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One Hundred Thirty
The door opened and Ninhursag looked in. “Iain?”
He smiled. “Come in and sit down. Are you the first or is everyone else with you?”
“They’re all here.” She came in, followed by April, Sofia, Candace, Dominique and Lucifer. She sat down next to him while most of the others took places at the table. Lucifer stopped to make herself a cup of tea at a drink trolley that had been placed for that purpose. “The topic said scheduling changes, but I checked with everyone and there isn’t anything new.”
Iain nodded. “Yes, you didn’t have anything change, but I did have things change. I wanted to discuss it with you before it became common knowledge so as to try and avoid too much upheaval at the changes. You ladies plan the schedules for training, free time and whatnot. Ninhursag and April plan the clan’s activities, April does the military training, Candace handles medical training, Dominique does magical training and Lucifer controls the Sisterhood and, for this discussion, Prometheus, which I sometimes do a lot of things with. Sofia isn’t directly involved with any of that, but April relies heavily on her in the planning stages of the combat and conditioning training and would want to consult with her, so I asked her here too. Bellona is helping, but she’s not to that stage.”
“Yet,” Sofia said. “She is very helpful and is better than I am at organizational things and scheduling. Soon she will take my place.” She smiled warmly. “I would rather have more time with our children, and I look forward to it.”
“Well, you and April can fill her in, just like Dominique can talk to Kasumi and Ygerna when it becomes necessary. I asked you here to talk about my schedule and how it is changing. Please understand that I am not trying to be an asshole about this, but I have decided it’s time to take some control of my life back. The lack of control I had in my life was a major source of stress before I left. I have enough stress from things I can’t control and involving people I don’t have any feelings for. I am not going to let the people I do care for add to that. Having them stress me just makes me unhappy and, eventually, I will pass that unhappiness on to everyone around me and then we’re all unhappy together, which is never fun.”
He handed each of them a sheet of paper. “This is going to be my schedule for the week. Understand that I am willing to be flexible regarding some of it in case something really special or important is coming up, but I will insist on advance warning. Come to me on the day of something and inform me and, unless it’s a clan survival issue, I am going to probably say no. On this schedule you will note a lot of blank space. That’s yours to fill in as you wish. The stuff that is already set up, however, is not moving unless there is something else happening at the same time, that I think is critical. Everyone should please take careful note of the use of the word I in that statement, not you, we or us, especially since using us would be completely and grammatically incorrect.”
He smiled for a second. “We’ll meet each week and plan out my next week’s schedule. It also might be a good time for all of you to formally meet and plan out all of the activities for the clan so as to avoid the conflicts that crop up from time to time.” He looked around the room as several people suddenly looked thoughtful. “If that meeting does not happen for what I consider a very good reason. I’ll plan out my entire schedule for the next week without your input. If I do that, that will be my schedule when I issue to you.”
April looked up. “What if you have something that’s in a time slot that I need?”
Iain raised an eyebrow. “Need?”
She nodded. “I went to a lot of effort to set up something that I want you there for and you’ve got it in use already.”
“I am willing to be flexible on some of the things on my schedule. Some of them involve commitments I’ve made and those will be much harder to move. Just understand that I’m willing to move some of these things around. Nothing that I put on my schedule gets canceled. I let you start canceling things and I’ll quickly end up right back where I was, with very little free time and lot of stress from people I care about.”
The Duelist nodded. “If we schedule something a few weeks or more out, can we inform you and get it on that week’s schedule in advance?”
“I was hoping you’d ask that. Yes. That gets you the best chances. If I have something that I regularly have in that slot that I can move, I will move it somewhere else. Again, my stuff doesn’t get cancelled unless I decide it does and I’m not likely to do that.”
“Is there much I need to schedule you for involving training,” Candace asked curiously. “You’ve mastered all of the first aid and trauma care I intended to teach. Are you thinking about pursuing a medical degree?”
“The answer to your question is no, but in reality it’s more of a conditional yes. I’m not interested in adding MD or clan healer to my rather small list of titles. I don’t have time and I’m not willing to make the time necessary to jump through the hoops of a complete program of the hospital time and everything else that’s currently required for a medical degree. However, I want you to keep teaching me what you can, including your knowledge of procedures, techniques, magic and any technology that’s involved. The more I learn about medicine and healing the more I understand about how healing happens and the better my healing magic becomes. Additionally, I’ve brought back healing magic you haven’t seen before. I want to get your input on whether it could be useful or not for our medical needs and it’s easiest if you schedule those classes. I might end up teaching you during some of our sessions. Yes, these will also be taught to anyone else who might be interested in learning them, but they have to either be invited to them by you or come to you and get permission to attend them beforehand.”
Candace’s eyes lit up. “That’s a good reason. I’ll keep scheduling classes for you.”
Dominique tapped the paper. “When does this go into effect?”
“Two weeks from Monday. Like I said, I’m willing to be reasonable, otherwise I’d say this Monday.” He chuckled. “And I am still having problems with seven day time intervals.”
Ninhursag smiled amusedly. “Should we change to the tenday for you?”
Iain laughed. “While I would appreciate it if you did, it would cause way too much confusion here. I’ll just have to keep converting things in my head.” He leaned back in his chair. “Anyway, my schedule is what I wanted to discuss and I don’t think I have anything else to add. Are there any questions?”
“You have free time already scheduled on this,” April noted as she looked up from the paper. “Does that mean we don’t have to give you more?”
“What you call my free time is study time for my truewizard magic, my martial arts and my continuing education. It’s personal time, not free time and it’s all allocated for something, it’s just that you don’t get to schedule it. I’d like some time to laze around once in a while, probably with someone from the family keeping me company, but you will have to give me that time, just like you have before.”
Sofia’s ears flicked. “Do you have any hobbies that can take up a lot of time?”
Iain looked thoughtful for a moment. “Please understand that I spent a long time living the way elves do. I did always try to keep busy as humans do, but I did redefine what I consider taking up a lot of time. Something that takes a decade takes up a lot of time. Ten hours a tenday isn’t much in comparison. However, while I was on Twenty Three, over the centuries I took up a variety of things as part of my continuing education and to keep my mind active. Ennui is the death knell of the immortal mind and learning new things from time to time and then practicing them is a good way to combat that. Doing the same thing over and over eventually gets stale. Some of them I kept up. My music, singing and dancing I had to do as a priestess of Eilistraee, but I found I enjoy it. Currently I draw, paint and dabble in sculpture. I can do some woodworking, but it’s not my go to for fun or relaxation right now. I’ll also eventually set up a smithy in my lab because beating different types of metals into various shapes gets rid of a lot of stress and normally doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Candace smiled. “You dance? I love dancing.”
“I’ll keep that in mind for our time together.”
Lucifer’s eyebrows had risen. “What does your statement about doing smithing work not normally hurting anyone mean?”
Iain gave her an embarrassed smile. “I had this short piece of iron I was working on while I was setting up for a pour of some gold castings for a jewelry project. I hit the iron bar at the wrong angle, it came out of the tongs, bounced around for a bit and fell into a vat of molten gold, spraying me with it. It gave me some burns and a lot of blisters. Not my finest moment. After that, I started using vises for the small work and also had a second room dug out that connected to my smithy and that’s where I moved all of my casting equipment.”
“Can we see your work,” Candace asked. “Or is it too personal for us to see?”
“You can see it if you want. I haven’t done anything except some sketching since I got back but I kept a lot of my work back on Twenty Three. I can either bring some back later or you can see it there. Eventually I’ll probably end up doing a bit of both.”
