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One Hundred Thirty Six
Nightraven watched as, after an hour, Iain’s eyes opened. His eyes flicked to her questioningly, and she nodded. “This exercise is complete and you have demonstrated satisfactory use of the techniques I wanted you to use.”
“Will there be anything else?”
“How long have you been here this time?”
“Six and a half years.”
“You may return home.”
Iain looked at her, nodded and headed for the door out of the room where they’d been working.
He turned to look at Nightraven. “Lady?”
“Is Caintigern still teaching you?”
Iain gave her a thoughtful look. “My history lessons are continuing.”
“So she has given up the idea of teaching you magic,” Nightraven said.
Iain blinked. Was that satisfaction he heard in her voice? In any case, he wasn’t going to lie to her. “The lessons in magic have not yet started. Caintigern has asked me to search out a suitable location on a different Toril where she can put a suitable structure to begin those lessons.”
Nightraven’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Have you been looking for such a place?”
“She has things to teach me and we all want me to become as powerful as I can,” Iain said. He watched her eyes harden. “Would you like for me to look for a new place for you?”
She frowned and gave him a curious look. “What makes you think that I want something like that?”
“I’m not sure if you’re unhappy because Caintigern is going to be teaching me magic or if you’re unhappy because I’m looking for a place so she can. For all I know, you could be unhappy because of both things. I do know that you’re unhappy. She asked me to do this because I am more widely traveled than she is. It is not a courting gift, but if you think it is I should find you a place too.”
“Why does my unhappiness bother you?”
Iain shook his head slightly. “I’m trying to think of you as my mate, remember? That means your emotional state is important to me.”
“You have not behaved as if I am important to you.”
Iain took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I can’t. Nightraven, you have forbidden me to try and court you while I am here. Your rule has been that, if I am here, I am your student and nothing else. I can’t even come here to try and give you a courting gift. You have already made it abundantly plain that I am your student from the instant I set foot on this world until you release me. Right now I have to wait until we’re somewhere else and are together before I can try to show you that you are important to me.”
She frowned slightly. “You are correct. That has been one of my rules. Now that you have pointed it out, I have realized that I made a mistake with those rules because I never had a student that I am going to have as my mate. I will rethink them and, once I have made decisions about how they will be changed, I will inform you. Do you have a courting gift for me?”
“What is it?”
“It’s a courting gift and it’s not here. I don’t think I’m supposed to just tell you about it.”
Nightraven cocked her head. “Caintigern is correct. It is very likely that a dragoness will try to murder you out of frustration when you behave like this to her and she realizes it just makes her desire you more.”
“And the magic and physical combat that you and Caintigern teach me will allow me to keep that try from becoming a success, hopefully in a manner that doesn’t result in other dragonesses banding together to hunt me down. Let’s go to Ragnarök and I can give you that gift.”
Nightraven held out her hand. “Let us go.”
Iain took her hand. “Step.”
They stood on a muddy mound overlooking a swamp filled with cycads and other primordial plants. Mud splashed and grunts filled the air as a pair of reptilian humanoids with scaly skin and mouths filled with razor sharp teeth circled and stabbed at each other with crystalline knives. Loosely arrayed around them were more of the reptiles and some human looking people with skin the color of porcelain. Some looked completely human while others had additional arms, legs or heads. All of them wore collars.
They exited inside a metal room that was so cold, the breaths he and Nightraven exhaled crystalized into falling ice particles almost instantly. In the dim light, the ice fell silently towards the floor. Iain pushed a button on a controller on the wall. The lights brightened and hot air blasted around them, quickly raising the temperature to something much more comfortable. “And we’re here. It’ll take a few minutes for the building’s temperature to stabilize out, but I didn’t see a reason to heat anything except the greenhouse when I’m not here.”
“This does not feel like Ragnarök,” Nightraven commented as she looked around. “It is not as cold as this is there, not even in the highlands.”
