not squirrels or birds.

            Iain nodded in the darkness. That would make sense. He slid out of bed and got himself a drink. What else?

            There isn’t any further information. The video has been compiled and is ready for viewing.

            I’ve got free time in three days. I’ll investigate then. That’ll let me examine the video and see if there’s a pattern before I take my turn testing the defenses.


            Iain stood in the old growth trees and looked out into the area in front of him where only short grass grew. The grass formed a clearing half a mile across. In the center of this clearing was a five story high stone tower with a slate roof. The tower was ringed with a smooth circular wall fifteen feet high that encircled the tower about fifty feet from its base. There was one gate in the wall, on the other side from where Iain stood, with a matching door in the base of the tower itself. Although it was invisible to the naked eye, with his magic, Iain could easily see the spherical field of energy that surrounded the tower at a quarter of a mile from it. It was touching that field which set off the defenses in the tower. He could also see a second, fainter field that extended out into the entirety of the clearing. He knew that this field was the true defense of the tower and allowed it to know when something entered the clearing it protected. It however, normally only monitored movement and activity and let the inner field protect the tower.

            That was normally, however. Today, the field would perform its second function. Hopefully. Or it might kill him. Still, he reflected, if it did, it would still be performing that second function, just not in a way that he would appreciate.

            He stood there for several minutes, watching the field as nothing happened. “I should just walk away and go back to the valley.”

            You should. But you’re not going to do the intelligent thing today, am I? The demarcation in Iain’s head where he stopped and his twee started had never been a sharp line, but in the last few centuries that line had become very indistinct indeed, sometimes resulting in the random odd usage of pronouns between them. He didn’t really think it very odd, but he was sure someone in his harem would find a way to see this as some new and horrible development. But that was something to worry about many tomorrows from now, if ever.

            “No.” Iain stepped farther back into the trees. “Eirian. Everyone off.”

            His undead poured off him. Eirian cocked her head after she materialized. “My lord?”

            “I’m about to do something very hazardous and I can’t have anyone on me when I do. You can’t be killed, but you can be destroyed and I don’t want that to happen to you.”

            “What of you, my lord?”

            “It’s my life to risk.”

            Sorrel frowned. “What of your responsibility to the people you love and who love you?” Iain regarded her until her cheeks turned pink. “It is a valid question, my lord.”

            “Are you sure you weren’t a Celestial earlier in life? You’ve certainly got the guilting people part of being one down.”

            The Armsmistress’ eyes narrowed as her blush deepened, but she refused to back down. She’d developed a tendency towards this behavior over the years if she thought he was doing something that his family wouldn’t like. “I don’t have to be a Celestial to be concerned about your safety, my lord, or the future of those who depend on you being alive and able to care for them.”

            Damn, she sounds like Pandora sometimes.

            “I will be as careful as I can.” Iain frowned and swept his body with his magic. He found an anomaly on the back of his left shoulder. “Selsharra, that includes you.”

            No. My place is with you if you are in danger.

            Your place is here, waiting to see if I live so you can protect my children if I die. My line must survive even if I do not.”

            A stream of glowing white smoke poured from his skin to become the moon elf baelnorn. “In the short time it has been in existence, your line thrives more than mine ever dreamed of doing,” Selsharra said to him. “It, unlike you, is in no danger. My place is with you.”

            Iain’s eyes hardened. “Eirian?”

            She straightened at his tone. “My lord?”

            “When did I make this a democracy?”

            “You did not my lord, and the members of your undead harem are not disobeying you. Sorrel is trying to use reason to convince you to consider her side of the argument. I happen to agree with her. No orders have been given, either by you to us or us to you.” Her teeth glittered in a grin. “Selsharra is disobeying you, at least somewhat, but you allow this for reasons I do not understand.”

            “I need full autonomy to carry out my goal of protecting Iain and his bloodline,” Selsharra said. “Iain allows this because he’s not always an idiot.”

            Iain shook his head slightly. “Do not follow me into the clearing. If I get captured and don’t get away, in ten days you are to inform Xune that she is the Grey.”

            She is not of your bloodline,” Selsharra protested.

            “I don’t give a fuck,” Iain replied. “Out of all of my children that are currently here and adult and after considering everyone else who is clan that I know, Xune will do the best job as the Grey if I cannot. If she refuses the position, it goes to Keanellos. In that case, ask Xune to help him come up to speed.” He smiled. “However, I don’t expect to die today and I hope not get captured.”

            Sorrel didn’t look happy. She started to say something but Matilda put a clawed hand on her shoulder and the Armsmistress stopped. “Be careful, my lord,” the White Tigress said quietly. “We do not want you to join us in undeath.”

            “I will. Is there anything else?”

            “Yes, my lord.” Dabria, Iain’s Dark Queen, stepped forward. “I do not doubt that you will survive today,” she said confidently. “I want to know if it is true that we will be offered the choice as to whether or not we want to return to life. Is this true?”

            “It will have to wait until we’re back on One and things are quieter, but yes. If someone wants to be returned to life and released from her oaths to me, they will be given due consideration.”

            Dabria smiled hungrily. “I wish to be alive again and so does Omisha.” The Demoness nodded firmly from where she stood.

            “You’ll give up a lot of power to do so,” Iain pointed out.

            “It will be more than worth it, my lord. I will keep the new magic I have learned and humans are so much fun.”

            Iain nodded. “Very well. I may not remember something for the next five hundred years or so, so remind me a month after we’re returned and we’ll assess the situation. If circumstances are conducive to letting you go, I don’t see why I’d refuse a reasonable request.”

            “Thank you, my lord.”

            Garnet had been eyeing the tower. She turned to Iain. “My lord, what is this place?”

            “I didn’t mention it?”

            The red Dragoness shook her head. “Not where I could hear it, my lord. Anyone?”

            Beryl nodded. “Garnet is correct, my lord. This place is unfamiliar to us.”

            “They’re right,” Selsharra said. “I only know this place is dangerous because I can feel that you’re scared of it. What is it?”

            Iain looked at the tower. “Privacy.”

            “Accepted,” Eirian and Selsharra said in the same instant. The rest of his undead harem echoed them a second later.

            Iain chuckled. “You all know the mission that my teacher gave me, to gather information on this world and present it to her when she arrives in five hundred years. Or I take it to her then. I’m not sure which is really is and, it doesn’t really matter. One of the criteria she used to choose this world for her little project was to make sure that there wasn’t an analog of her, presumably so I didn’t end up in a death struggle with this analog who would have only known I was one of the People, a powerful drake and a stranger.” Or have her try to take us as her mate, his twee whispered.

            He was silent for a moment, looking at the tower, until Selsharra touched his arm. “What is it, Iain,” she said gently.

