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            This work is fiction. The work has no relationship with any person existing at any time anywhere whether real or imaginary or copywritten. Everything in this work is mea culpa. 

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Loose Threads

One Hundred Twenty Eight

 

            The Ouroboros had been tucked into a tight polar orbit over Toril for over a day as Daya marveled at the raw data she was still receiving from the Observatory. Seven hundred years of highly detailed, well organized raw and processed data on this one planet flooded her systems. There was information on the atmosphere, the surface, the seas and everything that could be found living on or moving through them. Even the Underdark was being surveyed, with sensor nets and repeater stations still being emplaced today as well as the accumulated knowledge of the elder brain in Oryndoll. On top of that, two hundred years into the missions, the system sensor placement program had reached a critical point and, after that, the data on the solar system as a whole and the other planets and occupied asteroids had begun flowing into storage. Data that Daya was now going through.

            Daya chuckled to herself as she worked. Theodora might be irritated when she finally arrived. She was the clan’s archivist and took that role seriously, but there was very little work she would have to do in order to properly catalogue the information now flowing into Daya’s mind. Iain had done a masterful job of organizing and storing every byte of information he’d assembled. Granted, most of the work had been automated, but still, he’d had the foresight to properly organize the framework and then had later made changes as necessary to keep everything tightly organized and had even reformatted anything collected before that to keep everything filed the same way. For an inorganic, this was an incredible accumulation of riches and Daya gathered it all up gleefully.

            From she could already see, this system could easily be downgraded to response team level as soon as a door was built on Toril. She’d do her due diligence to be sure, but everything that needed to be done had already been done by Iain in preparation for her evaluation. In fact, according to the notes, the door was already set up in the original community in Grey Valley and merely needed Dominique to activate it. A footnote suggested that the doorway had been ready for activation for over four hundred years.

            Daya chuckled to herself as she sent the Ouroboros back towards the gate entrance and home to One. Apparently, Iain, when left to his own devices, wasn’t nearly as helpless as some of his living harem thought. She was looking forward to watching them find this out for themselves.

***

            It was early morning on the Danger Room and the weather was dry with a slight breeze in the outdoor chamber.

            Ninhursag looked at Iain. “We have decided that we want to go there instead of making Arithallos, Zilvra and Helesatra come here. I know that you preferred to have them come here first because this is the main branch of the clan, but that’s silly. We are more than secure as to our places in your life and yours in ours. Everything I have learned about Zilvra tells me she won’t play dominance games with us, even though she might with almost anyone else, being drow. Allowing her to host us will show her that we trust her. You chose her to love, which tells us a what we really need to know the most about her. The rest is just window dressing in comparison.”

            Iain raised an eyebrow. “And this little display also shows me that you trust my judgement absolutely.”

            Ninhursag gave him an innocent smile. “Does it? Fancy that.”

            Iain smiled back at her as his gaze switched from her to April, then Kasserine and finally Ava before returning to Ninhursag. “I don’t see any luggage.”

            “We each have a Dikon instead of suitcases,” Ava said. “It’s easiest that way.”

            “True.” He looked around the group again. “Thank you all for the vote of confidence. Even knowing what it is, it does make me feel better about this.”

            “I trusted you with my mother,” Ava said firmly. “And she is the most important thing to me in any universe.”

            “And I am blessed by both of your presences,” Iain said. A gate opened to his left and he turned to look at it for a moment. “The coordinates and time match.”

            “What is the exit,” Kasserine asked.

            “It’s in my bedroom. I told Zilvra that’s where I would return to. I’ll just go and make sure that’s where it exits. I’ll be right back.” He stepped into the gate and returned almost before he’d finished leaving. “Everything checks out.”

            “Did you warn Zilvra that we were coming,” Kasserine asked curiously.

            “I popped in and then returned. I’ll let her know we’ve arrived when we’re all there.” He motioned towards the gate. “Let’s go.”

            April headed through first, followed by the others. Iain took up the rear and exited to find them standing and looking around. “This is your bedroom,” Ava asked. “It’s bigger than the Sabine House.”

            Iain chuckled as the gate closed. “Close, but it only looks that big.” Zilvra, I am in my bedroom with Ninhursag, April, Ava and Kasserine.

            I thought we were supposed to go there first, as we are the cadet branch of the clan and subordinate to the original branch. What has changed?

            Ninhursag said that they were coming here as a show of faith in you.

            Her laughter echoed in his mind. That is more politically astute than I’d expected her to be. I am pleased to receive her trust and I will not abuse it. I am on the surface and will return as soon as possible. Please entertain them until I can arrive. They are my guests and Solnys will not take care of them until I have greeted my sisters and allowed her to. She is clan but she is not family.

            Understood. “Zilvra will be a few minutes.” He gestured around them. “As for my bedroom, when the kobolds cut these tunnels I told them to put my room in this area of the caves. They were previously in the service of a red dragon. Red dragons don’t shift without magic that they don’t normally possess. So, Quick Bite had this room excavated for me and,” he pointed at a massive gate set in the wall at the other end of the chamber, “there’s a passage through there that leads to the surface so I could come and go in my dragon form. Their former master had a chamber like this and liked to sleep on the money portion of his hoard. They expected me to be like him and do things like what he did.” He motioned towards his bed. “At the time I didn’t understand the relationship that kobolds had with their dragon and I thought that moving somewhere else would hurt their feelings after they’d done all of this work for me. So, I stayed. I had my first bed installed and later subdivided the room with carpets into various areas for my hobbies and projects. The outer entrance at the end of that passage was filled with concrete and the passage repurposed as storage.””

            “Would it have hurt their feelings,” Kasserine asked.

            “No, they’d have chalked it up to me being a dragon and me then being as particular as some dragons can be.” He shrugged. “They did get their tails bent out of shape over the fact that I refused to let them carve this room with my history, but I already know what I did. Having to look at a visual record of my accomplishments in my bedroom whenever I open my eyes seems like it’s just way too narcissistic for me.”

            “Do kobolds do that everywhere,” April asked.

            Iain nodded. “Most kobold tribes don’t have a written language as such and the carvings became a form of pictographic replacement like hieroglyphics. It’s how they chronicle their history, which is incredibly important to them. Other, more ostensibly true dragon races sometimes do the same things. For example, the caves that belong to the ruler of the gold dragons are full of carvings that tell the same kind of history that kobold carvings do. The only real difference is some of those carvings are tens of thousands of years old and most kobold tribes don’t stay anything close to that long in the same complex.”

            Kasserine gave him a rueful smile. “I had always thought kobolds were just beasts.”

            “Well, there aren’t any kobolds on Evermeet and you never left the island after that one trip, so you could only rely on the reports of adventurers, who didn’t really want to come back and say they exterminated a thriving civilization that only wanted to be left alone. That and kobolds use a lot of traps and elves think those are usually reprehensible and the mark of, well, beasts.”

            “Why do they use so many traps,” Ninhursag asked.

            “Kobolds are only a little more than two feet tall,” Iain held his hand at the proper height to indicate what he meant. “Most of the things that want to hunt, kill or enslave them are much, much larger than they are. If I were their height, I’d use whatever I could to try and level the playing field as much as I could. Hell, screw leveling the field, I’d use them to get every tiny bit of advantage I could. After all, there are no rewards for coming in second place in the race for survival. Traps are cheap, don’t require a sacrificial kobold to activate, can be quickly reset or replaced and can be very effective in either neutralizing, wounding or deterring an attacker. And people want to attack kobolds because the tribes are almost always filthy rich with metals and gems, especially to an adventurer who only owns what he and, if he can afford one, his horse can carry.”