“We’re in the murder snow, someplace you and Caintigern never visit.” Iain opened a door, revealing a small room. In the center of the room, a tek generator hummed quietly. Iain checked a display on the machine and nodded. “It’s still got plenty of fuel,” he said as he closed the door and turned back to Nightraven. “If you’ll come with me, please.”
She followed him down a short hallway. “Why did you build here? From what you told me; this place is very difficult to build in.”
Iain chuckled. “It was incredibly difficult to build here. An Ark doesn’t have a crust and mantle with magma in it so the permafrost in a place like this extends down as far as I’d decided to excavate. Granted, it did give me all the water I think I’ll ever need here. I cut an area about two acres in size for a reservoir and it’s got five feet of water in it, which gives me over three million gallons as a reserve.” He looked back at her. “And I built here because you and Caintigern never come here. That makes it a good place to hide courting gifts from you.”
Nightraven touched a wall. “This facility is underground?”
“Almost all of it is and the exit to the surface comes out in a shallow cave so you can’t find it easily.” Iain stopped in front of a large door that was secured with lugs around it. He began unlocking the lugs. “Inside here is the greenhouse and, hopefully, you will pick out your gift.” He finished and flung open the door with a flourish as he moved to the side. “And here it is!”
Nightraven peered inside. “It is very dark.”
Iain turned and looked. “Crap, it’s on the night cycle.” He pushed another button and light flared inside the room. He flourished again with a grin. “And here it is!”
Nightraven looked again. Inside, in neat rows at various stages of growth, the room was almost completely filled with candelabra lilies. Nightraven looked surprised and slowly stepped into the doorway. She sniffed the air and her eyes widened slightly. “These are Queen’s Tears.” She turned to Iain. “It is forbidden for anyone except for members of the royal bloodline to possess Queen’s Tears. Not even their servants are allowed to cultivate or have them. You would be put to death for having a single petal from a single flower from one of these plants on my world. Where did you get them?”
“I found one for sale in the Bazaar on Deva. I took it home, cloned it and then, with the help of Theodora and Daya, began an engineering project to give it some genetic variability.”
Nightraven knelt and cupped a flower to inhale its scent. “You read about them in the journals from the dead Nightraven, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I hoped you liked them as much as she did.”
Nightraven stood. “Then you also know that the preparation process requires a rare oil, among the other ingredients. Do you have that too?”
“The tower had a sample of the oil in the alchemical lab. I analyzed it and discovered that it’s only rare to you because the People never invested much into technology. It turns out it’s a petroleum product called kerosene. I set up a distillation column and I’ve got about twenty gallons of it on hand. I can make more as needed.” He chuckled. “I’ve always made jokes about the fact that we have blast furnaces for stomachs, but I never thought I’d find we can metabolize things like kerosene.”
“This oil needs to be of the highest possible quality,” Nightraven said. “I would like to sample it before you use it on my choice.”
“You’re free to do so,” Iain replied. “Shall we go there now?”
He nodded, closed the door and reset the lugs. “This way.”
“Why do you secure the greenhouse so completely?”
Iain smiled. “While it’s unlikely, it is possible that somehow the Ark spawning system might spawn something alive inside the facility. The area outside the greenhouse is six times the area of the greenhouse, so it is most likely that spawn will take place outside the greenhouse. If something gets in and rampages around in here, I don’t care. Nothing in here that is outside the greenhouse is irreplaceable. But the plants in the greenhouse are incredibly rare and represent years of labor and the equivalent of decades of research. I can even rebuild the plants, if necessary, but it would take a long time and, during that time, they wouldn’t be available for me to offer as courting gifts.”
“What does Caintigern think of this gift?”
“She doesn’t know about the plants.” Nightraven looked surprised and Iain nodded. “As you have already figured out, I discovered the information on these plants in the journal of the dead Nightraven. These were a very rare treat and one she highly prized. I hoped you were like her in this regard.” He paused and looked curiously at her.
“I am. I never imagined I would have that treat again and I never thought you would be able to find it.” Her eyes met his. “Caintigern would like this gift as well.”
“I got these for you. If you will allow it; I will also present some to Caintigern.”