            “Apparently my teacher checked for the energy signature of her presence and didn’t find it.” He gestured at the tower. “But this building is in the exact location of her tower, it’s fairly similar to her tower and it has the wards that her tower has. I’d wondered and checked this spot the day I set foot on this world, two hundred years ago, which is when I found it.” He looked back at Selsharra. “I immediately set up surveillance of it and had a sensor net spread over the entire region. I even dropped sensors on top of the tower. Other than to protect itself, there has been no activity here the entire time I’ve been monitoring it.”

            “What does it mean?”

            “I believe it means there was an analog of my teacher here at one time and, for some reason, she is no longer here, but left this building and whatever is inside it behind. If so, it might have her libraries and everything else she’d done up to this point. Or it could just be completely empty. I intend to find out.”

            “The value of it would be incalculable,” Eirian said. “And it has sat here and called to you for two hundred years. We will set up a perimeter, my lord, while you penetrate the defenses.”

            “Is it worth your life,” Selsharra asked quietly.

            “There might be information in there that I can use to keep my family safe from her and others like her,” Iain replied.

            “But you cannot know until you are in there.”


            “Can you do this?”

            “I’m not suicidal. If I decide the risks aren’t worth the potential rewards, I will walk away without a second thought. Ok, there will be many second thoughts, but I can’t protect anyone if I’m dead.”

            Selsharra squeezed his arm. “No, you are not suicidal, but you are willing to take risks for family that you would not otherwise agree are worth it. Historically this has been true and, since I have known you, my observations have shown this is still true.” He looked at her in surprise and she grinned. “Eirian and I don’t like each other very much but we still spend a lot of time talking about you and how to best protect you.”

            “If you two can cooperate on that, why can’t you cooperate on other things?”

            “Because we see the jurisdiction of our mandates to protect you as overlapping in a way that lessens the protection that each of us can provide you,” Eirian said. “Each sees the other’s aid as interference in her plans and, since we are both dedicated to protecting you, we are unhappy at that interference.”

            “What is amusing,” Malachite said, “is that an empirical study suggests that there is no interference and no lessening of protection due to this overlap, but we are pokegirls and a moon elf,” she nodded towards Selsharra, “who each feels that we know what is best to keep our lord as safe as we can. Because of this, the competition between your undead harem and Sesharra, your guardian, exists.”

            Iain shook his head. “You know, I may have to amend my saying about pokegirls being weird to just say that all females are weird.” Several people chuckled as he looked at Selsharra. “Right now I think the risk is more than worth the potential reward.”

            “Is there a way to determine what reward might truly await you,” she asked. He shook his head and she turned to look at the tower for a long moment. “I cannot protect you from yourself,” she said quietly as if reminding herself of that fact. She sighed and turned back to him. “Please be careful. You’ve managed to become one of the few people that I’ve protected during my existence that I would miss.” She glanced at the silver Dragoness. “And I would prefer that you not release the scourge of a free Eirian and your undead harem on my world.”

            “Fear not,” Eirian said in a cheerful voice, “you would not survive to experience very much of such a situation.”

            “And I will not go into permanent death alone,” Selsharra replied just as cheerfully. “Nor will I go as easily as you seem to think I will.”

            “Enough.” Iain rolled his shoulders to loosen the muscles. “I will not die today.”

            “Would shadow walking penetrate the castle’s defenses,” Julia asked suddenly.

            “Yes,” Iain admitted. “Unfortunately, once the walker materialized inside the tower, the defenses would activate, probably before the walker reoriented to her surroundings, and certainly before she could try to defend herself from them. Good question, though.” He squared his shoulders. “And I’m kibitzing. Time to do this.”

            “Listen to your fear,” Selsharra said as she released his arm. “Come back to us and your loves safely.”

            “That is my goal.” Iain looked at Liadan. “You stay out of my head.”

            She gave him her best innocent look. “My lord?”

            “You heard me.”

            “Yes, my lord. I will do as you command.”

            “Good. I am ending privacy. It’s time to do this.”


            The three of them had finished a group hunt and had been resting on a large flat rock overlooking the largest waterfall on Ragnarok. Later in the day, the dragonesses knew this would be one of the best places to soak up the sunlight.

            The artificial sun was just rising into view when Nightraven stirred and shifted back to her human form. “Join me.”

            Iain obediently shifted, but Caintigern grumbled. “I am comfortable.”

            “Then you will not learn what I need to teach both of you,” Nightraven announced. “And, if you do not learn this now, you will never learn this.”

            “There is very little you could teach me, niece.”

            Iain patted Caintigern’s massive and yet somehow feminine forepaw. “Please?”

            She lifted her head to look down at him. “The People do not normally say please.”

            “Yeah, I’ve already learned they can be colossal jerks,” Iain replied dryly. “And you two constantly harp about how I’m not one of the People, so I don’t have to follow their silly rules. Please join us. I’m sure that Nightraven was just as comfortable as you are so she must feel this is important. If it’s not, you can tell me I was wrong for weeks to come and all I’ll do is smile and admit you were right and I was wrong.”

            “Which of us decides this isn’t important,” she asked curiously as she shifted to her human form.

            “Why you do, of course,” Iain replied. “And thank you.”

            Caintigern eyed him before turning her attention to Nightraven. “What is this lesson you wish to give us?”

            Nightraven closed her eyes for a moment. “Understand that I do not wish to do this. The very thought of this fills me with revulsion. Trust comes hard to me but we are united and, in that situation, I must trust each of you,” Her eyes opened, “some. Together, the three of us and our children are going to war with Blacktooth’s descendants and their minions. We will plan for success as much as we can, but victory is never certain and allowances must be made for events that we do not wish to consider. Each of us, individually, or all of us, collectively, are not assured of surviving what we will initiate when we return to the lands of the People and pit our might against theirs.”

            Her eyes bored into Iain’s. “You are my mate and she is my blood and my ally in this war. We must pool our resources towards that end, so, if I should die, today I will teach you how to penetrate the defenses of my home so that you may make it your own and access the things I have collected during my life here so that you may continue the war as best as you can.”

            She glanced at Caintigern and returned her full attention to Iain. “The first criteria, of course, is that I must be dead. If I am not, you will not be able to take control of my tower.”

            “I understand,” Iain said quietly. “I’m ready.”

            “You will have three chances to do this correctly,” Nightraven said. “If the third attempt fails, you will be captured by the defenses and held for me to examine later. If I am dead, this will not happen and you will be trapped, forever.”

            “Is this entrapment a physical detainment or stasis?”

            Nightraven raised an eyebrow. “It is physical detainment. Some creatures of the astral and ethereal planes to not survive stasis and the majority of attacks on my home are from beings who think that I do not know of these planes and cannot defend against them.” Iain felt the magical energy around them begin to twist. “Now let me teach you what you need to know in order to be successful in this.”


            Iain stepped into the clearing, feeling the energy of the outer field sliding through him. He closed his eyes and examined the field closely. The first markers that Nightraven had shown him were there and he mentally relaxed a tiny bit.