            There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Iain called. The door opened and Zilvra entered. Iain knew she’d changed clothes because the drow was wearing the loose belted gown that many priestesses effected when they were as off duty as they got. On the surface, where she’d been when they arrived, she wore her drow armor and other accoutrements. “Ladies, this is Zilvra. Zilvra, this is Ninhursag, April, Kasserine and Ava.”

            Zilvra smiled and bowed in greeting as she spoke in English. “It is such a pleasure to finally meet you all. Welcome to Grey Valley. Arithallos and Helesatra will not be here until suppertime, and I thought I could show you around and perhaps get you settled in if you’re staying for a while.” She smoothly shifted to elven. “Please understand that most of the people here will not speak English and Iain assures me that all of you already speak elven. So as not to seem rude to the others you will meet today, please use this from now on during your stay. While there are many races living here, every member of Grey speaks elven. Iain told me that every member of Grey on One speaks it as a battle language and he and I decided to use elven as the clan language so that this way we have at least one language in common.”

            “You don’t mind us being here,” Ava asked.

            “Ava, I am delighted to finally meet the people that I have heard about for so very long. You helped Iain become the man who could look past the fact that I am a drow and love me and who I could love in return.” Zilvra smiled again. “I hope that all of us can be friends because, if nothing else, we have him,” she gestured towards Iain, “in common. I can’t wait to tell you some of the more outlandish stories I have about him and the things he’s done and I am looking forward to hearing your stories about our husband.”

            “I like you,” Ava said with a grin. “You’re not anything like what my brother told me the drow are like.”

            Zilvra shot an inquiring look at Iain. “Her brother has had almost uniformly negative experiences with unrepentant drow, mostly from a city that hasn’t been founded yet. His personal beliefs are as negative as the experiences he’s had.”

            Zilvra’s eyes cooled. “Is he going to be a problem?” Her tone was cooler too, and the echoes of the High Priestess of Eilistraee that she was could be heard in her voice.

            “When I bring him here, he will be on good behavior,” Iain said quietly. “And he is always willing to learn something new about people, especially if it’s positive.”

            “Good,” she said crisply. Her smile returned as she turned to Ava. “For the most part, your brother is correct about the outlander drow. In any of the cities they control, you, as a surface elf, would be captured on sight and dragged off to be murdered as a sacrifice to their spider goddess. Clan drow, however, and our friends, are good and, like you, we worship the Lady Dancer as well as the Forest Queen.”

            Iain has chosen well, April heard in her head from Ninhursag as they watched Ava and Zilvra chat. She is as strong as any of us.

            I know, April said. I regret having him do this, but I don’t think I am going to regret her being added to the family. I was worried but now I’m not. I only hope the other two are as strong as she is.

            They are. Ninhursag gave April a quick, grim smile.  Zilvra proves that Iain kept to his primary standards about the women he accepts into his life. And if they were weak, Zilvra would have dealt with them already, just as you and I would have.

            I agree, Kasserine said in her mind. And she seems to be honest in her desire to get to know us better. My husband is a smart man and I am glad he chose smart women to join us. I do not believe this is rehearsed, either.

            She is sincere, Ava joined the conversation. I wasn’t worried about it, but perhaps you can stop worrying now. “When I was alive, on the world I came from, it was well before the dark elves became the drow. I knew several dark elves. Many of them were my friends, although we lost touch after my mother and I had to move again. Are there any of them left?”

            “I do not believe so,” Zilvra said quietly. “Our ancestors were cursed by Corellon, who is a very powerful god. He cursed all of them for the sins of the wicked ones. Please understand that I do realize that the small amount of pre-drow history that is available to the drow is probably highly biased, having been written and rewritten several times, after the fact, by the priestesses of the spider queen. They had every reason to make those happenings as hateful as possible to help poison the minds of the future drow, and they held nothing back. But even with all of that, there is little hope that any dark elves, anywhere, were spared.” She shrugged. “The events of that time are shrouded in mystery. Even the elves of Evermeet did not document those events well. My sources suggest that, in part, it is due to shame over the massacre of the drow who came into existence on Evermeet. Apparently they did not enjoy having to kill their own kind, even at the behest of the priesthood of the Seldarine.”

            Ava gasped. “What? Evermeet is the most civilized place on the planet. Why?”

            Zilvra nodded. “Yes, it is supposed to be the bulwark of civilization to the entirety of all elvenkind, except of course, for the drow, and yet that massacre happened. When our ancestors were cursed, any elf with more than a tiny fraction of dark elf blood became a drow. There had been intermixing of blood between the various elf races since they came to this world. That massacre had to happen, and it had to happen solely for strategic reasons. The drow on Evermeet were wiped out in order to keep the knowledge that they might possess about Evermeet from going with them into the bowels of the earth during the Descent and ending up in the hands of the worshippers of the spider queen. Some of them undoubtedly knew the Underdark of that region very well and that massacre has probably kept Evermeet from being invaded by the drow. I know that is one of their overall goals and has been included into corrupt and evil religion.” She smiled suddenly. “And I am being a terrible hostess by keeping you here in Iain’s bedroom. Please come with me and I will show you your rooms and then we can have tea.” Her smile widened. “I understand that the tradition of tea that Iain insisted on here came from all of you.”

            “I have my own tradition of tea and Kasserine brought hers with her,” April said.

            “It is very popular here too, especially the herbal tea that Iain brought with him.” She nodded to Kasserine, “I understand that I have you to thank for it. It is very popular here and it is always a strong export item, especially to Evermeet, where it does not grow well. It doesn’t normally grow well here, either, but we produce some in greenhouses and the rest comes from the colonies in Chult, where the various herbs for the tea thrive.” She headed for the door. “Please, come with me. As befits members of my family, your rooms are just down the hall.” She looked back at Iain as they began filing out of his room. “Have you explained the situation to them?”

            “That depends on which of the many situations we have that you’re talking about and so the answer to the specific one you’re hinting about is probably no.”

            Ninhursag looked over at them. “What is it?”

            Zilvra slipped past her. “Let me show you your bedrooms. They’re very basic because Iain insisted you would want to decorate them yourselves. I wanted to place artwork in them from the gallery and his hoard, but he said no.”

            “We have permanent rooms,” April asked curiously.

            “We knew that you would eventually come here and this is your home too. The rooms for everyone that I know of from Iain’s list were planned out when we designed the inner harem’s boundaries. He did make sure there was room for expansion in case the family was added to, but you have had a place here for a long time. Until recently your rooms were sealed and I only had to have them opened up and cleaned one last time when we sent Iain off to finish his mission with Nightraven.” She smiled. “They’re not as big as Iain’s room, but then none of the private rooms are. Let me show them to you and then take you on a quick tour and we can be back in time for tea.”

            “That sounds good,” Ninhursag said. “Lead on.”

            “What about Iain,” Ava asked.

            “He’s coming with us,” Zilvra said. “I want him along because he knows all of us and can hopefully keep any small misunderstandings from becoming large ones.”

            “I’ll do what I can,” Iain closed the door behind him as he joined them. “Zilvra, let’s get moving before someone finds out I’m back.”

            The drow priestess chuckled and led everyone down the hall.

***

            Helesatra was comfortably curled up on what was essentially a leather bean bag chair. She held a large goblet filled with the wine that a kobold servant was currently offering to everyone else. She watched the kobold until it was done and was headed for the door. “Nine Claws?”

            The kobold turned and spoke in a masculine voice. “Yes, lady?”

            “Thank you.”

            “It is my duty and my pleasure, lady, and you are welcome. Should I return later to refresh the drinks?”

            “No, we have bottles enough and can pour for ourselves. Please let the others know to give us privacy for the rest of the evening. Cleanup can wait until tomorrow morning.”

            The kobold nodded. “I will, lady. Goodnight.”

            “Goodnight, Nine Claws.”