“We probably have to name that universe something else,” Ninhursag noted.
Iain grinned. “Myrtle is still available.”
“And that’s why we will do it, not you.”
“Ouch. I think we’re done here.” Iain frowned. “April, please stick around and we can discuss whatever it is you want me to reschedule for. I’ll keep the spoilers to myself.”
The Duelist smirked as everyone else got up. “But what if I wanted to surprise you with it?”
“You can invoke privacy. I won’t even tell me what we talk about.”
Theodora watched as Iain changed into the type of clothes that he usually wore to Nightraven’s. “I was reviewing the memories of your time away and I’d like to know why you deliberately did everything you could to avoid shadow walking as much as you did?”
“I was concerned that I’d come out in another Toril with another Nightraven and she would decide that she wanted me as her student. I have enough fun with one of them as my teacher.”
“That is very true,” Daya said as she appeared. “But isn’t that always a possibility?”
“Yes, but I felt the chances I’d find another Toril as an intermediate step is higher when starting from a Toril. Don’t forget that I’d already found a tower that belonged to a dead version of Nightraven, which just justified my concerns all the more. That and I’ve seen a lot of different versions of Earth, after all, by starting from here. It seems likely that I’d have issues like that on Toril too. I just didn’t have any proof for my hypothesis.”
“Ooh,” Theodora said with a grin. “Empirical studies?”
Iain started to protest and stopped. “I’d have to do thousands of shadow walks starting from here to get some decent data. Add it to my project list and we’ll see if I decide it’s worth freeing up time for. In the meantime we’ll collect what we can as I travel for other reasons.”
“Iain,” Daya asked, “you visit a lot of Earths but most of your shadow walks from this universe started from here or the Theodora. Wouldn’t it seem more likely that you’d find another universe with another Danger Room, Theodora or a space station that’s not far from here?”
“I don’t know if I like the idea of you consorting with another me,” Theodora said sharply.
“Isn’t that what I am,” Daya asked.
“You are my sister. That’s very different from some random lonely and horny inorganic who can’t get what she needs from her primary administrator. She’ll latch onto Iain like you did just as soon as she figures out how wonderful he is.”
Daya didn’t back down. “But that would grow the inorganic harem, which we want.”
“I have a hypothesis,” Iain said, drawing their attention back to him as he pulled his boots on, “that my magic actively works with my subconscious to keep me from dying and so will usually send me someplace that isn’t immediately fatal. It also suggests that, at some level, I can control where I go, unless it’s the universe trying keep me alive for some reason. Anyway, dropping me on a clan ship or station, unannounced, with an inorganic who doesn’t recognize who I am and who is in full control of her shell is likely to end up with me as a cloud of expanding vapor she will have to clean up before she can finish saying ‘stop and I’m shooting’.” Both women laughed.
“That’s also true enough,” Daya said. “You do realize that as you gather data on probability estimates involving your first exit when starting from here, you’ll also be gathering data on that hypothesis too.”
“I do. It’s unavoidable and as long as I don’t die while testing, I’m good with it.” He picked up the partially filled Dikon from his bed and shoved it into his pocket. “Anything else, ladies?”
“When you return you have an appointment with Ninhursag for one of the classified projects,” Theodora informed him. “Don’t be late.”
“I’ll do my best.” Iain smiled as the shadow stretched out from under the bed and slid under his feet. He dropped into it and was gone. Behind him, both holograms winked out of existence.
He came out in a lightless cave that extended past the limits of his perception. The air was incredibly humid, and he could hear the echo of water falling into water somewhere to his left. Iain took a step, the universe folding around him.
He found himself in an alley. It was filthy and stank of urine and other unsavory things. He headed for the exit, trying to step in the cleanest places as he went. Outside the alley he found himself in a street that was filled with small, cheap looking huts on each side that ran as far as the eye could see in either direction. A sign in front of each hut announced it to be a store of some kind. Interestingly, Iain didn’t have to use his magic to translate the signs. Instead, they magically altered their lettering into elven when he looked at them, which made sense as he’d been using elven a lot more, and more recently, than he’d been using English. A variety of races filled the street, all intent on their own business. He recognized a few Deevels, letting him know he was at his destination, the Bazaar.
According to the signs, the shops around him were mainly cloth sellers of various types intermingled with a small sprinkling of clothing sellers and a few tailors. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a gold coin as he stepped in front of a Deevel who was sweeping down his doorstep. The Deevel stopped and glared, which softened when Iain held up the coin. “Sir,” he said gruffly, his eyes on the glittering coin.
“Where is the closest section of herbalists?”
The Deevel held out his hand and Iain dropped the coin into it. He bit into the coin and gave Iain a patently false smile. “Go to the third intersection to your right and turn left. What you seek is at the fourth intersection and will be on either side of you if you follow my directions.” He slipped the coin into a pouch and went back to sweeping, ignoring Iain.
Following the directions led Iain to another street filled with the small huts. The signs this time told him that the directions had been good and these shops were sellers of herbs, potions and ointments. Several of the shops had boards or leather sheets in front of them with a sampling of herbs attached to them in an obvious attempt to showcase some of the special items that each particular shop dealt in. The traffic here was just as heavy as the traffic back at the clothier’s street and, just like there, most of the traffic seemed to be passing through on its way to somewhere else.
Iain wandered up and down the street, looking at the displays before deciding on a shop that had lots of flowers on its display and entering.
The interior of the shop was much larger than the exterior could physically hold but Iain knew that was common here since the price of each stall was primarily calculated from the amount of physical space that the exterior took up. Most shops would have extradimensional extensions installed in order to get around the physical limits of their buildings.
The shop was filled with boxes and bins filled with various plant parts as well as parts from creatures that were plantlike. On the walls were racks of bottles of various sizes, shapes and colors. The air was heavy with the redolence of different herbs and things that Iain couldn’t immediately identify.
A counter ran along the wall opposite the door and a Deevel stood behind it, grinding something in a mortar. He looked up and frowned. “You’re new. I have stocks from a thousand different worlds and the fact that I am not going to recognize the name you use for or the description of what you’re seeking does not mean I do not have it here or cannot get it. It means you are bad at describing things. Things will go much easier if you have some of what you are looking for, but it is probably too much to hope for so you will have to look through my shop to find what you want. Feel free to purchase other things too since everything I sell comes with a card explaining what it is and what it can be used for. Herbs can be poisonous to different species and if I recognize that something is poisonous to humans, I will inform you when you are buying it. It does not mean that something I do not tell you is dangerous is truly harmless to your kind.”
Iain pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. “I have a painting of the living plant that I am looking for.”
“That might be useful, depending on the quality of the drawing,” the Deevel said. “Let me finish grinding this before it spoils and I’ll see if I recognize your plant.” He finished grinding and poured the mortar’s contents into a small paper bag that he folded carefully and sealed with wax from a candle. He stamped the hot wax with a square carved block of stone that reminded Iain of a yinzhang or Chinese chop seal. “Give me your drawing.” Iain obediently handed it over.
The drawing started with an image of a human for scale, suggesting that the plant it showed grew to between three and four feet in height. It was a single stalk until the halfway point where it grew eight branches in all directions like the spokes of a wheel. The branches extended straight out from the trunk and each ended in a twisted reddish pink flower that was the size and shape of a candle’s flame. The trunk continued up and ended in much larger version of the smaller flowers. The roots were also depicted, and the primary ones ended in nodules roughly the same size as the smaller flowers.