            It had been a calculated risk, but he’d suspected that Nightraven had planned her revenge from the day she’d arrived on Toril from wherever she’d come. She’d never said that, but, from a few things she’d let drop and his notes, Iain had known she tried to plan for every eventuality and she’d known she would need a mate and offspring in order for her revenge to have the remotest chance of success, and she also tended to do things as soon as she knew they needed to be done.

            Therefore, it made sense she would have planned her defenses with the idea that she might die and her mate or children might need access to her tower. This was not the tower of the Nightraven that he knew, but he was gambling that she was not very different from the one that had once resided here.

            At a precise speed, Iain walked up to the edge of the inner field. “She is dead,” he said in the language of the People. “She is dead. I will claim this place in her memory, for I have need of it and she has shown me how.”

            The inner field expanded just far enough to engulf him. Iain resumed walking, this time at a different speed, towards the tower, angling towards the gate in the outer wall. He stopped in front of it and examined it carefully for several minutes. “Open.” The gate swung silently open. He entered and turned to face the gate. “Close.” It swung shut. Iain waited fifteen seconds and began walking around the tower to the door in it.

            He stopped in front of it and waited. “Open.” The door opened. “Close.” The door shut, but Iain could see that it was an illusion and the real door was still open. He stepped into the tower and stopped, facing away from the door. “Close.” The door closed and Iain headed for the stairs to descend into the basement and go to the first floor of the library.

            Once on the first floor, Iain turned to face a blank wall. Using his magic, he created a ball of magic and shaped it into a particular form. “I am here to claim what was hers and is now mine.”

            A hole appeared in the air and Iain inserted the key. It and the hole vanished. Iain managed not to curse. That meant the key Nightraven had shown him wasn’t the same one this Nightraven had set and he’d used up one of his three tries. Unfortunately, his Nightraven had made no provision to give up. Once someone tried to use a key, it was either succeed in three tries or be captured. Since she’d never been exposed to it before she met him, Iain was gambling that, if he failed completely, he would be able to shadow walk out of whatever prison he found himself in. But that wouldn’t get him access to the tower, and that’s what he really wanted.

            Iain formed a new ball of energy, this one with very different properties from the first. At the same time, he formed a second ball, which floated beside him. “I am here to claim what was hers and is now mine.”

            The hole appeared. Iain took a deep breath and slammed the ball into the hole as hard and as fast as he could. The hole vanished, taking the key with it.

            The ball that had just vanished had been the magical equivalent of semisolid to existing magic and had, in theory, shaped itself to the interior of the lock even as it failed because its original shape was not a match.

            Iain looked at the second ball and it had changed shape into a new form, mimicking what semisolid ball had become before it ceased to exist. This, hopefully, was the correct shape of the lock.

            Iain examined it and tried not to smile. The fact that it was almost exactly like the key that Nightraven had given him for her tower was an excellent sign since this universe and the Toril where she lived were very close. Of course, there was no guarantee the ball had finished filling the lock before it vanished. If it were designed to vanish the instant something didn’t match or if it waited until the key was as far in as it could go before dissipating was the critical factor in Iain’s attempt to figure out the lock.

            And he had no way of knowing which it was until he used his last attempt. If she had designed the lock as he would have, he was going to fail.

            And there was only one way to find out.

            Iain created the new key, exactly to the dimensions of the copy, took a deep breath and exhaled completely to try and relax a little. It didn’t work. “I am here to claim what was hers and is now mine.”

            The hole appeared. Iain inserted the key. The lock and key turned gold and slowly faded from view. He took a deep breath. “I am Iain Grey and I claim this place. May the memory of she who was here before ever dwell within and guide me to success against our enemies.” Iain held up his hand and the field tuned itself to his life, making the tower and everything in it his.

            He took a deep breath and let it out again. “That was scary.”

            Now I have free run of this building, his twee noted, let’s see what this prison is.

            “I have to talk to my undead harem first,” Iain replied.

            We told them to wait for ten days. They will wait and you want to see this prison.

            Iain headed up the stairs to the door. “Open.” It opened and he stepped through. “Thank you.” The door swung shut as he started walking around the tower. “I wonder why this one put up an outer wall and the one I know didn’t. Maybe she has journals that will explain it.” He broke into a jog for the outer gate.

            The spells at Nightraven’s never showed any signs of sentience, so we may never have an answer to that.

            Iain stopped at the gate to the wall. “Open, please.” It did and he jogged through it. “Thank you.” It closed and as he headed for the trees. I know. He reached out through his twee to Eirian and Selsharra. I’m on my way back.

            We see you, my lord.

            When Iain stepped into the trees, Selsharra stopped him and cast a spell. “You’re unharmed,” she said in surprise.

            “I do try to maintain that state. It’s rather hard on my clothing, otherwise.”

            “You decided to listen to reason and not attempt this?”

            Iain smiled. “I succeeded. The tower is mine.”

            Selsharra regarded him thoughtfully. “Yours. Will you share it with others, such as us?”

            Iain chuckled. “That did sound a little possessive, didn’t it?”

            “It sounded completely possessive,” Selsharra disagreed. “You sounded like Xune with her first bar of gold.”

            “Which she stole from me,” Iain said with a laugh.

            “Which she stole from you, but you still sounded just like she did without you using her voice.”

            “There are things in there that I don’t want becoming common knowledge,” Iain said quietly. “Hell, I’m not sure I want anyone knowing about this place at all or the fact that it’s mine now.” He thought for a moment. “I want your help exploring the place, but I need to have a talk with the wards about who you are and how you’re mine and allowed.” He gave Selsharra a curious glance. “Nothing about how possessive I sound about you and the others?”

            The baelnorn shook her head. “No,” came her curt response.

            “She feels pleasure at you claiming her,” Eirian said loudly. “We all do, my lord.”

            “Selsharra,” Iain said quietly, “I wasn’t trying to embarrass you.”

            “I know. It’s just I’ve been alone for a very long time and I still feel that sometimes. You’re a powerful necromancer and a part of me does want to belong like they do.” She smiled thinly. “Just not under Eirian’s control.”

            “My lord,” Ling said suddenly. “I think she needs one of your hugs.”

            Selsharra spun to face the Cheetit. “You are not amusing,” she snapped.

            “I was not trying to be amusing,” Ling said, her ears and tail still. “You are not like most of us. We embrace our death. You are like Sorrel and Matilda in that you hold death as far away from you as you can. You are more interested in the living and their life calls to you. My lord’s touch brings comfort to both the living and the dead and I believe that his touch would help quiet the troubles that fill your heart.” She smiled as her ears oriented on the baelnorn. “Try it. If it does not help you, what have you truly lost?”

            “She’s right.” Selsharra turned to stare at Iain and he shrugged. “At worst, nothing happens. At best,” he grinned. “Some people say that my hugs have some power. I tried hugging myself once to see if I could feel it.”

            Selsharra raised an eyebrow. “What did you feel?”


            The baelnorn laughed, along with several members of his dead harem. “You do not think of us sexually. Can you touch me without recoiling?”