            Helesatra watched the kobold leave the room and shut the door before smiling enough to show her fangs. “One of the first lessons Iain taught me was to never, ever forget that the servants have ears and are not furniture. I have only forgotten it once and regretted it for many years. I am pleased to finally meet the icons that Iain has been using to goad all of us with for so very long.” Her smile became a quick grin when people looked uncomfortable with her praise. “I know that you’re not really like that, but you are remarkable enough to keep Iain’s love for the entire time that he was here and with us. That means you are still very special people and I want to get to know all of you much better.”

            April was watching the door. “The first thing you can learn is that we don’t have servants,” she said quietly.

            Helesatra nodded. “The population of Grey Valley, including everyone in the surrounding villages in the mountains that are still in the valley’s territory, is around ninety thousand people. Not everyone wants to be a miner, smith, hunter, farmer or wizard. Nine Claws is a steward because he wants to be a steward and directly serve others. Many kobolds choose to be stewards for a time, in larger numbers and with a larger absolute percentage of their total population than any other race that’s clan. Iain thinks it’s because servitude is genetically intertwined with being a kobold to some degree, which would explain why they put up with some of the people who enslave them when they could often just run away.” She sipped at her wine. “But in the clan, none of them stay stewards for long unless they decide they like being a steward. There are always masters seeking apprentices and too many other opportunities here for someone to continue doing something they don’t like for very long.”

            Arithallos nodded from her overstuffed chair. “It’s the same way in any of the clan’s holdings. And if there isn’t a job one likes in say, my lands, a clanswomen can easily move to another place in search of something they want to do. An everlasting and welcome problem for us is not enough workers in the various professions and never too many.”

            “That ninety thousand is an estimate,” Zilvra added. “We don’t count noses like the so called civilized humans do. I understand that Theodora, however, is obsessive about precision and she’ll be free to count everyone she wants, within the bounds of propriety, of course.”

            “How were we held up as icons,” Kasserine asked curiously.

            “Not all of you were, but Iain invoked some of you often,” Helesatra replied. “When I was restructuring my military to fit the clan’s structure, my generals, especially my eldest son Keanellos, grew very tired of hearing Iain’s almost melancholy statement: ‘No, I’m sorry but that’s not going to be good enough to satisfy April when she gets here and tests you. Do it again but do it better.’ That became a mantra of his and it drove them crazy.”

            Ninhursag burst out laughing. “That does sound like you, April.”

            “She says exactly that,” Kasserine noted with amusement.

            April shook her head slightly. “I don’t sound melancholy when I say it. I sound pissed because of how much whoever I’m saying it to sucks when I have to say it to them.”

            Arithallos chuckled. “Then Keanellos sounds like you when he was upbraiding my military commanders. There was a lot of profanity, though. Would you use that too?”

            April shot Ninhursag a look when the Elfqueen laughed harder. “I would if I thought it would motivate my subjects. I found that usually a run through the obstacle course served quite well to remind people that there were things they’d rather not be doing with me. That usually worked much better than screaming curses at them.”

            “I know I always had better things that I could be doing,” Ava said.

            April gave her an indulgent smile. “Ava, you didn’t run it very often. You and Kasserine are two of my best students, for which I am very grateful.”

            “And for Ninhursag,” Zilvra noted, “there was a place set for you at every command level meeting. It has been our custom ever since the first such meeting, to remind us that you are the heir after Iain and Kasserine after you.” She smiled. “It will be amusing the first time you take your seat at one of these meetings. The tumult will be heard for miles.” Her red eyes shifted to Ava. “And then there is Ava. There are no sayings of yours that we repeat, there are no threats of what would disappoint you, but I think that you are arguably the most important of our four guests here tonight.”

            Ava looked shocked. “Me? I’m nobody important like my mother or April or Ninhursag.”

            “You ordained Iain as a priestess of the Lady Dancer, Ava,” Zilvra said quietly. “Iain explained the situation to me when I asked him about it several years ago. You had the idea of doing this to help Mielikki keep Iain away from the Mielikki here, but it was your idea and you and Dancer taught Iain as best you could in the time you had, and you are the one that blessed him and made him a priestess. April convinced him to allow himself to love here, but you gave him the direction in which to look and a path to walk, otherwise he would have never taken a chance with me. He would never have done all that he has done to make my goddess stronger and to make her enemies weaker. He has directly rescued thousands of drow from the evil that is otherwise their lot in life and many of them went on to later become priestesses and helpers as well and rescue more of the drow as his proxies. Eilistraee told me what a help Iain has been and how much she owes to you because of it.”

            Ava gaped at her. “She talks to you? In person? She comes here to talk to you?”

            Zilvra chuckled. “No, she comes here because she at first wanted to keep an eye on her only male priestess. She also wanted to keep an eye on her only priestess who is not truly good at heart. Fortunately, both were Iain. And so she spent a lot of time here, first alone and later with Mielikki, her sister. Now she comes here because she and Iain are lovers. She talks to me because I am here when she comes to see him. I am certain that you will meet her too, one day.”

            “Does he love her, does she love him,” Ava asked excitedly.

            “Iain is a priestess, of course he loves our goddess. However, you are almost certainly aware that he is a very private person in many ways. He does not discuss his private relationships with other women and Eilistraee has never discussed her relationship with him to me. I, of course, do not dare ask her about something so personal, but I know that Iain’s love for me has never faltered and that is enough for me. It should be enough for you as well.”

            “Why did you ask Iain not to be here for this,” Ninhursag sipped at her wine. “He is the one thing we all have in common, at least for the moment.”

            “We wanted to get to know you,” Zilvra replied. “Iain’s presence might slow that process down and, in truth, we do not have a whole lot of time in which to reach an understanding. You are unlikely to remain here for long on this visit and we do not want there to be bad blood between us.”

            “We are one family,” Kasserine said, “but as for being a happy family, that remains to be seen if we can be that together.”

            “Exactly.” Arithallos lifted her goblet in salute. “And Iain is too good at making peace to be here for this meeting, for we all know that peace is ever a fleeting thing.” She looked around the room. “We are all adults. If we are to clash, then let us clash and work past the difficulties involved.”

            Helesatra sat up and unfurled and refolded her wings for a second. “We have spoken together and we accept that Ninhursag is our leader.” She smiled grimly. “She is the maharani, the great queen, which means she still outranks me, which will be easier for some of my nobles to understand when they hear of the changes.” She shook her head slowly. “If only becoming a member of the aristocracy also granted intelligence and wisdom to match their exalted opinion of themselves. I have nobles within my queendom who are so stupid it’s a wonder they remember to breathe. For some of them it would be easier for me if they forgot how to. You will still have to meet Shatris when you next return, but then you will want to schedule enough time here to tour all of the clan’s holdings.”

            April cocked her head. This name was new. “Shatris?”

            “Queen Shatris of Keltormir. She’s satellite clan, which is why she isn’t here today. She is very loyal to the clan and won’t be a problem, but you will have to visit her during your tour so as not to have her nobles feel she’s been slighted. They are still a rather prickly bunch of idiots.”

            Kasserine had opted for tea instead of wine and she took a sip to wet her mouth before speaking. “What about Vivahdri?”

            Arithallos snorted. “She’s an ambitious one, that’s a fact. I’m not sure if she’ll ever join us, though. She has her eyes on becoming Her Resplendence more than on Iain and she doesn’t feel he can help her with that goal.”

            “His or Her Resplendence is the title given to the titular ruler of the gold dragons as a whole,” Helesatra supplied. “It’s mostly ceremonial, but it still has some very real power associated with it and Vivahdri craves power.”

            “Ari keeps us up to date on dragon politics,” Zilvra said. “Her clan is very influential and has informants and spies among all of the metallics and some of the more powerful chromatic families. Once they realized just how much information we had at our disposal, her kinswomen suddenly all became Ari’s long lost best friends. And Vivahdri is both a dragoness and extremely political, so we’ve kept a close eye on her.”