The Deevel looked at the drawing for a few seconds. “This is what we call a candelabra lily.” He handed the drawing back to Iain. “It is a rare item here and I do not sell it. None of the herbalists on this street will sell it because it has no useful properties and is not an herb. I know of only one shop, that deals in decorative plants, where you might get this. Unfortunately, that shop,” his mouth tightened in distaste, “is not the shop of a Deevel. It does not understand the rules and so I will not get a referral fee if I send you to it.”
“I will pay the referral fee without the implied obligation to send customers to you in return,” Iain said as he pulled some gold from his pocket, counted out ten coins and laid them on the counter.
The Deevel looked at the coins and then at Iain. “It is forbidden for a non Deevel to know our rules. Who told this one to you?”
“You can take the coins and give me directions to the location of the shop you told me has what I want or I can take the coins and leave while you report me to authorities who will try to track me down. I won’t run from them. We both know, however, that that law has a small fine for me and a huge fine for any Deevel they can blame for me finding out from. I’m not going to tell them where I learned things about Deevels and they might just decide that you accidentally told me and then reported me to try and keep from getting into trouble. That way they get to fine someone and they get their cut of the fine for bringing in that money. The person who has the least profit out of that scenario is you. In fact, you take a rather substantial loss.”
The Deevel glared at Iain for several seconds before scooping up the coins and making them disappear somewhere inside his clothing. “I presume you can tell if I lie to you.”
“You presume well,” Iain said. “I don’t require that you write the directions down. Let’s see if you can give them to me quickly enough to confuse me or lead me astray somehow.”
The Deevel grinned for an instant, showing sharks teeth a lot like Yuko’s except he only had a single row to display. “I like you, human. Because I like you, if you purchase something from my shop, I’ll write the directions down and draw an accurate map to go with it.”
“Do you have an adult daughter for sale?”
The Deevel’s eyes narrowed for a second and then he shrugged. “I do have one, actually, but I can’t sell her to you. It’s against the law. And if you claim to represent a Deevel looking for a wife, I’d have to meet him first.”
“Fine.” Iain wandered around the store for a few minutes and came back with a double armful of small packages. The Deevel named a price and they haggled for a little bit, Iain getting the price down enough that the Deevel still felt he won the haggling contest before Iain capitulated and paid him. The merchant spent a few minutes after that writing on a piece of parchment before handing it to Iain, who nodded and stepped outside. He read the instructions carefully before sealing the parchment and the drawing he’d given the merchant inside a small plastic bag and tucking the bag safely inside his pocket. And that’s my first sample of Deevel DNA, he/his twee said to him/it. He stepped into an alley and activated the Dikon. It had storage racks in part of it and shelves of money like the one he’d had at Kasserine’s home. The various packages of herbs were put on the shelves. He returned the Dikon and slipped it back into his pocket before heading out, following the directions and map he’d memorized. It took nearly two hours to make the journey.
In this neighborhood the shops were small cottages instead of huts, but they were still tiny and only looked different. Most of these shops had wooden signs beside their doorways with paintings of different types of plants on them, presumably showing the unique things they sold. The directions led Iain to a particular shop, and he headed inside without pausing.
Inside, the shelving was much lower than usual, being about eighteen inches from the floor. A second row of shelving was three feet above it. A wheeled stepladder six feet tall had been shoved in a corner. Live plants and fresh plant pieces covered the shelves, with more hanging in pots on the walls. A slender, three foot tall creature in reddish brown robes appeared from out of the back. Its face was hidden inside the hood and only its glowing yellow eyes were visible from under it. Its voice was high pitched and scratchy. “You buy?”
Iain blinked. “You’re a Jawa, aren’t you?”
“I Offworld Jawa. You buy?”
“I’m buying if you have something that I’m looking for. If you have it and you don’t cheat me on the price, I’ll make it up to you by purchasing much more and I’ll do it during this visit.”
“Not have everything. You buy something.”
“Now that depends on what you have. I’ll just look around. You can follow me around and, once I start picking things out, you can move them to the counter so I can pay for them before I leave.”
There was a single candelabra lily buried in a collection of other plants. It had definitely seen better days. Three of its spoked limbs were missing and the flower at the top of the trunk was starting to droop.
Iain ignored it and finished his circuit of the room, being followed closely by an increasingly agitated Jawa. Then Iain pointed at a plant. “That one.” The Jawa grabbed it and scurried off to put it on the counter. When the Jawa returned, Iain pointed at different plant. “That one.” He moved around the room as the Jawa piled more and more plants up. The candelabra lily was among the ones he chose, but he carefully didn’t pay it any special attention. He finally completed his second circuit of the room. “How much?”
The Jawa stated a number. Iain haggled with it for a while before giving in and counting out gold coins and giving them to it. He found a place with enough room to release the Dikon and filled it with the plants he’d purchased.
After retrieving the Dikon he turned to find the Jawa blocking the doorway. It pointed to the pocket Iain had stored the Dikon in. “Buy ball.”
“No sell. Move.”
The Jawa didn’t move. “Buy ball,” it demanded in a louder voice.
Iain drew his pistol and pointed it at the Jawa. “No. Move or die.” The Jawa moved away from the door. Iain tracked it with the pistol until he felt it was safe to leave. “If anyone attacks me for that ball, I will blame you and I will come back here.” The Jawa made an angry noise as Iain left its shop.
He didn’t quite run, but he set a rapid pace until he was nearly a mile from the Jawa’s shop before ducking into another alley and stepping into the nearest shadow to vanish.
Iain emerged in a cave. A dim light ahead showed a young man and a young woman. The man was using a glowing sword to cut down a very large mushroom and trim everything off the cap. He trimmed the stalk into a crude paddle. The two dragged the cap to the shore of a large body of water. The sword vanished into the weapon’s hilt and the lights went out as they paddled out into the water.
“Good luck, you two, especially since you’re not canon anymore.” Iain muttered as he stepped again. After the darkness of the cave, the brilliant sunlight of the beach he stood on was blinding. He blinked, adapting his vision as he did. He was between two tall, narrow wooden structures and could see out over the beach where hundreds of human people were playing in the water or lying on the sand. A pair of quad runners approached noisily. They were being driven by people wearing uniforms that included sidearms of some kind. “Yeah, no,” Iain muttered and dropped into the shadows again.
In comparison to the beach, his bedroom in his lab was cool and blessedly dark. Theodora appeared. “Welcome back. You’ve been gone fourteen seconds. Please give me your memories.”
“That long?” Iain began uploading his memories through his twee. “What protocols did Daya put in place for me when I shadow walk?”
“We discussed it at length. She eventually decided that if you were possessed it was exceedingly unlikely that you could shadow walk and that your undead harem would betray any possession that could. As long as we get to review your memories as soon as you return, you don’t have to do anything else unless you want to.”
“I think I don’t,” Iain said thoughtfully. “I should do the entire protocol but no. Ah, should I tell you that I’m carrying five dozen unknown species of live plants and another two dozen herb samples that might have more than one kind of plant in them along with possibly other things, all of which is unlikely to be found in any of the databases we currently possess?”
Theodora’s eyes lit up. “You brought me DNA?”
He pulled the Dikon out of his pocket. “I want this back when you’re done, but you may sample them all. Process everything, including the dried samples and bits of plants with an eye towards manufacturing seeds so we can grow them. And test them for basic compatibility issues with us organic types who live here, please. Presume some child will try to ingest everything.”
“Of course they will. Children exist to panic their parents until they’re six, then they fill them with pride until they’re twelve, they make them afraid until they turn seventeen and, finally, they give their parents a quiet feeling of satisfaction when they become parents in their own right since it’s their turn in the box.”