            “I work hard not to think of any of you sexually because I’m not interested in necrophilia, and I don’t want to become interested in it. I feel that would be one more step down a road that is very well paved and leads straight to the ninth level of Hell. Most of the time I wouldn’t have a problem touching any of you.”

            “Most of the time?”

            “If it’s someone like Natalie and she’s using ignite, no hugs. I do not enjoy being on fire.” The Blazicunt grinned. “Or if someone has been wading through a sewer, their hug is going to be rescheduled until after either they’ve bathed or I’ve had to had to wade through it too.” He glanced at the tower. “Look, I’m not going to be upset if you refuse to hug me.”

            “What if it turns out your hug does help me to feel better and I want more of them?”

            “As far as I know, I don’t run out of magical hug juice.”

            Selsharra shook her head. “I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t remember how to hug.”

            Sorrel frowned. “How is this?”

            “I am thousands of years old and I have not been touched socially since my life ended. I was the guardian of my family’s line. Guardians of family lines tend to be treated like statuary or golems much more than we are ever treated like we are family. Since the day I passed into undeath, Iain is the first person to treat me as I was when I was alive.”

            “Are you willing to think about it.” Iain asked.

            “I would like to try this,” Selsharra said. “What do I do?”

            Iain approached her. “Just don’t kill me when I touch you.”

            She snorted. “Considering my first failure to protect my line, killing you would be the perfect way to fail protecting yours.”

            Iain stopped. “Selsharra Grey, that is enough.” She gave him a surprised look. “You did not fail your bloodline. You did everything short of putting them in stasis and hiding them in the bowels of the earth to keep them safe. They refused your aid and your advice and then went out and did stupid things you tried to warn them not to do. Granted, I just did something similar, but I felt the reward was definitely worth the risk. Even if that tower is completely empty, I managed to successfully circumvent the defenses that a far more powerful truewizard put into place to keep people and things out. Not only did I do that, I suborned it and now it’s mine. I can’t put a value on just how potentially life changing what I just did is for me. In doing what I did, I learned a lot.”

            He moved in front of Selsharra. “The biggest difference between what happened to you with your bloodline and what’s happening to you with mine is that we do listen to what you try to warn us about. We might not follow your advice, but I have never dismissed it out of hand. I have always considered your warnings and, honestly, the warnings of everyone here. I do not want to become a lich. I do not want to die. While I can’t keep from eventually dying, since everything does, I can and will evade death as much as possible while not building a huge pillow fort in a cave somewhere and never leaving it.”

            “What about becoming a lich,” Selsharra asked curiously.

            “I’m working on that one.”

            “Bets,” Malachite said loudly.

            “Oh, good lord,” Iain muttered. “Is there anything you won’t bet on?”

            “I would never bet that my lord would not find some way to get laid,” Malachite said. People burst into laughter as she grinned. “I’d never win!”

            Selsharra shook her head slightly and looked at Iain. “What do I do?”

            Iain hugged her. She stood stiffly for a moment before slowly relaxing into it. Eventually she rested her head on his shoulder before pushing away suddenly. “How was it?”

            Selsharra looked uncomfortable for an instant. “Reassuring. Perhaps we need to do some empirical studies to determine what you do when you hug someone.”

            “I think that would probably involve blind studies where I hug a lot of strangers and that isn’t going to happen. Do you want another hug?”

            She looked uncomfortable again. “Perhaps later.”

            “All right. Everyone, ride me. I’ll go back to the tower and figure out how to get it to accept your presence so we can begin exploring the place and see what I just acquired.” He held up a finger. “But there is one hard and fast rule, at least for now. All books will be checked magically for traps, that’s just standard SOP. But what’s new is that nobody will use translation spells of any kind on the contents of anything in that tower, even if copied or removed from it. If you can’t read it, don’t try. I do not want to have Nightraven attempt to destroy some of you because she feels you’ve discovered some secret of hers by reading a journal that was written by this analog and then the reader shared it amongst you.”

            “What about you, my lord,” Aurum asked.

            “I believe I can hide possessing knowledge like that from her, if I am the only person who knows it. I can’t hide it from her if you know it. And then, of course, she’s going to wonder if I know it too.” He rubbed his eyes, “I’d consider destroying anything like that unread, but I think I’m going to desperately need that knowledge someday.” He looked around. “This is not a request. This is an order. Anyone trying to find a way around it might just find herself standing and staring at a piece of wall for the next few hundred years under orders not even to think about magic, while the rest of us continue gaining knowledge and getting stronger while we do.”

            “That is an evil threat,” Skye said.

            “Good. I mean it.” He looked back at the tower. “Now ride me, ladies.”


            My lord, Lapis said through her twee, I have found a body, and it is not inside the holding pens. I am not approaching it. She sent him a quick series of images explaining the route to follow to join her.

            I’m on the way. Iain headed down the stairs by the simple expedient of leaping from landing to landing. Like the tower he was familiar with, this one had floors that extended deep under the tower. Iain stopped at the level where the images the blue Dragoness had sent said she was. Soon he stood with her in a room that was a rectangle fifty feet long, thirty feet wide and fifty feet tall. It had but a single doorway and the body was on the far side of the room from it.

            It looked mummified, but Iain’s necromancy said it was completely dead. It was wearing robes similar to some that he’d seen Nightraven wear from time to time, but he was going to have to investigate more closely.

            “Thank you, Lapis. You guard my back while I see if this is her.”

            “Of course, my lord. What was the purpose of this room?”

            “Honestly, I’m not sure. It was a storage room with a really tall ceiling when I was at the tower on Seven, but the magical residue it held was incredible, just like now. And I couldn’t ask. At best she’d have punished me for it and, at worst, she’d have told me to figure it out, which would have eaten into what little free time I had left.”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            Iain carefully approached the corpse and examined it from six feet away. The hair was long and black. It was also tightly braided, which was a match. He moved closer and knelt by it.

            With his perception, he could look at the skeleton and see that it was that of a female. It had died long ago and the body was completely desiccated. Steeling his nerves, he poked it in the shoulder with a gloved fingertip. When nothing happened, he rose, stripping off the gloves and dropping them next to the corpse. “I’ll get a container I saw upstairs earlier for this and come back. I don’t want to carry it around in my arms, just in case something weird happens. Would you stay here and keep an eye on it until I return?”

            “I would be happy to, my lord.”

            “Thank you.”


            As soon as the analysis was complete and the machine indicated it was ready, Iain checked the report. The DNA of the body Lapis had found in the tower almost exactly matched the DNA he’d lifted from his teacher. The differences were minor, and, considering two different universes an unknown distance apart, understandable. The report also suggested that she’d died somewhere around the start of the second Crown War. What had killed her was still a mystery. The body showed no signs of trauma or malnutrition. Tests for toxins had all come up negative. Iain knew he might never know the reason she’d died, but he also knew he was going to run many more tests before giving up.

            What was even more aggravating was the thought that it might not have been anything that killed her. With the power that even a fledgling truewizard possessed, willing oneself to death was frighteningly easy.