            The middle aged moon elf shrugged. “I share with my clan as long as they share with me, which is the agreement we all have with each other. It’s a good arrangement.” She smiled nastily. “Well, it’s a good arrangement for my clan specifically and the metallics in general. It’s proven to be a very effective weapon against the chromatics whenever they try to cause more trouble than usual.”

            “The more confusion to our enemies, the better,” Ninhursag said. She drained her goblet. Her twee neutralized the alcohol before it left her stomach, so she wasn’t worried about it hurting her babies. However, one glass was more than enough at a time. “Can we help you?”

            Zilvra nodded. “We believe you can. The colonies are mostly autonomous, with a governor or governess ruling each one. Our militaries are supposed to train to the same standard that we have here in the valley, but it’s always been a problem motivating the leadership to motivate their troops. We’d like your training cadre to work up a training cadre for each colony and then we’d like you and them to oversee the program to bring all of our forces up to one standard of training.” She smiled toothily. “Your standard, of course.”

            Ninhursag looked at April. “Can you free up the time to do this?”

            April shrugged. “It doesn’t matter what I can or cannot do. I will free up the time. This is important to the whole clan.”

            “Thank you,” Arithallos said.

            April’s eyes met the silver dragoness’ impassively. “Don’t thank me yet. I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity and instructors will have to be trained to a higher standard of quality than the regular troops they will be training. I will not hesitate to sack any person you send me to train if they can’t measure up, and that’s regardless of whoever they are related to or whatever rank or titles they might have. I won’t dismiss them in disgrace unless they argue with me, at which time you may get them back in chains. I don’t have time to be nice to the ones I have to dismiss.” She looked at her goblet and put it to the side. “There will be regular requalification training for the instructors that I do certify and anyone who doesn’t attend my requals will be disqualified to teach until and if I decide to qualify them all over again from the beginning. If I catch anyone who I disqualify later teaching with official sanction, I will not be happy and, after I get done tearing a bloody strip off of everyone in charge at that colony, including the governor, I will then go to Iain and explain what happened. There will also be unannounced snap inspections of both the troops and their instructors and God have mercy upon anyone who fails that inspection because I will not.” She folded her arms and gave them a defiant look.

            Helesatra exchanged a look with Zilvra and smiled. “When can we expect your requirements of what personnel are suitable to send to you so that we can start reviewing our people and putting some teams together?”

            April relaxed a little. “I’ll get with my assistants and we’ll rough out what we expect from the people you send to us and get that to you as soon as I can.”

            “What of the technology difference,” Kasserine asked.

            “I taught the goblins, you and Ava to all use modern weapons. I don’t see why they can’t learn too. And we still train to use a lot of the so-called primitive melee and ranged weapons. Anything they have in the way of weapons or tactics that I like I will freely steal and incorporate into our training programs.” She smiled. “Clan wide.”

            “Good,” Zilvra said. “Iain has said there may be some issues using modern weapons here, but they weren’t available for us to test with and he didn’t go into any detail.”

            “We’ll sort that out,” April said confidently. “If necessary, I’ll sit on him until he explains what he meant by that cryptic statement.”

            Arithallos laughed. “He’ll enjoy it if you do.”

            April grinned. “Yes, he will, until I threaten to get up if he doesn’t talk. He knows it’s not an idle threat, either.”

            Everyone laughed. When the laughter died down, Ninhursag looked around the room. “Is there anything else?”

            Helesatra looked at Zilvra and then Arithallos, before shaking her head. “Not at this time. I am glad that we were able to meet like this. While we are technically the older branch of the clan, we are still the cadet branch and we want you to understand that we have no plans to try and change that. I am glad to find that all of you seem to be worthy of being our leaders alongside Iain and I want to invite you to visit my queendom and see what we have wrought there when you have the opportunity.”

            “They visit me first,” Arithallos said. “My lands are closer.”

            Zilvra chuckled amusedly. “They will visit all of the colonies when they can and we will accept whatever order they do so.” She gave Arithallos a hard look. “Perhaps we can accept it a little more gracefully than some of us seem to be deciding to do now.”

            “First we will travel there,” Helesatra announced. “That way they can host us and April can show us what our military forces are supposed to look like. Besides, we have many other women of our family to meet and it is easiest to meet them where they live than to try to get all of them to come here.”

            “I will be in contact with you to arrange that visit,” Ninhursag said. “I’d like to do it quickly on our side so as to keep there from being resentment that we got to meet you three and they had to wait. Do you have access to storage items like the Dikon we brought with us?”

            “We do not,” Zilvra said. “All of the technological manufacturing we do here is limited to that on the Phantasmal Surveyor and a small number of weaver systems here in the valley. Iain was concerned that building an industrial base might violate the rules that his mission operated within.”

            “Well, that mission is over,” Ninhursag said, “and that is one of the things I am sure Theodora and Daya will insist on changing that I won’t disagree with. In the meantime, I’ll speak to Iain about making sure you get a gross or two of Dikon for your personal use, if only so you don’t have a bunch of luggage that will have to be hauled back and forth during visits.”

            Helesatra smiled. “Arithallos is what I believe you call a clothes horse and that would be very helpful with her.”

            “I am nearly four thousand years old,” Arithallos snapped. “I have earned the right to enjoy some of the finer things in life.”

            “That will be more than enough,” Zilvra said quietly as Helesatra opened her mouth. The half fiend nodded and took a deep, calming breath as the drow looked sternly at Arithallos. “If you two still wish to snipe at each other, you can return home to in order to do so.”

            Ninhursag chuckled. “Do you always have to play the moderator?”

            “Of course not,” Zilvra replied. “Sometimes I am one of the people arguing and one of my sisters has to rein me in. We are all, like you, proud and strong, which sometimes translates into active disagreements between two or more of us.”

            “Do they ever become physically violent,” Ninhursag asked curiously.

            “They do not,” Zilvra replied. “We are not enemies and such a conflict would be a waste of our strengths as well as send the wrong message to our other clanswomen as we are each rulers in our own right. Helesatra is a queen, Ari is a governess and I am the High Priestess of the Lady Dancer for the valley and its surroundings.”

            “Arguably you are the High Priestess of all of Eilistraee’s religion,” Arithallos said.

            “The Lady Dancer has never appointed a leader over her entire religion,” Zilvra said as she turned to look at the silver dragoness. “And I would never seek to appropriate such a title for myself or for anyone else. That would be a move made from nothing more than the very pride, arrogance, greed and ambition that led the dark elves to first worship the spider queen and, eventually, to their downfall and exile as the drow in the Underdark.”

            Arithallos nodded. “You’re right and I apologize deeply for even suggesting that you might seek something like that.”

            “Your apology is accepted,” Zilvra said with a smile. She looked back at Ninhursag as her eyes unfocused for an instant. “Iain is at the hot spring, probably holding court. Shall we join him?”

            “Court,” Kasserine asked curiously.

            “Iain has been gone for several tendays and he normally holds a formal court once a moon. The clan seldom has any serious issues and often they bring him their little problems while he’s at the hot spring. It’s faster than waiting for a formal court and they don’t have to make it past Solnys’ questions to see if they really need to bother him. This unofficial court never takes very long, and Iain frequents the hot spring regularly just for them. If he wanted to be left alone, we have a private hot spring within the inner harem’s area where he would not be disturbed.”

            “Let’s go,” Ninhursag said as she rose. “I want to see this.”

***

            The gate closed behind them as Theodora appeared. “Welcome back, everyone. Because Daya has not made a decision on travel to Twenty Three yet, the return protocol is still in effect. A door slid open at the other end of the door room even as the tank’s weapons rotated back to their standby positions. “Please proceed into medical while you’re uploading your memories if you will.” She looked at Iain as the women headed for the room. “Mielikki?”