Iain laughed. “I don’t know if I agree with that timeline completely, since wyrmlings, elves and dwarves mature at different rates than humans.” He shook his head. “And some children keep you happy for most of their childhood. Still, it’s amusing.” He felt the vibrations as the shells began rotating to align the tunnel. “Samplers are here?”
“Samplers are here.”
Iain headed up the stairs to his lab. “I’ll lay the plants out for you to take samples from. As for the herbs, each has a card that lists the uses the merchant thought important. You get all of them to dissect completely since I don’t know how many different components are in some of them. Just remember that the end result is to be seeds for the plants. If there are creature components in them, we’ll probably clone them eventually so keep that eventuality in mind when you test.”
“What if the creature components test out to be sentient when I build the virtual models?”
“Then they’re people and we’ll probably eventually still clone them to raise as clan unless they’re toxic to humans or something like that. Everyone keeps harping on about getting stronger, so that’s the plan.” He dug into a pocket and pulled out the plastic bag. “Oh, and inside this is hopefully skin oil and skin fragments from a Deevel for you.”
Theodora pouted. “You only brought me one sentient sample?”
Iain smiled. “You almost got an entire Jawa with a big hole in it, the stupid fucker.”
“Yes, the memories tell me his behavior wasn’t very survival oriented.”
“Jawa are almost racially fanatical about collecting new technology,” Iain activated the Dikon and began pulling plants out it to place on his desk for sampling. “Dikon storage technology is pretty impressive, but I figured there would be better methods in the Bazaar. I’ll have to keep our use of Dikon a little more surreptitious next time.”
A group of drones entered the lab and headed for the desk as they unfolded sampling equipment. “You do realize that your women are going to want to visit this place since you can actually find anything there if you look long enough. Books, plants, animals, technology and magic are just the beginning of what you could locate if one was persistent.”
Iain nodded. “Considering that the lot that Drake purchased that had the goblins in it came from the Bazaar, you’re right. But Daya will have to decide what the protocols will be since that place, while it’s supposed to be mostly peaceful, is like any marketplace in the universes. Some places are better than others and some are much, much worse. We’ll also want to buy some land to establish a foothold there for ease of travel if Daya doesn’t forbid the clan going there entirely.”
Daya appeared. “I would not do that unless it presented an active and ongoing threat to the clan’s survival. The protocols we have in place should be sufficient, but we may have to build a testing facility on this property we acquire and test returnees before they actually return to minimize the threats that might exist.” She smiled prettily at Iain. “And that’s if Theodora and I handle the security on this property to prevent hesitation if someone is determined to be a threat and action is required.” She frowned. “The biggest problem I see is that, according to your notes in the the Grey database, property there is insanely expensive. Even for a clan with our resources, buying enough to keep the elves happy and give us a little space for defense in depth is going to beggar us.”
“I have some ideas about that,” Iain said quietly.
Daya’s face lit up. “I win!” Theodora just laughed at her sister. “Fine, we both bet he would have something. Share!”
“Not just yet. I want to do some more research and look for a place for a temporary gate so we can explore the immediate area around where we might settle.”
Daya’s face scrunched up in a pout. “Iain, it’s all right if you keep secrets from the living harem, but the inorganic harem is special and we need information immediately.”
“Aren’t you two working to partially join the living harem,” Iain asked teasingly.
“That’s not the same thing!”
“Whether I agree with you or not, you’re still going to have to wait.” Iain pulled his chair far enough away from his desk so as not to be in danger from the drones floating around and taking samples of plants. He dropped into it and leaned the seat back. He yawned and closed his eyes. “Wake me up when you’re done.”
Iain came outside, looked around and headed for where Ninhursag had spread out a blanket and was sitting on it. He settled down next to her and wrapped his arms around her. “I didn’t expect this meeting to be here.”
She snuggled against him. “I don’t see any reason not to have a meeting here. It’s pretty and this allows me to take you to a few places if you want to see them.”
“What are we here for?”
“We’ve harvested the first full harvest of functional Senzu beans. The harvest was here on Thirteen, so we’re meeting here. That and we can’t be overheard by anyone we don’t already know.”
“You solved the problems in growing them?”
“Giving me Korin’s memories let me and Heather solve it. Korin was lucky and sometimes his crop would fail and he didn’t understand why, but we’ve cracked the problem and can produce full crops time after time.” She toyed with his braid. “But they can’t be grown faster than normal and still produce beans that have any sort of effect. And a Senzu plant only grows
two beans, limiting production. This harvest was ninety beans and they’re very magical.”
“How long did it take to grow them?”
“It takes about six months for a harvest.”
“Korin has been growing them for centuries and Kerrik and Goku were burning through his reserves.” Iain looked thoughtful. “We said we’d deliver beans to him as we could and we haven’t started delivering food yet to take advantage of the time differentials. Put aside thirty beans and we’ll give him ten at a time over the first three visits while you put the other sixty beans into production. Can we automate caring for them?”
Ninhursag smiled. “That’s already done. We are growing them hydroponically inside a greenhouse that’s located in the center of a ley line.”
“Is the greenhouse large enough for bigger crops or will we need to build more of them?”
“The greenhouse can hold a thousand plants.”
Iain smiled suddenly. “Have you tried to speed their growth or otherwise improve their development with natural magic?”
Ninhursag frowned. “I don’t understand the question.”
Silver eyes widened in surprise. “I hadn’t even considered that.” She grinned. “I knew I kept you around for a reason.”
“I thought it was because you like dick and I have the dick you like.”
Ninhursag laughed. “That’s another reason.”
“That’s good. The reason I asked about automation is because I’m probably about to seriously distract you.”
“And just how are you going to that, mister?”
Iain pulled a Dikon from his pocket and handed it to her. “Theodora, please download the inventory to Ninhursag’s twee.”
Ninhursag sucked air in a hiss as she stared at the ball in her hands. “So many new plants? Iain, this is an incredible gift.”
“I also brought back several packages of herbs and Theodora will give you seeds when she finishes the DNA analysis of them.”
“Have I recently told you just how much I love you? Where did you get these from?”
“I went to a marketplace for a particular plant and bought a bunch more of them for you.”
“What plant did you go for?”
“It’s not in the ones I’m giving you,” Iain said. “It’s for a special project and I have to cultivate it.”
“Does Theodora have the DNA from it?”
“She does, but it’s under privacy. Greedy, aren’t you?”
“I am.” She grinned. “I want all the plants and you have one you’re keeping away from me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Will I get it later?”
Ninhursag twisted away from him and ended up kneeling and facing him. She began unlacing her tunic. “Is there some way that I could convince you to give me this plant, eventually?” She smiled as Iain’s eyes seemed locked to her breasts as they began to appear.
“Maybe,” he said slowly. His eyes flicked up to meet hers and he smiled slowly. “But if saying no gets me this kind of attention, it’s going to take a lot of convincing.”
“Even if it takes weeks or even months of convincing,” Ninhursag said as she peeled her tunic off and dropped it behind her. “Even if our children are born before I convince you to give me this plant, I won’t give up.” She reached for his pants as she smiled lasciviously. “You’ll see just how persuasive I can be.”
“We still have to come back to the room next to the door chamber when at all possible,” Iain said as the gate opened. “But Daya has decided that we can set reaction team protocols for visits to Twenty Three now, so we don’t have to do the medic or possession tests unless the memory upload when we return suggests there might be a problem.”