Nightraven slowly smiled. “Allowing me to decide whether Caintigern, once a Queen, has access to Queen’s Tears is an even better gift than the Tears themselves.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I can top that gift unless Blacktooth is still alive when we get there, and I can present you with her head.”
Nightraven cocked her head thoughtfully before nodding. “I believe that assessment will be proven to be correct.”
Iain gestured. “This way, please.” He led her down a few hallways and into a chamber with shelves stuffed full of bottles and boxes of chemicals. Tables were evenly spaced through the room and alchemical equipment was stacked neatly on them, ready for use. He pulled a glass jar containing a clear liquid off a shelf and offered it to Nightraven. “This is high purity ultra low sulfur kerosene and is hopefully, of the quality you want.”
She opened the bottle and sniffed the aroma wafting up from it. “May I taste it?”
Nightraven sipped delicately at the bottle’s contents. She rolled the kerosene around in her mouth and swallowed. “This is the highest quality I have ever tasted.” She closed the bottle and handed it back to Iain. “It is very good. It will work well with the Tears.”
Iain looked at the bottle and at Nightraven, shrugged and opened the bottle. “Might as well be hanged as a sheep,” he muttered and took a slug of the bottle. He closed the bottle as he licked his lips and swallowed again. “It isn’t the worst thing I’ve tasted recently, but I don’t see it replacing chocolate or ice cream anytime soon.”
“What is the worst thing you’ve tasted recently?”
“Ripe zombie. I hit one and it splashed everywhere. I had my visor open and it got on my face, whereupon I stupidly licked my lips. I am apparently not cut out to be a carrion eater.” He put the bottle back on the shelf. “Are you ready to pick out your plant?”
“I am. I have not had Queen’s Tears since I left home.” She eyed him curiously. “Did you find it because I like it or because of some of its properties?”
“I hunted it down as a courting gift to you. I honestly wasn’t aware of its aphrodisiacal properties until Theodora and I did some chemical analysis and tested it with samples of my blood.”
“You haven’t had Queen’s Tears yet?”
Iain shook his head. “I got it for you, not me. I also made myself immune to all foreign chemical effects before you sent me to apprentice to Eliminster, so it wouldn’t have mattered if I did try it.”
“We do not do that because there are many analgesics and stimulants that are useful. And, like Queens Tears, there are some chemicals that are very enjoyable.”
Iain laughed as they reached the greenhouse door and he began opening it. “I realized a while ago that I didn’t think that through as completely as I should have. Still, I’m not changing it. It’s been an amusing surprise to more than one assassin who likes to use chemicals in her job of trying to kill me.” He pulled the door open. “Please choose your flower.”
“I have never had a selection as varied as this one to choose from,” Nightraven said as she stepped into the greenhouse. “Usually there are only two or three plants available for selection. This may take some time.”
Iain smiled. “This is a courting gift to my mate, Nightraven.” She looked at him with surprised eyes. “You take as much time as you feel is necessary while making your decision about which one you want this time.”
“I am unsure how to respond,” she said quietly. “I have never been seriously courted before. There were always lower status drakes looking for a breeding partner, but never a mate. How do you know how to court me?”
“The memories that Caintigern gave me showed me plenty of examples of drakes trying to court her, either obviously or trying to be cunning and subtle about it. Honestly, it all comes across as pretty bloody needy and I decided to not do any of that.” She cocked her head and he nodded. “I don’t do sycophant well, especially not with a woman I think is good enough to pay court to. I don’t think like one of the People and so I am not going to go to a dragoness, hat in hand and beg her to let me breed her.” He shrugged. “I do not think of myself as lower status to anyone, and I am not going to start acting like I am. I can keep my head down, avoid eye contact and mumble apologetically with the best of them for my mission, but I am not interested in courting a dragoness that way, since I am at the very least the equal of any of the People that I will ever meet. Socially, I am the Grey, which makes me the equal of the Queen, and I am not going to let a dragoness make me forget that.”
“You will drive the dragonesses mad with fury and desire,” Nightraven said.