            After considering it for a couple of weeks, he decided, what was important was that she was dead and not going to come looking for him for taking things she used to own. And, in the end, he could live with that.


Year Two Hundred and Thirty Nine

            The outer sensor band just reported multiple large flying objects inbound from the northwest. I’m accessing the satellite imagery now.

            Iain looked up from his project and grimaced. “Save and shutdown.” He looked down at the raptor egg. The top had been carefully removed without damaging the microscopic embryo and its environment for genetic manipulation. “I can’t stop in the middle of this and I don’t have time to finish, so better luck next life.”

            He accessed the satellite. It was tracking flying objects lifting over the edge of the valley to avoid the mountains. “If this happens again, I may have to start introducing things like coil gun batteries.” He focused on one of the objects and zoomed the view. It was a red dragon, at least adult, and flying in a loose formation with three others. “Well, this has ugly connotations.” He reached out with his twee to Xune and the other governors of Grey colonies. The valley is under attack by a flight of red dragons. Count is still unknown and I will update when I have more information. Check your perimeters. Arithallos, you’re the closest to us. Get your people inside and seal your gates.

            Understood, Iain. We are not under attack but we’re going on alert. Be careful, my mate.

            I will. Iain was busy sending more messages. Solnys, Zilvra, we are under attack by a flight of red dragons. Get everyone inside and down. The defenses will go live as soon as I can get to the control room. Have our people try to get any outlanders inside too, but don’t put their lives in danger just to save some strangers.

            Alpha and Delta companies are on standby, Solnys told him. Rardur is joining them and they will station at the first and second intersections. Rardur wants a ten second warning if you can.

            I’m giving you thirty seconds if I can so you can seal the gates. I don’t see any ground troops or riders, the satellite was sweeping from group to group as it gathered a count, but once the dragons are on the ground they may try to enter the caverns to escape what’s happening to them.

            Iain stopped and muttered a teleport spell. He appeared in a small room off the side of his bedroom. The count, his twee told him, is thirty nine red dragons. All are adult or older. They have begun setting the forest on fire at the edge of the valley and are sweeping in, torching everything as they go.

            My priestesses are setting up in the sanctuary, Zilvra said. The druids who were here today are also there. As soon as they can leave, they will try to summon rain.

            Iain put his hand against a plate on the wall and part of the wall next to it shimmered and vanished, revealing a room exactly four feet wide, four feet deep and eight feet high. The room was undecorated except for a steel rod inset in the wall that had been bent into a handle. Underneath the handle was a circle, broken up into eight quadrants, each numbered from one to eight. The one was uppermost on the circle.

            Iain braced his feet against the wall, took the lever in his hands and shoved with all his strength. The muscles in his arms quivered as the lever and the circle were forced into the wall three inches. Still holding the lever in, Iain rotated the lever and circle until the four was uppermost. Then he relaxed and the lever and circle forced their way back out with a loud clunk.

            All dragons are within the valley and also within the area of effect, his twee told him. Some are going after the kattle while others are destroying the surface greenhouses. Rebuilding will take many years.

            Thirty seconds, Iain sent to everyone in the valley who had a twee as lights began to swirl around him. Thirty seconds from now. Down. Down. Down. Down. Down.

            Everyone who could laid down flat on the ground, wherever they could. Kobolds, dwarves and elves helped the small herd of unicorns lie down in the caverns they’d retreated to. Iain waited the full thirty seconds, during which the lights had become swirling sheets of plasma energy. Tiny bolts of electricity crawled over them and snapped between the sheets as they moved around him. At the zero count Iain released the thunder technique into the lever, which, as designed, absorbed it without damage.

            Throughout the valley, gravity quadrupled. The silver horses, kattle and other animals suffered broken bones and internal injuries. Many would not live out the day. Walls in the surface village cracked and roofs collapsed against loads they were never designed to bear. There were cave-ins in the caverns but the people who were trapped had their twee slow down their metabolisms until they only breathed every few minutes. Thing shattered and broke everywhere.

            Dragons were torn, screaming, from the skies. Suddenly massing four times what they normally did, all but two of them of them suffered critical or crippling injuries when they smashed into the ground. Of the two, one was killed outright when her neck snapped on impact and the other fell into the river running through the valley and only broke two legs as she was pulled to the bottom of the river and began to drown.

            One dragon is relatively uninjured, his twee reported.

            After a minute, the lever and circle rotated so the three was uppermost and the gravity decreased to three times normal. As the system lost power over the next three minutes, gravity would return to normal. Eirian, you and the others are free to hunt all of the red dragons, Iain sent. Leave the heads uninjured so I can copy their memories, but none of them are to survive.

            Understood, my lord. Skye will ferry you around the battlefield. She and Sorrel will guard you while we hunt.

            I’m waiting for their arrival.

            I have learned how to copy memories, Liadan told him. I will help you collect them if you will allow it.

            Iain grinned. Your help is welcomed. I want everything in their heads, but I am very interested in two things. The first is why they are here and the second is where are their hoards. We will clean them out and leave a large sign explaining who did it and why. If we do this right, no sane red dragon will enter this valley for a thousand years.


Year Two Hundred and Forty

            The burned forest and surrounding lands had been cleared and saplings and young grasses had taken their place as the reconstruction continued. “The Lady truly has blessed us with you and your peoples’ presence,” Iain said. “If not for you, rebuilding would most likely have taken decades.”

            Yelras smiled. “I think it’s easy to see that fire overwhelmed all the other elements here, so convincing all of my compatriots to help restore the balance in this area was,” he shook his head slightly, “for the first time I can remember, easy.” He looked out over the saplings. “It won’t last, though. There are too many different personalities, all pulling in too many different directions.”

            Yelras was the elected leader of the druidic enclave in the valley. He wasn’t the most powerful druid, just the most persuasive. Almost everyone liked him and most were willing to follow his lead.

            Only Iain and Liadan knew that Yelras was a powerful psionic and had the ability to use a psionic form of suggestion. Yelras wasn’t aware that they knew. Iain only knew because Liadan had sensed Yelras trying to use it on Iain. It hadn’t worked, of course. After the discovery, Iain had reviewed the activities of the enclave and determined that Yelras only used his power to advance the clan’s interests in the valley. While what he was doing was a form of control, and Iain despised that sort of thing, the druids, taken as a whole, were a fractious bunch, so for the time being he was willing to let Yelras help him.

            “I know,” Iain replied. “I appreciate every day you hold them together.”

            “What about the greenhouses? I haven’t seen any sign of them being rebuilt.”

            Iain glanced at him. Yelras wasn’t a fan of the surface greenhouses, and he knew Iain was aware of that little fact. “We’re cutting new caverns out of native rock and putting all of the greenhouses in there. That way they’re not up here annoying you and others among the mountain and forest druids and they’re not in natural caverns and annoying the Underdark druids in the enclave.”

            Yelras looked surprised. “I didn’t realize we’d been so transparent.”