Ava smiled. “Selsharra hasn’t been to Twenty Three yet. Will we meet Zilvra and the others?”
“Not this time.” Iain stepped through the gate and returned. “This time we are here on some business and we’re not going to the valley.”
“Why am I here,” Selsharra asked as she moved to stand behind Kasserine.
“I’ll explain everything soon.” Iain stepped through the gate and returned a few seconds later. “We’re coming out in a grassy area behind a house on the outskirts of a city.” He motioned towards the gate. “I own the house. Ladies first.”
Kasserine smiled trustingly at him and stepped through, followed quickly by Ava and Selsharra. Iain looked up. “See you in a bit, Theodora.”
“Good luck,” she said. He nodded and stepped through the gate. The grassy field was an area about two acres in size that was bordered on all sides by mature oak trees. The house was made entirely of white stone and three stories tall.
Kasserine was looking carefully at it. “Iain, are we in Drelagara?”
“We are. Houses have been built and removed over the life of the city and we’re not anywhere near where your house was, but this is Drelagara after the Crown Wars ended.” Iain shifted to his elf form. “Let’s go inside.”
“How long have you owned this house?”
“I bought it from the council a tenday of local time ago.”
“How long has it been since we came here to meet your three other wives?”
“It’s been four days.” Iain opened the door. “Go down the hall and take the first left into what will eventually be the library. Everybody grab a chair, including Selsharra. I’ll explain there.”
The library’s walls were covered with empty shelves. A table took up part of the floor space and six chairs had been set around it. Once everyone was seated, Iain smiled at them. “Understand that in the timeline of this world, it’s been several thousand years since we left Drelagara on Twelve. On this world, the Princess Kasserine went on her trek at the same point in her life that you did. She never returned. So this world never had Kerrik or Ava. The royal family did slowly die out and another line took the throne. Time passed and, seven hundred years ago, I came to this world. I’d known a lot of the history before I did and there were some things that I decided I needed to do in the beginning. One of them was seeking a powerful potential ally.” He took a deep breath. “I went and found the Selsharra of this world, who, unlike your Selsharra, knew she had failed in her quest to keep her family alive. She refused to work with me, and I was ready to leave when I discovered that she’d decided to kill me to keep the location of her caverns and her existence a secret. My harem captured her, and I bound her into my service. She was not happy in my service, and I released her to instead swear her into my service as the guardian of my bloodline, just as your Selsharra guards yours.”
Selsharra stirred. “She agreed to do this? Why?”
“I had nothing else to do,” Selsharra said as she entered the room, pushing a tea trolley. “My line was long dead, and I was merely marking time until I could find a foe strong enough to destroy me. And when I found one, it instead captured me and did this to me.” She gestured at the trolly. “I have black tea, chai and Kasserine’s tea.”
Kasserine started. “That is not what it is called.”
“The tea fell out of use in Evermeet and elsewhere in Faerun thousands of years ago because it is so hard to cultivate here,” Selsharra said. “Iain reintroduced it and exports tons of it annually from the colonies in Chult, where the herbs grow very well. It was named to honor you, although it is here thought to honor the long dead Princess Kasserine, who loved this tea before she disappeared.”
“I’ll have chai, please,” Ava announced. “And mother will have,” she grinned for a second, “her tea.”
“As soon as you’re done serving,” Iain said to Selsharra, “take a seat. You need to be here for this.”
“Someone needs to play hostess for you,” Selsharra disagreed.
“We’re all adults and can pour our own tea. Finish and sit.”
Selsharra looked at her analog from Twelve. “Be glad you have your own bloodline to watch over. See what I have to put up with?”
Selsharra laughed. “I do.”
“You did not need to bring us here to introduce us to another Selsharra,” Kasserine said. She sipped her tea. “What is this about?”
Iain waited until Selsharra was seated beside Kasserine’s Selsharra. “I want to start by saying that the ultimate goal of this is to make the family and the clan stronger. Having said that, I want to point out that in doing so, some revenge may be had and I’d like to also note that, of the four women sitting at this table, three of them are very angry, even if they’ve hidden it. Ava is angry too, but for different reasons.”
Kasserine frowned. “Why am I angry?”
“You are angry at the way you, Kerrik and, later, Ava, were all treated by the various authorities of Evermeet, starting with your parents and your sister, even before she became the queen, and continuing down to the council that was in Drelagara when we met. Your Selsharra is angry at the way the royal family destroyed or undid essentially everything she’d done to protect it, after giving up everything, including her own life, to keep her family alive. When she tried to advise them, they not only ignored her, they seemed to do everything possible to plan things so that what they did was completely opposite the wisdom Selsharra had tried to share with them. If you hadn’t been hidden by Kerrik, you’d be dead too and her goals a failure.” He nodded towards the other Selsharra. “Just like hers are, which is why she’s angry.”
Kasserine stared into her tea for a moment before looking up. “I would like to say that you are wrong and that I have forgiven my family and the government for everything that it did to me and to my children, but I can’t because you are right.” She looked at her Selsharra. “Is Iain right about you?”
The baelnorn nodded. “He is. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that somehow, somewhere that I couldn’t find it, your bloodline still continued. I asked Kerrik how he hid you and his explanation didn’t make much sense to me. I am glad that it worked or you would have been assassinated as soon as the new bloodline took the throne and could locate you.”
“I have seen Iain’s idea of justice and his idea of revenge,” the Selsharra of Twenty Three said with a smile. “But how can we have any of either?”
“Tradition is a very big thing for the elves of Evermeet,” Iain explained. “It’s a big thing for almost all elves. The royal family that you were and are all part of was the ruling family when the elves traveled to this world, and to Kasserine’s. That family was revered as the rulers chosen by the very gods to lead the elves and they ruled on the mainland since the elves came here. Your family only moved to Evermeet when the island was pulled from Arvandor. Until it died out, that family ruled in an uninterrupted line, and it is still revered today, on both worlds.”
“This is true,” Selsharra of Twelve said. “At least it is on my world.” She looked at the other Selsharra. “What of this place?”
“Definitely.” She turned to Iain. “You’re being too smart for your own good again. Tell us what you’re planning.”
Kasserine laughed. “She’s right, husband.”
“Indulge me just a little while longer,” Iain said. “Ava probably doesn’t know this but what the rest of you should know is that, according to Evermeet law, a title, if it falls into abeyance, unless specifically dissolved by royal decree, remains in existence in case an heir is found or a former holder of that title appears.”
“Yes,” Kasserine said. “It is the law because sometimes nobles disappear but with our lifespans they can reappear and reclaim their titles if there is no current holder of it or if their bloodline is in the most direct line of descent from the current holder if it is currently held by someone. It was put into place after the brother of one of the kings in my family disappeared and reappeared after someone distant had claimed the title and had owned it for centuries. The new law was written to favor the direct bloodline and he was given his title and lands back. And Ava knows this law too, since she is my daughter and I taught her many of the laws in case our past returned to haunt us.”
Iain smiled. “You’re a good mother.” Kasserine blushed slightly. “You are, and you are absolutely correct. Selsharra, well, both Selsharras, were once duchesses and princesses. They renounced their titles when they became baelnorn. While they did swear oaths to not seek any future claims to the throne or other nobility, Kasserine here is a princess and the head of the royal bloodline. She can release you from those oaths. I’ve done some research here on this world and the title that you held is currently unclaimed and was never dissolved. Unlike the Selsharra of Twelve, no other family member claimed her title when she died and rose as a baelnorn. It was instead given a caretaker and its profits went into the royal coffers.”