“How they feel about the situation is not all that important to me,” Iain replied. “I am your mate, and I am Caintigern’s mate. I am not their mate. They cannot take me as their mate, either, since I refuse to be taken.” He shrugged again. “And, honestly, I’ll probably avoid the whole frustrated and horny dragoness thing for most of my mission unless it helps somehow.”
“How will you do that?”
“I’ll spend time as a dragoness. Then the dragonesses won’t chase me around to mate with. The drakes will and I can ignore them to my heart’s content. While it’s not something I’d do for fun, if it helps to accomplish my mission then I’ll do what I must.”
“Most people would not consider the idea of changing sexes,” Nightraven said. “It is strongly discouraged in our society so as to maintain the balance in the numbers between drakes and dragonesses.”
“From what I understand about the People’s society, normal attrition by dragonesses killing rebellious drakes would suggest that there would be more dragonesses than drakes,” Iain said.
“That is true to an extent, but it does not take into account our lifespan,” Nightraven disagreed as she moved through the greenhouse, examining plants as she moved. “We are immortal in that we do not die unless we are killed or choose to end our lives. Dragonesses kill each other much more often than drakes kill other drakes which keeps the ratio between the sexes where it is. Once a drake learns his place in society, he is almost always assured of a long and reproductively successful life, no matter how lowly his station in society.”
“Do most drakes lounge around waiting for the next broody dragoness to approach them?”
Nightraven shook her head as she knelt to examine a plant. “With our powers, boredom almost always results in destructive behavior. All of the People are expected to have a vocation and hobbies.” She stood. “I select this plant.”
The plant rose into the air, hovered for a second and then curved around Nightraven as it headed towards Iain. “Would you like to watch the entire preparation process?”
Nightraven was watching as the plants around her levitated a handful of centimeters and shifted, advancing the plants to move the empty place down the rows to where the youngest plants were growing. She turned to look at him. “What is this?”
“I’m shuffling the plants around so I can add another young plant to replace the one you’ve chosen.”
“How often do you intend to offer the Queen’s Tears to me and Caintigern?”
“How often would you like me to?”
“You are courting me.”
“I know, but feedback is supposed to allow me to refine both my courtship and the timing involved in it.”
“I was not highly placed in the Queen’s bloodline. Decades or centuries usually passed between the opportunities I have had to have Queen’s Tears,” Nightraven said as she joined him. “I wish to sample this one before I consider how often I might wish to have it again.” She looked at the hovering plant. “You are not using magic to move this.”
“No, I’m using technology. It lowers the chances of accidentally triggering the Overseer’s curiosity.” He secured the entrance to the greenhouse and headed down the passage. “Please follow me.”
He led her into a different room. This one had a small table with an assortment of equipment on it. Next to the table was a set of shelves filled with jars of colored powders and liquids. Along one wall was a huge pile of pillows and furs. “Grab a pillow and sit down, please.”
Nightraven took a large pillow and settled down cross-legged on it, not far from the table, as the planter landed on the table. “I have watched Queen’s Tears be prepared once before. I do not recognize several of the items you have set up. Is it for the preparation?”
“I’ve read how this is supposed to be prepared and, after experimentation and testing, I’ve made some changes to streamline the process and increase the effects.” He opened the lid on a machine on the counter. “This is essentially a juicer.” He slid a one liter transparent measuring bowl under the discharge spout. “The plant is usually chopped finely and then ground up in a mortar,” he motioned to a large stone mortar. “The goal is to extract all of the liquid from the plant for processing. Later, the fiber is filtered out so it’s not consumed with the finished product. Queen’s Tears are a fairly soft plant and so the juicer does that job nicely. This machine will extract more juice than the original process will.” He grinned. “Granted, it’s a bit overengineered and would juice green hardwood trees if I cut them small enough to fit.”
“What else that’s different will you do?”