            “You haven’t been very transparent. It’s just that I am a priest of Mielikki and a priestess of Eilistraee,” Iain said. “As a servant of Mielikki, I pay attention to what her other priests are doing and saying.” He glanced at Yelras. “And I’ve been the Grey for over two centuries. I have had no choice but learn to read people, at least a little.”

            Yelras frowned. “I didn’t realize you are a priest of Mielikki. You’ve never mentioned this before. Why haven’t you been coming to her sacred days?”

            This was why Iain hadn’t mentioned it and he spent a second to mentally smack himself in the forehead for revealing it now. “I have worshipped and celebrated her alone for so long I wouldn’t know what to do in a group setting. Also, I’m the Grey and I don’t want to somehow undercut your authority by being present during the major rites to her.” And what he really didn’t want to do was given any impression to Yelras that the Grey was somehow subordinate to him. Yelras was ambitious and having, or even thinking that he had the Grey under his thumb would fire his ambitions even more than his ego already did.

            “I think I would like to have you there,” Yelras said deliberately.

            Iain smiled thinly. “I think you would like that very much. However, I am not one of Mielikki’s druids and I will continue to observe her holy days alone, which she allows me to.”

            “I am the ecclesiastical authority for Mielikki in this valley,” Yelras began.

            Iain cut him off. “And, just like I am not subject to Zilvra’s authority as the high priestess of Eilistraee in the sanctuary here, I am not subject to your authority. As the Grey, I cannot be. I have my own supervisor and she is very careful to make sure I walk the straight and narrow path that our Lady wishes me to.”

            Yelras’ eyes narrowed and his face hardened. “I want to meet her.”

            “I will pass your request on to her the next time I see her,” Iain said calmly.

            “And when will that be?”

            Iain reached out with his twee. When will I see you again?

            Do you miss me so much already, Mielikki asked teasingly.

            Already? Try always, Iain said honestly. However, what I’m asking about this time is Yelras wants to meet my supervisor so he can tell her he should be able to give me orders and he wants to know when he can meet her.

            Yelras? There was a moment of silence. Oh, the druid of mine in the valley. I don’t think it will be necessary for us to meet face to face during his lifetime. He’s done a well enough job for me, but his ambitions would be further fueled if I granted him an audience.   

            I’ll tell him a version of the truth.

            Thank you, Iain. Try not to crush him completely, but he does not need to know you are my Chosen.

            Understood. “Yelras, she comes and goes as she wills, as she has always done and will probably always do. I’ll give her your request for a meeting, but I can’t promise you she’ll come see you anytime soon.”

            Yelras made a face. “Too many of the Lady’s priests are that way. We need to have more organization in our ranks.”

            “Many of us go where the wind blows us,” Iain replied in a paraphrase from Mielikki’s religious texts, “because the Lady directs the wind to send us where we are needed most and we gave our lives up to her when we swore ourselves into her service.” He smiled ruefully. “I too am at the mercy of the Lady’s wind; it’s just she has always blown me back to here when my work for her is done.”

            “You said you were a priest. Now you sound like a ranger.”

            Iain nodded. “I am both. Do you remember last month when I was gone for two tendays?”

            “I do.”

            “The Lady sent me to a small island where some pirates had enslaved the local fisherfolk. I drove them out and brought the Word of the Lady to the islanders.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t my idea of a great place to visit but I go where the Lady sends me.”

            Yelras’ eyes unfocused. “I am needed at the Omega tree. Excuse me.” He shifted to his wolf form and loped away.

            Iain watched him go with an amused smile. He hadn’t come out here looking for Yelras. He’d just run across the sun elf and had been polite when Yelras had stopped him. Now he could return to his real reason for being out here.

            He found Shatris standing by a field and watching a farmer learning how to use the seed drill. Fara, her once maid and now bodyguard and maid, nodded to him. She smiled when he winked back. He stood slightly behind Shatris and watched the farmer for a moment. “Can I borrow you for a second, Shatris?”

            She jumped and whirled. “Iain! Don’t startle me like that.”

            “You need to pay better attention to your surroundings,” Iain chided her gently. “And don’t tell me that’s Fara’s job.”

            “I won’t,” Shatris said.

            “How’s Vatorin?”

            “My husband is fine, Iain. If you’d been here a few minutes ago you could have seen that for yourself.”

            “I got tied up with Yelras.”

            Shatris grinned. “I didn’t know you liked him that way.”

            “I don’t know I like him that way either,” Iain said. “Because I don’t.” He pulled out his phone. “And it’s good that Fara is here because she might be able to answer this if you can’t.” He projected a hologram of a male moon elf’s head and upper body. “Do you know this man?”

            “That’s Duke Stilldreamer,” Fara said instantly.

            “His first name is Farfir,” Shatris added. “He’s a duke in Keltormir. Why do you ask?”

            “Is he one of Raloric’s confidants?”

            “They grew up together and are fast friends,” Shatris said. “I almost ended up married to him.”

            Fara nodded. “She would have if the king hadn’t refused the marriage offer. He said he didn’t like the duke’s personality. He also didn’t like the way Duke Stilldreamer looked at me too.”

            “Did you grow up with Shatris like Stilldreamer did with Raloric?”

            Fara shook her head. “Not quite. My father is a count. I grew up in the palace and Shatris and I knew each other. I was training for the military but I became her maid when she became an adult and assumed the duties of princess of the realm.”

            “I see.” Iain shook his head. “Anyway, thank you for identifying Stilldreamer. Now I have to decide what I’m going to do about him.”

            Shatris put her hand on his arm. “What is it?”

            There were some things that Shatris wasn’t cleared to know. “I was curious as to why we were attacked by a flight of red dragons, so I summoned some of their shades and we had a talk.”

            Shatris shivered. “I hate it when you talk about death magic.”

            “It has its uses. Anyways, it turns out that every dragon in that flight that I spoke with had met Stilldreamer, who either outright paid them to attack us or convinced them that we were a huge, vulnerable and very rich target for some enterprising dragon to pick off.” Iain smiled coldly. “I almost would have wanted to see them after they’d defeated us. The flight would have almost instantly turned into a huge ball of betrayal and backstabbing as they fought over the spoils.” His smile vanished. “Would Stilldreamer have done this on his own?”

            Shatris shook her head. “Absolutely not. The risks of this being laid at the feet of Keltormir would be too great for him to even consider doing anything like this without my brother’s approval.” She looked thoughtful. “But why would Raloric want to attack us? Grey and Keltormir haven’t had any disputes since I left the kingdom.”

            “You don’t know?”

            Shatris gave him a slightly annoyed look. “Obviously I don’t know whatever it is you’re hinting at. What is it, Iain?”

            “As far as we can tell, you are Raloric’s last living sibling,” Iain said quietly.

            Fara sucked air in a hiss of surprise. “What of Shatris’ cousins?”