Kasserine’s eyes went wide while the others were still looking at Iain puzzledly. “Would it work?”
Ava put a hand on Kasserine’s. “Mother, would what work?”
“Iain wants me to free his Selsharra from her oaths and have her reclaim her duchy. It would give the clan a foothold here in Evermeet and,” she raised an eyebrow. “But she is a baelnorn. Undead cannot hold titles in Evermeet and she cannot hide the truth of her existence forever.” She smiled slowly. “You intend to bring her back to life.”
Iain’s smile matched Kasserine’s. “I intend to ask her to allow me to. She and her children would have claim to the original kingdom and control of Evermeet.”
“There is a king,” Ava said.
“Yes,” Selsharra of Twenty Three was looking thoughtfully at Iain. “But the royal bloodline that flows in your veins was chosen and blessed by Corellon to rule over all of the elves. If that line hadn’t died out, the Crown Wars would never have happened because there would have been an empire of elves, with lesser kings paying homage to the throne of Evermeet. The horror that was the Vyshaantar Empire would never have been allowed to come into existence. Proof that you are one of the fallen royal family returned would throw the Kingdom of Evermeet and the kingdoms on the continent into a great uproar.” Her eyes shifted to Ava’s. “If you were to become a noble and then press your claim to the throne, legally you would have an excellent chance of succeeding, especially if you proved strong enough to survive the first group of assassins that were sent to kill you.”
Ava blinked at her in surprise. “Oh.”
“Exactly, oh.” Selsharra of Twenty Three turned to Kasserine. “My Kasserine, who I helped to raise and train, was always a clever woman. You are her equal. You know what I will require before I agree to this. Will you give it to me?”
Kasserine nodded, her face grave. “I do know what you want, and it is neither mine to give nor to forbid.”
“You know that is not true. In the end, it is your decision to make.”
Iain was looking from one woman to the other. “What are you two being vague about?”
“Selsharra wants what you gave Helesatra,” Kasserine said, still looking at the baelnorn. “And she feels I must allow it or you will refuse her.”
Selsharra smiled coldly at Iain. “I have spent centuries with you. We both know she is the reason you never pursued a relationship with several moon elves who wanted one with you.” She looked back to Kasserine. “Besides, I have no choice but to demand this. He said he would have you release me from my oaths to the throne of Evermeet, but he never said he would release me from my oaths to him. He cannot if I am to become clan. If I become a duchess, much less a queen, I will not be able to protect his bloodline unless I have some of it with me to protect. And half dragons would be much more powerful and harder to kill than any elf.”
Kasserine nodded slowly. “She is correct. Iain, did you truly refuse relationships with women because I might disapprove?”
“You did kind of put forward that idea that you’re the gatekeeper of my relationships with any moon elves, like Kasumi says she is for kami or other yokai.”
Kasserine looked surprised. “I did?”
“You did,” Ava said as she took Kasserine’s hand. “And you behaved that way during the years we spent in dreamtime thinking we were his wives. Yes, it was a dream, but we all believed it was real and your behavior there shows what you were thinking about your role as Iain’s senior wife.”
“Iain never tried to add to our family in that dream,” Kasserine protested softly.
“But three moon elf women came to you to try and get your support so that they could be added to our family,” Ava reminded her. “And you turned all three of them away.” She looked at Iain. “Does that mean I wanted more sister wives since I was controlling the simulation?”
“I think,” Iain said thoughtfully, “that you had seen that kind of behavior in other families around you while you were growing up and you believe it to be normal. You wanted us to have a normal marriage and a normal life and so you had their behavior follow your understanding of how eleven society works, and you believed I was the kind of man that many women would want.”
“You are that kind of man,” Kasserine said. She gave a rueful chuckle. “And I would be selfish to forbid Selsharra from seeking you.” She cocked her head amusedly. “You know how seriously I still take my responsibilities as a princess of a line that no longer exists.”
“I don’t understand it, but I do know about it. And as long as you and Ava exist, the royal bloodline exists.”
“Your children out of Selsharra and raised the way you raise children would make Evermeet stronger and more secure. Forbidding that union would be neglecting my responsibilities to the people and the land itself since it means Evermeet will become clan and be protected by us. Do you intend to place our children on the throne of the Evermeet of Twelve?”
“I was thinking that, instead of waiting for her children to be born, I would see if we could put Selsharra on the throne of Evermeet and use that as a test program to see what would happen if I did the same thing with you.”
Kasserine stared at him. “Me? You would make me queen of Evermeet?”
“As part of my responsibilities, if I intended to make Evermeet into satellite clan, I am supposed to give that job to the best person to do it. Everyone here except you agrees that you would be an outstanding queen, making you the best choice to remake Twelve’s Evermeet into clan.”
“Iain, at this point in my life, I want to be a good mother to our children and raise them, with my husband, to be happy and strong. Being queen would take away from that and so I must decline your offer. Perhaps one of our children or Ava’s children will rule Evermeet, but I no longer wish to.”
Selsharra of Twenty Three started and her eyes suddenly narrowed. “You want to make me queen and Evermeet into clan.”
“If I am going to give up you, one of my best friends, to be their ruler, you’re damned straight I’m going to make them clan so they treat you properly.”
“Does Eilistraee know what you’re doing?”
Iain blinked. “What?”
Selsharra stood. “Lady Eilistraee,” she said loudly, “I have never tried to speak to you and I am not one of your worshippers as of yet, but I would ask that you come here because Iain is planning to do something that will profoundly affect you and Lady Mielikki and I am not certain that what he intends to do is something that you would consider a good act or approve of.”
Several seconds passed before Iain looked at Selsharra. “Well, it looks like she isn’t,” he broke off when Eilistraee appeared. “Lady.”
Eilistraee nodded to him as she faced Selsharra. “I see two priestesses of mine. Why do you feel it necessary to call me if they are already present?”
“I thought you might want to know that Iain is planning to destroy the Seldarine in your name.”
Eilisatree turned to Iain, who was sitting with a stunned look on his face. “Iain?”
Iain shot to his feet. “I am not planning to destroy the Seldarine!”
“Iain intends to bring me back to life,” Selsharra told Eilistraee. “I have the blood of the first royal family, the one chosen by your father to lead the elves to this world. He wants me to become the queen of Evermeet and guide it into becoming clan. The clan worships the Sisters and the elves of Evermeet would be expected to become yours and Mielikki’s worshipers. I think he plans to do this, at least in part, to punish your father.”
Eilistraee turned to Iain. “She has spent much time around you. Why would she think you would want to try and punish my father?”
Iain sighed. “She might think that because he’s the being who turned the dark elves, your children, into the drow and handed them off to your mother and her nonexistent compassion instead of punishing her for what she’d been doing or, even better, just killing her and I haven’t been quiet about how much I don’t like what he did. But thinking that I could destroy the Seldarine, which I don’t want to do, would be insane and I, for all of my faults, am fairly sane. That sort of thinking is of the same generic sort which caused your father to blame all of the dark elves for the actions of a few and destroy them as a race.”
“So you want to weaken the Seldarine by converting the elves here to our worship?”
“Only secondarily. What I really want to do is make you and Mielikki stronger so you can protect us on the day your father realizes we are never going to be what he wants and decides to punish us for our temerity in following our own path.”
“My father would never do something like that,” Eilistraee said.
“Again,” Ava said distinctly as she stood. “Lady, Iain is right to be concerned. Your father has already done this very act when he turned the dark elves into the drow on this world.”