“The roots are traditionally used in the process,” Iain picked up a pair of ceramic shears and, one by one, cut the flowers from the plant and dropped them into the juicer. There was a hum and pink fluid dribbled down into the measuring bowl. “I discovered that the roots contain a chemical that neutralizes the active ingredients in the rest of the plant. Adding the fluid from the roots was actually weakening the final product. Immediately, I stopped using them.” He began cutting off the limbs of the plant and fed them into the juicer. The juice began turning green as more liquid filled the measuring bowl. “What’s left after juicing doesn’t taste very good. After some experimentation, I finally gave up and now just add it into my composting bin to make fertilizer for the flowers.”
The planter lifted off and drifted to the other side of the room before landing once again. Iain pulled a jar from the shelves, opened it and used a measuring spoon to carefully measure an amount of the clear liquid inside it into the measuring bowl. The plant juices immediately turned dark brown. “This is the pure alcohol for the first wash.”
“Is it as pure as the oil?” Iain picked up a stirring rod, dipped it into the jar and offered it to her. She smelled it and licked it delicately. “It is. Well done.”
“I’m glad you are satisfied with it.” He put the jar up and began stirring the mixture with a spoon made of marble. “What I found interesting was the prohibition on using iron, steel or wooden containers, utensils or tools when working with this stuff. Being me, I had to find out if there was a real reason for it or if it was just some tradition so I ran some tests.”
“What did you discover?”
“That all of the forbidden materials added contaminants to the Queen’s Tears, probably resulting in an unwanted change to the flavor. I couldn’t find where it actually caused a chemical reaction that affected the efficacy of the brew.”
Iain took the measuring bowl and put it on a metal stand over a burner. He lit the burner and adjusted the flame. “Now I boil off the alcohol while skimming off any foam that appears.”
Once he was done, he added the kerosene and increased the heat. “We let this heat until the color changes and then it gets to cool.
“There is more liquid than I have ever seen before,” Nightraven said.
“I might have bred these plants to be juicier than the original plant,” Iain was slowly stirring the mixture. “At the time it made it easier to experiment with. You don’t have to drink it all.”
“Tradition says I must,” Nightraven was watching the measuring bowl while leaning back on her hands. She glanced up at him. “But this is something that you already knew.”
“I did, but I also know that you are like me in that you are only bound by tradition if you want to be bound by it.” The mixture lightened and turned a brilliant gold. Iain turned off the burner and, using a set of insulated mittens, removed the bowl from the stand and put it on a different stand. “Now we wait for it to cool.”
“Come sit with me,” Nightraven said.
Iain snagged a pillow and sat down next to her. He turned and looked at her looking at him. After a minute, he chuckled softly.
Nightraven raised an eyebrow. “What is amusing?”
“I’m really nervous. I’m sure you can smell it.”
Nightraven was watching him curiously. “I can easily smell it. Why are you nervous? You have been with many women. By your own admission you have also been with some dragonesses.”
“None of them was you. You are like no woman or dragoness I’ve ever been involved with.”
“Are you saying that I am,” she paused, “special to you?”
“You are incredibly special,” Iain admitted. “Some of that special is wonderful and good but some of is dark and scary and all of it has me nervous about this.”
Nightraven sat up straighter as her eyes bored into his. “What is wonderful and good about me?”
“You’re beautiful, you’re powerful and you’re very smart. You’re obviously strong willed and focused too. You’re a member of the royal bloodline, so your genes are strong and you will bear us powerful and healthy children.”
Nightraven gave him a pleased look that slowly faded. “What about me is dark and scary?”
“I am a sociopath. I’ve always been one, back as far as I can remember. While I’m not sure if you have always been one too or if you became one after the trauma you experienced when you lost everything that you valued, I recognize that you are a sociopath too, even for one of the People. I am also fairly certain that I am not yet inside your bubble, which is the scary part.”
Nightraven raised an eyebrow. “You are very perceptive, Iain. I have always been different from the majority of the People, but I did change significantly after my mother’s death and the death of all of my relatives.” She waved a hand at the table. “And isn’t this an attempt to put yourself inside this bubble that you speak of?”
“Insomuch as it is a gift of something that you like and missed that I hope you will receive well and treasure as part of my courtship of you, yes, it is an attempt to get inside your bubble. What it is not, is an attempt to shortcut that process and get you pregnant today. In point of fact, no matter what we do, you will not get pregnant today.”