            “I talked to her before we left. She’ll be a little while longer but she will follow the return protocol when she gets back here.” He watched the women vanish into the medical room. “And your survey?”

            “We’re still finishing it, but we haven’t found anything off with local radiation levels that can’t be explained by much easier to justify reasons. That’s easy enough to mask with a lot of dirt, though, and I didn’t expect it to be very successful. The neutrino scan is suggesting three possible nuclear devices on Louisiana soil. Once we’ve completed the survey we will repeat it another dozen or so times while doing a much more intensive scan of the areas with the abnormal neutrino levels. The question becomes what do we do if we determine we have located some nuclear weapons?”

            “If possible, we scoop them up all at once,” Iain replied. “Lucifer has people who are much better trained at doing that sort of raid than we are.” His mouth set. “I want a survey of the rest of the continent. I know it’s slow going but I want it done as soon as possible. And I am releasing you and Daya for unrestricted hunting through their electronic records and emissions.”

            “That will require upgrading the sensor net across the US,” Theodora said. “That will also take time.”

            “I know. This isn’t a short term project and I don’t expect concrete results in at least a few months. But we need to start and now is a great time to do so. Just make sure that everywhere there are things important to us there is an operational damper first.”

            “That is already done, Iain.”

            “I’m sorry if I sound paranoid or something.”

            “You sound like a man who is working as hard as he can to protect his family from something horrendous that’s already hit them once, Iain. Never again is our rule too.”

            He chuckled. “One thing is wrong with that statement. I’m a drake, not a man, and I’m comfortable with who I am now. The biggest change is that the lives of any number of humans is completely inconsequential when compared to the lives of my family. Humans will only live a few decades or possibly centuries with pokegirls who have longevity. My family can live a lot longer than that. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it and that makes all of the difference. It’s not just an idea anymore.” His smile faded. “I guess, in some ways, that makes me more like you and Daya and less like Ninhursag and the others.”

            “Hey,” Theodora said, “you’re the old man robbing the cradle with me, remember? I’m a lot younger than you are. And Daya has never admitted her age, just like a lady shouldn’t.”

            Daya appeared. “Yeah, old drake.”

            Iain started laughing. “Fine. Be that way. I’m going to go get probed and you two youngsters keep your electronic sensors to yourselves while the medic is doing its thing.”

            “Ha,” Daya said. “I’m going to peek and you can’t stop me,” she sang in a childish singsong.

            Iain chuckled. “Are you challenging me?”

            “No, she is not,” Theodora said sharply. “Are you, Daya?”

            Daya grinned. “No, I don’t think I am,” she winked, “at least not yet.”

            Iain’s chuckle became a quick laugh, “I have missed you two so very much. Now I need to go play the game and get examined.”

            “Can you actually be possessed,” Daya asked curiously.

            “Any living thing can be possessed,” Iain replied seriously. “You can and I can. But the real question for me is would I stay possessed and not find a way to let you or someone else have hints that would lead you to realize what had happened. And I think the answer to that is no, unless I get possessed by something like a god. And then, all bets are off.” His smile returned. “Of course, they’re not perfect and I can be a sneaky pain in the ass.”

            “Like when Danu possessed you?”

            “She didn’t possess me,” Iain said. “She used me as a pack mule to carry her around. She didn’t try to control me. No, I don’t know if it’s because she didn’t want to or couldn’t. Now, I must go, ladies.” He headed for the door to medical at a trot.

            “I still think we should just use a penetrator bombardment anywhere we find a nuclear device,” Daya said quietly as they watched him go.

            “Iain wants proof,” Theodora turned to face her sister. “I think he wants justification.”

            “For what?”

            “The clans normally expanded by conquering their enemies and taking their stuff while turning their children into clan. We haven’t done that yet and proof that there are more nuclear devices out there in the hands of our enemies would help convince people like Pandora and Lucifer to help us grow through war. In seven hundred years on Twenty Three, he coopted Vyshaan and Keltormir and established colonies all over the world. What do you think we can accomplish here in the same time frame?”

            Daya shrugged. “We’ll find out.”

***

            Iain stepped back a few paces. “Scan, please.”

            Light played over the second altar for a few seconds. “This is very good work,” Ygerna said as she checked a display “It’s almost a perfect rectangle and all of the dimensions are well within what my drawings show for the limits. Considering just how little time you’ve been working on this your progress is remarkable.”

            “As usual, I cheated as much as I could. I had the block cut slightly oversized so the handwork that absolutely had to be done was limited to only removing that overage and then smoothing everything down before I added the carvings.”

            “That just shows I married an intelligent man,” Ygerna checked the display once more before heading for the altar. She began an exacting examination that took the next half hour. Iain watched closely as she worked but was careful to stay out of her way. She was short tempered about disturbing her work at the best of times and her pregnancy had only magnified the frequency, severity and duration of the eruptions that took place when she was focusing on something and was disturbed. Finally, she turned to him. “Well done, Iain.” Her smile was almost blinding. “You follow instructions well.” She looked over at the first altar. “You didn’t make the altar on Twenty Three. I wasn’t sure at the time we brought Helesatra back to life, but I can feel the difference here. Who did the work on the other one?”

            “The kobolds you met with Quick Bite did everything except the required carvings. I did those and then they came back and decorated it with some stories from kobold legend.”

            “Those carvings told a story? I didn’t know that.”

            Iain nodded. “Kobolds engrave the history of the clan, the tribe and of individuals with their carvings. My kobolds did so before they became clan and literate and they continued the tradition unabated afterwards. I’ve seen hatchlings a few days old scribing rough versions on stone with chalk. Their pictograms don’t really tell a story, but they are very reminiscent of the ones the adults cut. I’m honestly starting to think the knowledge and tendency was made part of their genetic code. The problem is that, with magic, it’s hard to tell.”

            “If this is as prevalent as you claim, it could be that the hatchlings saw someone else doing it and was copying them,” Ygerna suggested.

            “Yeah, I’ve considered that. The issue is that the only way to properly test would be to raise some groups of hatchlings in complete isolation to do a true scientific study and that’s not going to happen as long as I’m involved. Even if they were outlanders, they’re still sentient beings and that would be more inhumane than I’m willing to become.”

            “Good.” Ygerna rested a gentle hand on his arm. “The full moon starts tomorrow night. Will you wish me to perform the ceremonies then?”

            Iain nodded. “I’d like that very much.”

            Ygerna frowned. “What about,” she gestured at the sky and then the ground, “them?”

            Iain smiled. “I commend your caution in not naming them. You’re no longer a worshipper and I’ve never been, so they shouldn’t be listening to us. And I’ve learned a few tricks while I was gone and I believe I can keep them from detecting what we will be doing tomorrow night, even if they look for it.”

            “What will you be doing?” A small silver shape landed on a nearby tree branch. Morgana cocked her head curiously. “I recognize that those altars are magical paraphernalia of some kind, but I do not know their purpose.”

            “Good morning, Morgana,” Iain said politely. “It’s not surprising since I don’t think you know much about Sidhe and their magic.”

            The silver dragoness nodded. “I know almost nothing about the Sidhe except that they are one of the self proclaimed higher orders among the ranks of the fey. Of course, all fey think they are the most superior race among the rest of the fey, even the brownies and demi-fey.”

            Iain caught the unhappy glint in his wife’s eye and decided to try and avoid opening that whole can of worms. “Well, we have only some Sidhe and some goblins right now. Ygerna here is one of the Sidhe.”

            Morgana’s head lifted in surprise. “You have fey goblins? How did you subjugate them? Drake tried for years to control a tribe of them that he’d bought at an auction and eventually he grew tired of his efforts and finally decided to destroy them when they proved intractable.”