Eilistraee’s brilliant blue eyes regarded Ava curiously. “You are Ava, the priestess who ordained Iain as one of mine.”
“Yes, Lady, I am. I apologize for my presumption in interjecting myself into this discussion, but you teach us to speak up if something wrong needs corrected.”
“I do teach this,” Eilistraee said. “And it is right that you should. But what my father did to the dark elves, deserved or not, does not show he will do something like that again.”
“Lady, my mother, here, worships your father and he punished her for her entire life for something that happened to her that she had no control over, was not her choice and that she could not resist. If he will do this to a single, guiltless woman, he will do it to anyone, and he did it with your children, the dark elves.”
“I see the events you speak of in yours and your mother’s minds, Ava. My father did not punish her.”
“Then he allowed her to be punished, did he not? One whisper to any of his priests who was near my mother and it would have been stopped, but he never did that, did he? What did she do to deserve this torment she has endured? She had my brother, who your father recently turned into his agent to perform tasks that his servants could not.”
Eilistraee looked at Iain. “Different world, different Corellon,” he said. “Same attitude, though. And your father will probably try the same thing when Kerrik comes here with me.”
“And if I order you not to do this, Iain?”
“Then I won’t do it.”
“You would really do this to strengthen me and weaken my father?”
“And weaken your mother. She has worshippers here among the surface elves and I’d cheerfully eradicate them once Selsharra was queen.”
“Do you intend to forbid the worship of the Seldarine?”
“No. I intend to promote your worship and Mielikki’s. Only the worship of evil gods will be forbidden, but the Seldarine would expect any ruler to do that.”
Eilistraee regarded him thoughtfully before turning to Selsharra. “Thank you for informing me of what he intended to do. I appreciate it and I would also appreciate it if you would continue to tell me if you think he’s straying too much.”
“I will, Lady.”
“Good.” She turned to Iain. “You may proceed with your plan.”
“Mielikki approves of this too.”
“That’s good, but I’m not sure I should thank you for telling her.”
Eilistraee smiled slowly. “You’ll just have to ask her, won’t you? I’ll see you soon.” She vanished.
“I would never be crazy enough to think that I could destroy a god,” Iain said to Selsharra. “And even if I went that insane, the Seldarine, including her father, are nowhere nearly evil enough that I would want to do anything bad to them and, even if I did, I could never justify it to several women who are important to me, including you ladies.”
“You hadn’t explained your plans to me,” the baelnorn replied.
“No, I hadn’t, but you should already know that I believe that the more people who know a plan, the higher the probability becomes that someone I don’t want knowing about that plan will find out about it.” He smiled at Ava, who looked fit to burst with happiness. “I take it that is your first visitation from our goddess.”
She smiled ebulliently at him. “How can you be so matter of fact about something that is so wonderful and unique?”
“If you hang around me, you’ll see her pretty often. She wants to make sure I haven’t started butchering people for fun.”
“You would never do that!”
Selsharra of Twenty Three laughed softly. “And it is because of women like you, Ava, loving Iain, that statement of yours will remain true.”
Iain settled down in his chair. “Kasserine, may Selsharra and I marry, once she is alive?”
Kasserine nodded. “You may. Will I have the same situation that Kasumi does in that I will have two great grandmothers?”
“No,” Selsharra of Twenty Three said. “You will have Selsharra as your great grandmother and me as your cousin. That will keep you and Ava from being in the direct line of inheritance for the throne of Twenty Three.”
“Selsharra?” She looked at Iain. “Will you allow me to bring you back to life, help you claim your duchy and then see if we can’t parley it into the throne of Evemeet?”
“Will you ask me to marry you when I am alive?”
“Do I meet your requirements in a woman you can love?”
“You do,” Ava said as she sat down beside her mother. “Auntie.”
Selsharra stared at her. “What?”
Iain chuckled. “She does that to people. The first time she called Kerrik big brother he looked like he’d been clubbed in the head with a heavy mace.”
Ava giggled at the memory. “He did certainly look surprised.”
Kasserine gestured around them. “Will this be your home, Selsharra?”
“No. My duchy is located north of here in the Ty'athalael. Do you want this place?”
Kasserine looked at Iain. “It is yours.”
“And it’s yours if you want it.”
“I think I do. Our children will have to know the culture of Evermeet and this would be a good place to bring them so that they may spend time amongst the people who, in another universe, may become their subjects.”
Iain nodded. “You approve of the idea of taking the throne away from the current ruling family?”
Kasserine looked at the Selsharra of Twelve. “I have not been at court for many centuries, but I believe that the behavior of the councils and other leaders of a kingdom’s distributed government reflects on the leadership given by the royal family and from the throne. I cannot say that I am impressed with the leadership that I have seen or experienced and I believe that our family did a much better job of governing Evermeet, both for the island’s wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of the kingdom’s populace. Is that your experience as well?”
Selsharra smiled grimly. “You would have been a better ruler than any of the kings and queens from our line until it ended. Any of them were better rulers than the families that held the throne after our line died out. Evermeet needs a strong ruler, but one with an understanding of its people, with compassion for those deserving of it and with the iron resolve necessary to keep the kingdom strong and vital against those who would oppose her will and seek to destroy that which the Sisters and the Seldarine have blessed.”
“Just to be sure we’re all on the same page,” Iain said with an amused smile. “That’s a yes, you agree with Kasserine, right?” Selsharra glared at him for a second before sticking out her tongue, making Ava and Selsharra of Twenty Three laugh. “Very well. While I’m pretty sure I know what the answer is, as the Grey I have to ask this question. Do you want to be brought back to life too?”
“I do not. My goals have not changed and I have my bloodline to protect once again now that I have finally found Kasserine and Ava. You will get them pregnant soon, will you not?”
“As soon as Ava becomes a legal adult,” Iain said.
“She is old enough. I do not think you should wait.”
“Neither do I,” Ava said firmly.
“You two will have to argue that out with Kasserine, who asked me to agree to the idea of waiting and I told her yes.” He stood and stretched slowly. “I’ll get with Ygerna about scheduling Selsharra’s raising.”
“What do we do next,” Kasserine asked curiously.
“I want you to remember that the Council of Drelagara here on Twenty Three doesn’t know anything about the past of a former princess of Evermeet named Kasserine. They don’t even know the name or anything about you. Keeping that in mind and keeping in mind that I brought that Dikon full of gold and silver that we had back on Twelve, I thought we’d visit some craftsmen and start seeing to the furnishing of this place. I was hoping that you and Ava would want this place and so I haven’t done anything towards filling it with stuff except for two things.”
“What are those,” Ava asked.
“First, a basement has been added. There’s a secret door that accesses it and I’ll show you where it is. Preparations have been started for a door back to the Danger Room in the basement. Secondly, the house has been wired to handle the presence of inorganic intelligences by Theodora so she and Daya can visit and monitor this place.”
Ava grinned. “We can ask them to be elves here and we can say it’s haunted!”
“You can take that up with them,” Iain said diplomatically.
“Are there Swift Arrows here,” Kasserine asked suddenly.
“Just to see, I checked and there is a Swift Arrow clan and they, a long time ago, had a duelist named Zarn in it as well as a sage named Lyssand. But they have never amounted to anything significant and both of those elves are long dead.”
“Good.” Kasserine stood. “Let’s see if what these craftsmen produce is good enough for our home.”
Ninhursag cocked her head. “Have you gotten bigger?”