            “Like I said, as far as we can tell, she is the last living member of Raloric’s immediate or extended family,” Iain replied just as quietly as before. “There are three cousins who are unaccounted for, but it doesn’t look good. They’ve all suffered fatal accidents or been murdered by bandits of one stripe or another over the last couple of decades.” He paused and then shrugged. “And it doesn’t help that so far, Raloric does not have an heir. He takes and discards lovers on a regular basis, and none of them have gotten pregnant while with him or turned up pregnant soon afterwards.”

            Shatris had paled. “Do you think the dragons were sent to kill me?”

            “I think the dragons were convinced to attack us in the hope that you and your daughter would either be killed or, more likely, forced to flee, where you’d be much more vulnerable to having an accident of your own.” He looked out over the field. “But the real question is what do I do about this? We had a lot of people get seriously hurt and the dragons did kill a handful of us that they caught in the open during their initial attack. Several of the silver horses got killed and,” he motioned towards the field, “a lot of our crops were destroyed. We didn’t starve, but it was a lean winter. Fortunately the underground farms and our hunters kept us from starving.”

            “And all of the fish you caught for us,” Fara murmured quietly.

            “I do my part.”

            Shatris put her hand on Iain’s arm. “The people of Keltormir won’t accept your word that you spoke to the dead dragons and that these spirits told you my brother is behind this. If you do anything without real proof, proof that they would accept, it would mean war between Keltormir and Grey. I don’t want that to be because of me.”

            Iain sighed. “You really want me to let this go? We lost people in that attack.”

            “I do. I’d consider this a personal favor, Iain, and we’d lose a lot more in a war between us and Keltormir.”

            Behind Shatris, Fara started to speak and stopped herself with an obvious effort. By the anger in her eyes, Iain suspected she disagreed with her charge’s request.

            “I’ll take your request under consideration,” Iain said quietly. “I wasn’t planning on sending my troops into Keltormir tomorrow, no matter what.”

            Shatris visibly relaxed. “Thank you, Iain. I won’t forget this.”

            He nodded as he reached out with his twee to Fara. Shatris can’t hear this. If you decide you need help protecting her, let me know and I’ll get you what you need.

            Fara’s eyes went wide and then narrowed thoughtfully. You don’t believe he will stop either.

            I do not. Iain waved at the two women. “Thank you for the information, ladies. I’ll see you both at the hunt tomorrow night, right?”

            “You just want to see Shatris without clothing again,” Fara accused with a grin.

            “No, not just her,” Iain wriggled his eyebrows suggestively and Fara turned bright red.

            Shatris laughed. “Don’t give my maid any ideas, Iain.”

            Iain held up his hands defensively. “Fine. I’m going now.” He turned and loped away, his smile vanishing as soon as he’d turned. What Shatris didn’t know was that Iain hadn’t consulted a group of cryptic shades muttering in nearly incomprehensible blather and vague hints. He’d pulled the memories of every one of the thirty nine dragons in the flight and reviewed them with the computer he’d installed for that purpose. Stilldreamer had visited every one of them and encouraged them, with different stories or offers, to form a flight and attack the valley. He hadn’t told any of them to target Shatris or her family, but he had played up the idea that moon elves in the valley had been the keepers of the vast majority of the easily portable wealth in the valley, which would have focused the dragon’s attention on them after the valley’s defenses, whatever they were, had been broken.

            More importantly, Iain had used his twee and the computer to run a cross check through all of the information he’d collected over the centuries and, it turned out, Stilldreamer had visited one other dragon that Iain had the memories of.


            Stilldreamer had visited the ancient green only a few years before the dragon had murdered Thefaren and, in the guise of claiming to be another person who had lost loved ones to the Keltormir government, encouraged the dragon in his thirst for vengeance on the elven king. More sinisterly, after that, Karamoth had sometimes received letters detailing Thefaren’s movements and had, in fact, used the information in the last one to stalk and ambush Thefaren’s hunting party.

            Shatris didn’t know any of this.

            Iain hadn’t realized the closeness of Stilldreamer’s relationship with Raloric until today but, as he ran, he made an appointment with his spymistress to begin recruiting more spies in Keltormir’s capital as well as investigating any hints of discontent with Raloric’s rule. He’d also plan to have Eirian and his undead harem lay sensors inside the castle wherever possible.

            If Raloric didn’t change course, no matter what Shatris wanted, war with Keltormir was inevitable and Iain wanted all the data he could get before that day came.


Year Two Hundred and Sixty Four

            The palisade was intended to look like a quick defensive measure thrown up to stop the oncoming orc horde, but behind it was a stone curtain wall four feet thick that attackers couldn’t see because it had been covered with dried mud to look like a hasty attempt to shore up the wooden spike wall in front of it.

            When Iain, the sun elf military engineer and his military commanders had planned out the valley’s defenses, they’d made the entrance to the valley a death trap for any army. But they’d deliberately left some smaller, longer and more circuitous ways into the valley untouched as supposed weak spots for invaders to exploit. However, each of them was also a trap, the entrance to each leading to a deceptively designed kill zone to hold the attention of any attacker and keep them from sweeping into the valley. The idea was to hit the attackers while they were still entering the valley and couldn’t consolidate their forces for maximum effect.

            The leading elements of an orc horde was composed of the most aggressive and powerful members, for the simple reason that therefore they got the pick of the spoils. Now, those elements lay crippled or dying after the elves’ initial volleys and spells had torn into the unsuspecting orcs just as they’d started to enter the valley proper. Behind the lead elements, the path into the valley was narrow and treacherous, denying the invading horde a place to concentrate and reform unless they turned around and withdrew nearly ten miles to where they’d camped the day before.

            Pressure from the battle hungry orcs behind the leaders wouldn’t allow a withdrawal, and so orcs continued to spill through a cut just wide enough to let troops advance three abreast, into where the valley just started to open up and easily within medium long range of the waiting elf, dwarf and human archers.

            The kobold archers and slingers couldn’t range that far but, disciplined troops that they were, calmly held their fire while waiting for the inevitable leakers. The kobold units were really designed for Underdark combat, where they excelled, but Rardur wouldn’t leave them out of a surface battle because of their utility and their justified esprit de corps. Everyone involved knew that they would see combat and they knew that the slaughter had just begun.

            The surviving orcs were busy erecting hasty fortifications to protect the incoming horde, all the while under unrelenting fire from the archers. Rardur and his general staff knew they would eventually succeed, but at a high cost in blood and flesh. In time, probably by dawn, enough orcs would mass for them to begin probing attacks while they looked for either weaknesses in the defending forces or for a way to flank them and force them out of their fortifications. That’s when things might get interesting.

            Iain was a mile back from the palisade, in the supply area that was rapidly being turned into the forward operating base to supply the fortification and its troops. Archers had a prodigious appetite for arrows and the missiles, as well as rations and medical supplies, were being delivered by the groups of wagons to be broken down and loaded onto mules and horses for transshipment to the front line. Troops were here too and were busy throwing up more defenses to bolster the ones already in place if the front line had to retreat or, worst case, was destroyed in place.