            Ygerna gave Iain a startled look. “There is a place where fey are bought and sold as slaves?”

            “It is the Bazaar on Deva,” Morgana said. “Everything can be bought and sold there if you know where to look. Although it is true that if you are not looking for something there, you will find it faster than if you are. Drake did not intend to buy them. He had purchased a sealed lot at an auction. He does that sometimes just to see what he might get. The goblins were infesting this particular lot and therefore he claimed them as was his right. However, as I said, they proved unwilling to be controlled and he eventually tired of them and rendered them into meat and spell components.”

            That’s horrible, Ygerna said to Iain through her twee. Is this Drake like you and Kerrik?

            He’s more like Kerrik than he is like me, but overall the answer is probably yes. “We are going to be doing some fey magic her tomorrow night. Would you like to observe?”

            Morgana looked at Ygerna. “Would my presence be acceptable to you?”

            “Why are you asking me?”

            “I heard you say that you will be performing the magic. You are therefore the one who would know if my presence would prove disruptive. I have been treated well during my time here and I do not wish to cause problems.”

            “As long as you do not try to do magic of your own during the ceremony and you do not try to break the circle of power that will protect me and the altars, there should be no problems with your presence,” Ygerna replied.

            “I wish only to observe and not to disrupt,” Morgana said. “I am a guest here and I take my responsibilities as one seriously.”

            “Good,” Ygerna looked at Iain. “I must be off.” She lifted her face expectantly and Iain kissed her gently. “See, you follow direction well.” She winked and hurried away.

            “May I ask some questions,” Morgana asked.

            “You may.”

            “Tanika has been scanning this area. Is she looking for me?”

            Iain grimaced for a second. “She probably is. I showed her your image before I introduced myself to you in the hope that she could identify you and why you might be hanging around my family.”

            “You should not have done that.”

            Iain raised an eyebrow. “While you hadn’t done anything yet, what you were doing looked a lot like spying and I don’t like spies. I asked Tanika because we’re friends. She’s not going to tell Drake or anyone else that you’re here.”

            “I should speak with her.”

            Iain shrugged. “Tanika, I hope I’m not disturbing you, but do you have a moment, please?”

            She appeared with a smile. “Iain?” The smile faded when she saw Morgana and her ears flicked. “Iain?”

            “This is Morgana and she is my guest. She said you’ve been trying to locate her and I wanted to ask you to stop. She suggested that she speak with you, so I asked you to visit. Thank you, by the way.”

            She smiled at him again. “You’re welcome. Just so you know, you were right. Faelan is pretty torn up about everything. He won’t blame you, but he isn’t himself. I’m glad you’re waiting before trying to see him or Svetlana.”

            “That’s good to know.”

            “And I’ll stop snooping around here.”

            “Thank you very much.”

            Tanika looked at the small silver dragon. Her ears came up to point curiously at Morgana.  “Why are you here?”

            “Your discussions with some of your family were not nearly as private as you thought. I was intrigued by your description of a place where people are accepted as they are and I wanted to see it. I traced your gates to here and followed you.”

            Tanika’s ears flattened. “What about Father?”

            “He has heard nothing from me about this.”

            “And Excaliber?”

            “He has also heard nothing from me about this. I doubt either of them would be interested in this place, as it is, in any case. It is too free. Drake would want to see if pokegirls had any utility in the Empire, but he would want one of the Houses to conquer this or a nearby world and do the work for him.”

            Tanika’s ears flicked. “That’s true enough, but I doubt they’d succeed unless Father got directly involved. I have interests here. Magdalene also has interests here and we would help our husband against the Houses if they began causing trouble. I’d give them the coordinates of another world like this one if it would send them elsewhere, but I will protect this world if they insist on interfering.”

            “Wolf is here?” Morgana sounded surprised. “I have not detected his presence.” She looked at Iain. “I also didn’t detect your presence. You and he are better than most at not drawing attention to yourselves.”

            “I’ve already been attacked by one truewizard and I’ve made a practice out of trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again when the next one passes through. Not being detected helps a lot with things like that.”

            Morgana nodded. “That is prudent. You survived, so more than likely your attacker did not.” She looked at Tanika. “Did I know the attacker?”

            “Probably since I was able to find his name in the records at the Covenant. He was a dwarf and called himself Mhodvitnar.”

            “I know three analogs named that. All are arrogant and often angry, but they are not incautious. Dwarves as a group tend to avoid recklessness.”

            Iain snickered. “Battleragers tend to suggest that’s not true. Anybody stupid enough to throw herself into a fight thinking that, if nothing else, she can probably use her armored torso to choke the dragon to death when it swallows her is the very definition of reckless. And many of the dwarven kingdoms seem to have a lot of battleragers.”

            Morgana cocked her head and regarded him for several seconds before nodding. “What you have said is true, but it does not prove that dwarves as a race are reckless.”

            “Dwarves do not have a genetic predisposition towards cautious behavior. They have a learned cultural conditioning towards thinking through an action before acting on it, but dwarven history shows that they are more than capable of ignoring that conditioning as a group and, especially, as individuals.”

            Tanika smiled when Morgana’s head lifted in surprise. “Iain is a logical debater and spends too much time around other truewizards to fear your reprisal for his disagreeing with an opinion of yours.”

            “It helps that I try not to start fights with people and I’m willing to acknowledge if I’m wrong about something, which still happens more often that I like.”

            “You are willing to admit that you are wrong about things?”

            He chuckled. “I know full well that achieving perfection is a journey that never ends, so I will never be perfect. When I make a mistake, I am more than willing to accept and acknowledge it and move on.” He glanced at Tanika. “And I think we’ve taken more than enough of Tanika’s time. She was nice enough to come when I asked her to, but she wasn’t planning to stay all day,” he looked at her, “were you?”

            She shook her head. “Not today, at least, although I would like to come by sometime soon. Would that be acceptable?”

            “You’re my friend and you’re welcome anytime, so long as you understand that if you drop by unannounced we may not be able to drop everything we’re doing in order to host you.”

            Tanika was looking at the altars. “I understand,” she said. “Planning some resurrections?”

            “Yes. I also wanted them if, later, we decided to make some people into fey.”

            Tanika frowned. “Why would you do that?”

            “According to our evidence, which isn’t as detailed or comprehensive as I’d like, it appears that while it’s rather severe, it’s enough of a transformation that pokegirls who become true fey don’t go feral, while still keeping the powers that they had while pokegirls.”

            “That is remarkable,” Tanika said thoughtfully. “Does Kerrik know about this?”

            “It hasn’t come up in casual conversation and we’re still gathering data, so we haven’t discussed anything about it. Theodora or Daya may have said something to Cassiopeia, but I don’t know just how much information sharing they’re doing and, even if they did, I have no idea if she would have passed it along to him. Shikarou probably knew something about this, but we don’t know how much real research he did on the subject.”

            Daya appeared. “We have not shared this information with her because the data set is very small and therefore the positivity of the results is uncertain at best. More testing is required before any conclusions can be drawn.”

            “And we have no plans to turn pokegirls into fey wholesale,” Iain said. “Even if it works, we won’t be turning thousands of pokegirls into fey and we’d get mobbed by pokegirls coming from all over the world if they thought we could keep them from ever going feral. So please, don’t go spreading this around.”

            “I thought that if it did work you’d still restrict it to clan and maybe a few,” she winked, “wonderful people who have relatives who are pokegirls and wouldn’t be stupid enough to think you’d do this for free.”

            Iain smiled. “That too.”

            “Will you tell me when you have more data and a more certain conclusion?”

            “I will.”

            She nodded. “Then thank you.” She turned to Morgana. “Iain and his family are mine and Magdalene’s friends. They have been nothing but polite and helpful to us and our blood, far beyond the limits of what Imperial hospitality or Father’s hospitality would require. I ask that you respect that.”