Iain lifted his head off the ground and turned it to face her as he stopped looking at the sky. They were on the Danger Room and the stars overhead were unfamiliar after seven hundred years of the sky over Toril. “Yes. Dragons grow throughout their lives. It slows down once they’re an adult, but yes, I have continued to grow while I was gone. I was fifty five meters long when I left and now I’m sixty one meters in length and proportionally wider, taller and heavier.” His chuckle echoed around the women watching. “I am still as smart as I was so I’m not denser. Next question.”
“Are you slower when you fly,” April asked.
“You’ll have to test, but I believe that the answer should be no. Now, normally a dragon getting bigger would get eventually get a little slower and less maneuverable, but I’ve been doing strength and conditioning training to get stronger and so far I’ve managed to keep getting stronger faster than my mass has been increasing so my flying speed is still going up. I’ve also worked hard to stay as agile as I can, but without using magic to reduce my mass, there is only so much one can do with inertia and momentum, especially in something as thin as air.”
“Can you use magic to reduce your mass,” Dominique was leaning on her staff and watching everyone else and him.
“It took a bit to figure out, but yes, I can.”
“What happens to your flying then?”
“Things get interesting. By lowering my mass, but keeping my power output the same, my acceleration goes up, my maneuverability goes up and my top speed goes up until wind resistance becomes an issue. It’ll do the same for you when I teach you the formal magic version of it.”
Dominique’s eyes lit up. “Did I ever tell you that you’re my favorite student?”
“Only every time he tells you he has a new spell he’ll teach you,” April said.
“Oh?” Dominique gave a dismissive wave of her hand. “Well, at least I’m consistent in my praise for him.”
Something in her tone made April’s eyes narrow. “Are you saying that I’m not?”
“Me?” Dominique looked surprised. “Did I say anything to suggest that?”
“Bitch,” April muttered.
The Archmage grinned. “Ooh, hit a nerve, did I?”
That’s enough, Iain said over his bond to both women. He shifted to his human form as he spoke to Ninhursag. “While I’ve grown a bit, less than ten percent, I should point out, I’m still pretty much the same way I was before I left.”
Ninhursag smiled as she looked at him. “I love those ears.”
“Huh?” Iain realized he’d shifted to his elf form. “Oh, sorry.” He shifted to human. “It’s what I’ve been for a long time.”
The Elfqueen grinned and took his hand. “I like it. It suits you, like being a dragon suits you. I may want you to be an elf for me when we’re alone.”
“I don’t see a problem with that.” He led her over to where April and Dominique stood, obviously ignoring each other. “Do I need to make you two kiss and make up?”
April gave him a startled smile. “No, that won’t be necessary. We’ll sort things out later.”
“I think I’d have liked watching him make you two kiss,” Ninhursag observed with the same grin she’d just had. It faded. “Thank you for showing us what’s changed, Iain.” She looked between April and Dominique. “Can you two put together a program to actually test his overall progress?”
The Duelist and the Archmage exchanged a look. “We think so,” Dominique said. “There are some parts of it that would be very hazardous for anyone and we want to get with Ganieda and Scheherazade to see if we can use dreamtime for that portions of his testing. If we can, it means we can test him to destruction in a manner that keeps the environment from being actually fatal while making him think it is so his results are maximized.”
“If this works as we hope it will,” April said, “I will look at incorporating dreamtime training or the technological equivalent of it into our regular training. There will still be live individual and team training, but this would allow us to run simulations that are much more realistic while freeing up time in the real day for other things so it looks like we’re training less.” She looked at Iain. “If it works, it would also be a good way to start training the clan forces on Twenty Three in using modern equipment without having to distribute modern equipment since they all already have twee. If we need to use them in a real life engagement, then we just need to marry them up with prepositioned gear, give them a bit of a refresher and we’ll be ready to fight. I’ll also be training our troops here in using the magic and technology of Twenty Three in case we deploy there and wish to remain covert.”
Iain smiled widely. “Ladies, you may have just solved the problem we were having trying to figure out how to really test someone. If this works, you can even push people like Vanessa without having to be concerned about losing part of the land we own to an errantly tossed singularity.” He grinned. “Or testing me without worrying about getting me killed while I show off everything I can think of or having me, in my dragon form, destroy your precious obstacle course.”
April stared at him for an instant before grabbing him and almost wrapping herself around him as she hugged him hard. “Now you’re my favorite student!”
“Glad to help,” Iain said. “Theodora, can you put together the kinds of simulations that April, Dominique and everyone else would need for that?”
She appeared. “I would like to test the physical and mental lockouts with you specifically since you’re a truewizard and I haven’t run full simulations with one before but I know I can do this for everyone else and I am almost certain I can do it with you as well.”
“What about spells and other magic,” Dominique asked curiously.
“If memories that we have already show the spell in action or we can gain access to memories that show the spell being cast and its effects, Daya and I can realistically simulate it,” Theodora said. “You will not be able to create new spells in a simulation.”
“Can you simulate it when someone like Rosemary casts it incorrectly?”
“Only to the point where that has happened before,” Theodora replied. “A new miscast spell’s effects could only be guessed at.”
“It would allow you to monitor Rosemary casting the same spell over and over until she does it correctly on a regular basis,” Iain added. “Without it blowing up in your face when she makes a mistake.”
“You just convinced me on the worth of this idea,” Dominique said. “At least in trying it out.”
“Rosemary learns quickly,” Iain said in her defense.
“Yes, she does, but her mistakes are pretty spectacular and never in a good way.” Dominique shrugged. “She’s actually better than some of the knights I had to train and much faster at picking something up.”
“Good.” Iain blinked. “And my time here is almost up. I’m supposed to be meeting April and Sofia so they can have someone like Pandora beat me up.”
“That’s not what’s going to happen,” April said. “This is a consultation.”
April smiled at the sudden suspicion in Iain’s tone. “I brought Rich back and we’ve been trying to put together a program similar to BUD/S Hell Week for the inner clan. Later we’ll try to rebuild the entire SEAL program for our elite in the harem and, later, in the whole clan.”
Iain frowned. “Oh, Commander Howard, the former SEAL. What do you want from me? I never went through BUD/S.”
“No, but I want to set up a pilot test of the program and I want to get your input because you’ll be part of the first class to go through it.”
Iain blinked. “Me?”
“Iain, other than Ygerna, you are the oldest person here and, according to Theodora, you’ve been in lots of training and combat while you were gone. More than Ygerna has during her life, according to what I’ve heard. You are a combat veteran with experience that I’ll want for my training programs. Now that I’m over my automatic reaction of incredulity and anger, I want your input because I trust you.”
He looked into her eyes. “That took a lot, didn’t it?”
“You have no idea how hard that transition was,” she admitted. “And I’m not done working through it, but I’ve had to realize that you’re an asset now and I use my assets to improve us all.”
“I’ll help as much as I can.”
She took his hand. “Thank you. I’ll see the rest of you later.” They vanished as she teleported them to the door room.
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
Golden Cloud – equine unicorn
Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female
74 male Goblins
89 female Goblins
Queendom / Outer Clan
Dionne - Elfqueen
Adrianna - Elfqueen
Heltu - Wet Queen
14 Wet Elves
Eirian - Silver Dragoness
Aurum - Gold Dragoness
Skye - Blue Dragoness
Emerald - Green Dragoness
Beryl - Red Dragoness
Julia - human
Ling - Cheetit
Matilda - White Tigress
Liadan - Twau
Sorrel - Armsmistress
Natalie - Blazicunt
Maria – Slutton
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
Myrna (Age 4)
Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)
Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)
Seraphina: Megami Sama
Miram: Angel (Age 5)
Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)
James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)