            Just like on One, Iain really wanted to be on the front line, but he’d agreed to let Rardur and his specialists make up the plans to defend the valley and they had selected him, as a powerful wizard, priest, ranger, recently trained druid and as the only adult dragon in the valley, as part of the mobile emergency reserve. Only Iain had the speed and firepower to possibly stop a breakthrough quickly and so his job was to wait until needed for something Rardur desperately hoped would never happen.

            Iain chuckled at the thought that Rardur and Zilvra had found a way to keep him out of the middle of a battle that was much easier to justify than Ninhursag’s “it was unsafe”. He shook his head to clear it of the extraneous thoughts and went back to unloading bundles of arrows for the teamsters. Waiting, after all, didn’t mean he had to sit around on his ass. Nobody would say anything if he did, but Iain helped where help was needed.


            It was early evening and Iain was discussing the defenses with Colonel Redthorn, the commander of the 4th Company, which had been detailed to helping the 5th Company in protecting the FOB until they got released for active operations. A runner came racing up. “Sir!”

            Redthorn smiled at Iain. “Well, since he said sir, I suppose it’s for you,” she said.

            Iain looked at the runner, a dwarf male who looked too young to need to shave, and smiled when the dwarf turned bright red. “Or he made a mistake. Is this for me or her?”

            The runner presented a dispatch case. “You, sir. This just came in by silver rider.”

            The silver horses had long ago been incorporated into an airborne unit of the Grey military and they were being bred to increase their numbers just as fast as was healthily possible. Typically, they served as air scouts and messengers, although the cold breath weapons the horses possessed made them useful as skirmishers against other airborne threats. Their riders usually carried several light crossbows, in saddle scabbards, for use while in the air. They were effectively single shot devices since they were almost impossible to reload in the middle of an airborne battle, but most riders were dead shots with them, even in aerial combat. Officers had magical wands in addition to the crossbows.

            Iain opened the case and quickly read the message inside it, after absently handing the case back to the runner, who immediately raced off. He grunted. “It was sent by Rardur, but this is really for you, Clonrea, and not for me.” He held out the sheet of paper. “Scouts have located the horde’s supply train and your company of ranger elements is being released to hit it.”

            Redthorn took the paper. “That’s great news, but why send the message to you and not me?”

            “It was actually for you,” Iain said. “Someone decided I needed to see it, someone probably here at the landing site.”

            Redthorn frowned. “Would you mind if I investigated this when I have a chance?”

            “If you’re asking if I’ll get my back up because you want to make sure that messages meant for you go to you and not to me, wasting precious time because I’m off somewhere else and the runner can’t find me, I won’t.”

            She gave him a quick smile. “That obvious, Iain?”

            “To me, yes. To someone else, no. We were lucky that I was with you and we might not be that lucky next time. Find whichever officious idiot did this and fix it. Do I think he or she needs skinned for a first mistake?” Iain shrugged. “I’m the Grey. I’m not General Grey. Military discipline is exactly that unless someone makes a formal complaint to the Grey and, so far, almost no one has. Therefore, I have no official opinion on how the military maintains discipline.”

            Redthorn nodded. “And unofficially?”

            “Unofficially, I think it depends on what you find. If it’s some new person, and they screwed up royally, I’d recommend you chew them out and cut them some slack to see if they do it again. If it’s someone trying to curry favor with me, chew them out and tell them under no uncertain terms that they are not to do it again. If they ignore your order, I’ll crush them at that point, for wasting my time as well as yours. That’ll send a message to everyone else not to pull that kind of a stunt.”

            Redthorn nodded. “I’ll think about what you’ve said while we’re investigating.” She smiled thinly. “Do you want to go with my rangers?”

            Iain shrugged. “I am the ready reserve and so it doesn’t matter what I want to do right now. I can’t go with them. If I’m needed, I’ll be needed immediately, so I can’t sneak off, either. Take your rangers and go do bad thing to them for a very good reason.”

            “Yes, my Grey.” Redthorn turned and headed off.

            “Oh, and Clonrea?” She looked back at him. “Zilvra and I expect you and your daughter for dinner next week, so don’t get killed.”

            She smiled. “I heard it’s going to be Texan barbecue. Is that true?”

            “It is.” No, there wasn’t a Texas here, but Iain called his barbecue what it was and damn the consequences.

            “I’ll be sure to stay alive, then.”

            He grinned. “I’ll turn you elves into proper carnivores yet.”

            Redthorn laughed and headed away. Iain watched her go before jogging towards the next group of wagons waiting to be unloaded.


            The scout lay under some scraggly bushes and watched the activity at the cave mouth a quarter mile ahead of her from sunup until the sundown. Then another scout took her place as she returned to their camp.

            There she peed and got some food. Her sergeant sat down nearby as she tore at a piece of biscuit with her teeth. “Well?”

            “I’m almost certain it’s them,” she said. “I saw a couple of bigger orcs that had symbols painted on their shields that matched some of the flags we took from the horde and reviewed before coming here.”

            The sergeant nodded. “Are they alert?”

            The scout sneered at him. “No. And there were few adult males. Most of the males I saw were too young to go with the horde. Some of the women carried weapons, though. Most of them doubled as tools but they might be able to use them in a fight.”

            Now it was the sergeant’s turn to sneer. “Their king won’t let them train. Orcs think women are for making babies and food.”

            “There’s a lot of them, I think,” the scout said.

            The sergeant, who had been a human member of a barbarian tribe before joining the clan forty years before, smiled. “There’s always a lot of orcs. We’ll get as accurate a count as we can and let the other teams in the Underdark count them too. Then Rardur will decide how he’s going to deal with them.”

            “Isn’t that up to the Grey?”

            The sergeant shrugged. “The Grey has already said that these orcs get to be an object lesson for the other tribes. Attack our valley and there will be one result. We destroy the attackers and then we destroy where they came from.” He rose. “Get as much sleep as you can.”

            The scout smiled. “I will. I have done this before, you know.”

            “I do. I’ve done this before too, but I’ve never done this with you, so my instructions will be rather specific to all of you until we learn how each other works.”


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

Dianthus – Elfqueen

Candace – Nurse Joy (kami)

Bellona – Dragonqueen

Elizabeth - Vampire


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

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

Alabaster – Dragoness (white)

Onyx – Dragoness (black)

Lapis – Dragoness (blue)

Garnet – Dragoness (red)

Iolite – Dragoness (purple)

Malachite – Dragoness (green with white swirls)

Dabria (was Loviatar) – Dark Queen

Omisha (was Hel) – Demoness

Viersunuth great wyrm blue true dragoness

Talyl – drow commoner

Zarza – drow commoner

Sabrae – drow commoner

Sintree – drow commoner

Alyfaen Dinaen – drow, matron of House Dinaen

Phaerxae Dinaen – drow, former matron of House Dinaen, mother of Alyfaen

Selsharra of Evermeet



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)