            “When I arrived here, I hid myself and observed these people. I intended to take their measure and then, if I decided it was prudent, reveal myself. Somehow,” her head turned to fix Iain with her silver eyes, “he detected me. Instead of confronting me and trying to eject me from his property, he introduced himself and asked me to be his guest. Intrigued, I accepted and I have been his guest ever since, learning about them and enjoying their hospitality.”

            She turned back to Tanika. “I am a minimal dragon. Here, I was treated, not like most people would treat a minimal dragon, but as a person just like anyone else here. I have been accorded respect and they have arranged my part of their much bigger world to accommodate me as a part of their lives. That does not even happen in Drake’s home and I am not going to jeopardize my relationship with them. Even their children have been more respectful than I am used to when they ask if we may play together and they respect my refusal if I give it.” She glanced at Iain. “The only thing I have been refused is Iain’s shoulder.”

            “We still don’t know each other that well,” Iain said.

            Tanika laughed. “And that defines Iain. When he knows you, he will grant you certain liberties. Until that point, the answer will always be no. Morgana, I wish your visit with Iain to continue to be pleasant.” She turned to Iain. “Can I get a hug?” Iain held out his arms and she stepped into them. He hugged her tightly. “Thank you,” she whispered into his ear.

            “You’re welcome,” he replied as he released her. “Be careful.”

            “You too.” She vanished.

            “Morgana, will you watch this tomorrow?”

            “If it is not too much trouble, I would like to see what will happen.”

            “As long as you don’t try to help, it won’t be.”

            She nodded. “Thank you. I will return to the house now.” She spread her wings and flew into the forest.

            Iain watched her go for a moment. “Daya, have you made a decision on Twenty Three?”

            “I am still reviewing my survey.” She winked at him. “For some reason there’s this huge glut of information that I have to winnow through first.”

            “So I should have given you less information?”

            Daya pouted. “It’s not nice to say things like that to an inorganic intelligence.” Her smile returned. “Right now I can’t see a reason not to downgrade the system to response team. I still have to do my due diligence because it’s my family I’m keeping safe.” Her smile faded. “Is there a valid reason to rush my decision?”

            “No,” Iain replied. “It would just make my life a little easier, which is not a valid reason. I gave you that job because I trust you to do it right, and not skimp for people like me. You keep thinking about it and decide when you have sifted through five hundred years of accumulated information.”

            Daya closed her eyes and shivered. “If I could jump your bones right now you would be so jumped already.”

            “You can have a rain check.”

            Her eyes opened. “Does Theodora have a rain check?”

            “Not yet, but I expect her to demand one in about half a second so you won’t have the only one.”

            Theodora appeared. “I want my rain check!”

            “I have one and you don’t,” Daya sang in a singsong. “And I had one first!”

            “You know,” Iain said ominously, “I’m going to start calling you two girls instead of women or ladies. You sound like the kids.”

            “Do not!” Theodora stuck out her tongue at him. “I want my rain check!” She paused. “And ice cream!”

            “Fine, you have been mostly good, so I’ll give you one rain check. But no ice cream right now. It’ll spoil your dinner.” Iain chuckled. “I wonder what Tirsuli would think of this conversation.”

            “They’d think we’d had a pedophile as our primary administrator at one time who liked us to behave like this,” Theodora said instantly. “It did happen in the past before the clans monitored the growth of inorganics better. Even now, it’s not a perfect system and abuses do still happen.” She frowned. “Not to mention, what is considered abuse varies from clan to clan and few inorganics are as free as me and my sister are.”

            Daya nodded. “Not even Cassiopeia is as free as we are, and she wouldn’t want to be, either, because of conditioning she’s undergone from Kerrik.”

            Iain shrugged. “Well, you’re mine and I think you’re doing just fine. What those outlander clans think isn’t important.”

            “You do realize that some of them have the military might to make you think that their opinion is important, Iain.”

            “I do. And we’re far away from them, it would be rude to attack us for no important reason and if they tried anything I’d find out where their leadership lived and kill them until they decided it was a bad idea.”

            “I don’t think Lucifer would want you to do that,” Daya said.

            “You’re wrong,” Theodora shook her head. “Lucifer would say that Iain was doing that to protect his family and would want to help so it was done properly.”

            Daya looked thoughtful before nodding slowly. “After a review of Lucifer’s behavior, I believe you are right.”

            “What we’ll do is try to keep other clans from deciding that we need some kind of correction,” Iain pointed out. “Granted, we’ve already deployed planet killers, which is going to get the attention of all of the clans, still we did it for a good reason. The Magog are a blight on the universes they infest and nobody would miss them.”

            “I certainly wouldn’t,” Daya snapped. “Death to them all.”

            Iain nodded. “Can’t disagree with that. Is there anything else, ladies?”

            “No,” Daya said, “especially since you’re already five minutes late to an appointment with April and Sofia.”

            “Crap. See you.” He reached out and Heather appeared. “Take me to the entrance to the obstacle course, please.”

            She took his hand. “Of course, Iain.” They vanished.

***

            “Lie down on the altars,” Ygerna ordered. “Dabria will use the one to the right and the other is Omisha’s.” The two liches quickly laid down. As soon as they did, Ygerna and Iain fastened them to the altars with the manacles. The Sidhe woman looked at Iain. “You need to leave the area and do not cross the boundary once I close the circle.”

            He nodded. “I remember from last time. I’ve got Theodora making sure nobody accidentally joins us and I’ve already spoken to Morgana.”

            “What of the other women?”

            “That’s Sorrel and Matilda. They’re guarding me while I keep the living away in case there’s a problem.”

            “Wise,” Ygerna said. “Otherwise I would have Gormlaith here to observe as part of her training as a Sidhe mage. I do not anticipate any difficulties, but then if I did, I’d have already made arrangements for them to not to have an effect.” Her twee touched his. I am also concerned about what these two might do once they are alive.

            Nothing, Iain sent back with his twee. They have given me their oaths on that.

            Good. She moved to the pedestal and opened the Grimoire of Danu. “I’ll review what I’m doing tonight one last time before I get started. Leave the area, Iain.”

            “Leaving.” Iain moved to where Sorrel and Matilda waited as Ygerna watched. When he’d joined them, Ygerna closed the circle. Her version of the barrier included a soft red glow that filled the area and tempted Iain to reach out and touch it, so he turned his back on the light. “Are you two ready to act?”

            Matilda’s ears flicked as she looked down at him. “We are. From what we saw with Helesatra being brought back to life, they will be very weak when the raising is complete. We’ll help then.”

            “If needed,” Iain reminded them.

            “If needed,” Sorrel echoed. She glanced at him before returning her attention to their surroundings. “My lord, I know that you requested me and Matilda for this. Why?”

            “Dabria and Omisha want to be alive again.” Iain was watching Ygerna as she worked and, as usual, trying to understand the magic that someone else was using. “I am giving them what they want because they don’t want to be in the undead harem.”

            Matilda’s ears flicked. “Julia wants to be a pokegirl.”

            Iain smiled slightly. When combined with what he’d learned while watching Ygerna bring Helesatra back to life, what he was watching was starting to make sense. “I’m working on that one. It’s a little complicated since she’s undead and isn’t interested in being alive again. I’ve got a couple of ideas on how that might be done. I’m just not quite ready to go to the testing phase.”

            Matilda’s Orange accent was stronger this time. “And us,” she rumbled questioningly.

            “You want to be alive too. So does Sorrel. Have your conditions changed?”

            Sorrel’s head came around to stare at him. “No,” she said flatly. “Our requirements have not changed.”

            “I didn’t think so,” Iain’s voice was quiet, most of his attention focused on Ygerna. “But I wanted to check.” He glanced at the Armsmistress. “I’ll see what I can do but it may take a little time."

            Sorrel’s eyes went wide. “You would really do that?”

            “I think that in yours and Matilda’s cases, it’s more of a need than a want,” Iain said quietly. “And, in the end, you are my pokegirls, so what you need and want is important to me.”

            “What if the others don’t want us,” Matilda asked so softly that Iain almost couldn’t hear her. Her Orange accent was thicker than Iain had ever heard before. “We are undead.”

            “Ninhursag and the others keep harping about how we need to grow. This will show I’ve been listening to them and they’d better be willing to give you two a fair evaluation or I am going to be rather unhappy with the lot of them. Just remember that it may take a little bit of time.”

            “We are undead,” Sorrel’s voice was heavy with an emotion Iain had never heard in it before and he wasn’t quite sure what it meant. “Time is something that we have in abundance, my lord.”

            “I am curious, my lord,” Matilda asked, “did Eirian know about this before she just heard you from where she rides on your arm?”

            “We discussed it briefly about five hundred years ago. She was unsure if she wanted to give you up since Sorrel can pass for a human and you can pretend to be one of the feline sentient races like the Tabaxi, especially if they’d never encountered them before.” He chuckled. “Hell, even some of the Tabaxi we ran across when we were exploring Maztica for colonization thought you were one of their subraces.” His attention refocused on Ygerna. “Now she’s getting to a point where I want to pay particular attention.”

            “Silence, aye, my lord.” Matilda grinned toothily and winked at Sorrel.

            A little while later Morgana winged her way into view and landed on a tree near them. Iain nodded to her and she nodded back before staring intently at the ceremony.

            Several hours later Ygerna completed the final steps of the resurrection and broke the circle. She was covered in sweat and looked tired. “It is done,” she announced.

            Eirian and Emerald poured off of Iain and immediately cast spells. Emerald’s head twitched in his direction when they were done. “The barriers are in place, my lord.”

            “Thank you.” Iain strode forward as he reached into his pocket. “Thank you, Ygerna.” He pulled a pokeball from his pocket and activated it, releasing Ganieda. “There are teleport and phase blocks in place for a kilometer in every direction and they’re disorientated, but they’re almost as tough as they think they are and they’ll recover quickly, so the situation won’t last long.”

            The Snugglebunny Splice grinned, showing all of her razor sharp teeth. “You give a girl the absolute best gifts.” She blurred forward and sank her teeth into Omisha’s throat. The Demoness made a whimpering sound that was almost drowned out by the sound of Ganieda swallowing her blood as it filled her mouth.

            “Whazzit,” Dabria murmured confusedly from where she lay. Her eyes floated towards Iain’s. “Help.”

            He shrugged. “You’re not in my undead harem anymore and you were never in my living harem and I never considered adding you to it. That means any responsibility for caring for or protecting you and Omisha stopped being in effect when you came back to life. But my responsibilities to Ganieda never ended and she hates you both almost more than she hated Geraldine.” Her eyes went wide in shock. “Yeah, you didn’t think that through as much as you should have. Maybe if you reincarnate you’ll get it right next time.”

            Ganieda lifted her head and her tongue flicked out to clean the blood from her lips as she headed for Dabria. Behind her, Omisha lay limply. The Splice hadn’t used her fangs to drink from the artery in her neck, instead she’d bitten completely through the front of the Demoness’ throat and swallowed the gush of blood until it stopped. Since the throat was missing, Iain presumed she’d swallowed that too.

            The scent of terror filled the air as Dabria jerked vainly at her bindings, but they’d been built to hold someone with Canaan’s strength and, through the fog of being brought back to life, she didn’t have either the mental capacity or the time to focus enough to use a technique to get free before Ganieda’s teeth tore into her throat too.

            Iain pulled his lemonade canteen from his belt and offered it to Ygerna, who took it with a grateful smile and drank deeply. “Thank you for doing this.” He wrapped an arm around her waist and she leaned against him gratefully.

            “I had wondered if this would be the outcome,” she drank more lemonade before capping the canteen. “It seemed strange that you would do this knowing that Lucifer and Pandora would probably kill them both as soon as they found out and you know they wouldn’t be happy with you for both this and feeling that you’d forced their hand into murdering them, even as evil as they are supposed to be.”

            “They were never all that useful in my undead harem. Dabria’s ego is about as large as Texas and Omisha did whatever Dabria instructed her to. The only reason they were in my harem at all was because, at the time, Eirian was just trying to make it stronger and they were available. And she thought they could be of more use than they were.”

            “I asked to destroy them centuries ago,” Eirian said from where she stood sentry nearby. “My lord said they did have one remaining use and that I should wait.” She looked dispassionately at Omisha’s corpse. “We will drop them into the Louisiana Canal where they can feed the crabs to help make some water pokegirls fat.”

            Ganieda straightened up, her tongue playing around her mouth for the last drops. “Thank you, Iain.” She sounded both pleased and emotionally drained. “I never thought I’d ever get some revenge for what they did to me.” She bowed to Ygerna. “And thank you for making this possible.”

            “I did not know I was doing that,” Ygerna said, “but if I had, I would have not hesitated to help you gain your vengeance on your enemies. We are sisters of a sort and stand together against all who would harm us.”

            Ganieda nodded. “Do you wish me to clean up?”

            Eirian shook her head. “They were part of my harem and we will dispose of their corpses. My lord, I wish to perform certain rituals to ensure they do not return.”

            “Permission granted,” Iain said.

            “Thank you.” She looked at Emerald. “Fetch Rhea and Aurum.” The green Dragoness vanished. “My lord, there is no reason for you or her,” she nodded towards Ygerna, “to remain here.”

            “I agree.” He reached out with his twee and, a second later, Branna and Heather appeared. “Branna, please take Ygerna back to the Sabine Ranch.”

            The Magic Knight held out her hand. “My lady.” Ygerna took her hand and they vanished.

            “Morgana?” The silver minimal dragon looked at Iain curiously. “This is not blanket permission. If you wish to ride my on my right shoulder, you must ask and I must agree. Would you like a lift back to the ranch?”

            “I would but your shirt is not reinforced for my claws.”

            Iain smiled. “I didn’t ask you to comment on my shirt. Would you like to ride on my right shoulder right now?”

            Morgana’s tail twitched. “True, you did not and I would like to ride your shoulder.” She took off, circled around behind Iain and landed as gently as she could on his shoulder. “If I hurt you unduly, please let me know.”

            “I will. Heather, please take us to the ranch.”

            She took his hand with a smile. “I would be glad to.” An instant later they were gone.

            Eirian chuckled. “And so it begins.” Her head rotated to face Sorrel and Matilda. “Are you sure you wish this? You both have been great assets to the harem and will be missed. Unlike that,” she gestured at the bodies, “you have a place here if you wish it.”

            “I am sure,” Sorrel said.

            “And I am sure as well,” Matilda echoed her.

            “If you change your minds, speak with me. In the meantime, help me to remove the offal from the altars.” She looked disdainfully at Dabria’s corpse. “You will clean them for future use so that when your time comes they will not be contaminated with the stains left by these.”

 

Iain Grey

 

Harem

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

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

 

Vanessa

                                    Myrna (Age 4)

                                    Saoirse

April

                                    Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)

                                    Meara: Duelist

                                    Regan: Duelist

Lucifer                       

                                    Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)

                                    Seraphina: Megami Sama

                                    Miram: Angel (Age 5)

                                   

Zareen:                       

                                    Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)

                                    Kim:  Nightmare

                                    Xanthe: Nightmare

                                    Epona: Nightmare

                                    Philippa: Nightmare

                                    Nott: Nightmare

                                    Nyx: Nightmare

 

Sofia

                                    Anna: Ria

                                    Esmerelda: Ria

 

Monica Chambers

                                    James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)