Nightraven looked surprised. “I will not? How is this?”
“By direction of the women I love, I have continued to have sex, even when I was your student or away on missions for you. A long time ago I set things up with my magic to ensure I didn’t accidentally father children with women that I didn’t care about or who I didn’t think were good enough to mingle my blood with. Until I care for a woman enough and I want to have children with her, I am sterile.” Nightraven’s eyes widened. “Up until very recently in our relationship, it has been only one of teacher and student, and you have gone to great lengths to ensure that this relationship was, at best, neutral and, at worst, somewhat adversarial. I realize that you did this deliberately because you were focused on your goal of destroying your enemies and you saw no reason to try to be friendly towards the tools you had chosen to forge in that obsession.”
Iain reached up and Nightraven went completely still, not even breathing as he stroked her cheek. She didn’t lean into his touch, but neither did she pull away from it. He dropped his hand back into his lap. “I see no reason to change the policy that I have about children. What we are doing today, this gift I am giving you, is part of the plan I am working on to get to know you well enough to care for you enough that I will become fertile someday when we have sex. The having sex part is not the goal. The goal is to find a way to care enough for you to want to give you what you want, which is a powerful, devoted mate and strong children and, in the end, victory over Blacktooth’s line of murderers who are guilty of tyrannicide and, more importantly, killing the few things that you have ever really cared for.”
“I could override your infertility if I wish.”
Iain nodded. “You could. And I acknowledge that there is nothing I could do to stop you. But please remember that I have been working very hard to restore the trust I had with you. Doing something like that would completely destroy that, probably permanently.”
She leaned back on her pillow. “If you will not trust me, I cannot trust you. I could coerce you, but you are much more effective if you are allowed to keep your independence and free will.”
Iain smiled. “I believe that too. I think I’d make a lousy puppet. Now the real question is this: can you manage to stop seeing me as a tool and instead as a mate and ally?”
“I can. This will change nothing in our relationship as teacher and student.”
Iain shook his head. “Yes, it will, and deep down you know that. However, we will work together to try and minimize the effect of the changes as they bear on that relationship. I can be your mate and I can be your student and I can do both without being your mate while you are teaching. I have done this with some of the women I love when they teach me magic or when I teach them magic. I will do this with you too.”
“Agreed,” Nightraven said.
“Can I ask a personal question?”
Nightraven gave him an amused look. “Iain, my permission or refusal to give it has never stopped you from asking a question before, no matter how personal it might be. However, I will grant you permission so that you may ask this question.”
“When did you last have sex?”
“Before I left the worlds of the People to search for Winter’s Dream.”
“Is that the scholar you were trying to find?” She nodded. “That would mean it’s been a very long time indeed.”
“Is that important? I remember what sex is like.”
“Considering that it’s been tens of thousands of years since your last sexual encounter, I think we’re still going to take things slowly. Your mind might believe that it remembers what sex is like, and it might even be right, but your body definitely does not.”
“I believe, according to your cultural rules as well as mine, it is my decision to make,” Nightraven pointed out.
Iain blinked and shrugged. “You’re right. It’s your decision. Speaking of which, the Queen’s Tears should be cool enough now to drink. Shall I bring it to you?”
Nightraven straightened up and gave a single sharp, aristocratic nod. “Yes.”
Iain rose and carefully touched the mixing bowl with a fingertip. “It’s ready.” He produced a crystal goblet from a small collection of them on the shelving and filled it with the golden liquid, emptying the bowl.
Using both hands, Iain carried the goblet over and knelt in front of Nightraven, holding out the goblet in a formal presentation. “I offer you this gift, in the hope that you might find favor for me in your heart.”
She took the goblet. “I accept this gift and I will judge its quality and yours together.” She held the goblet under her nose and inhaled deeply. “It smells very good, Iain, even better than I remember.” Her eyes narrowed when he made to rise. “Stop!” Iain did. “Where are you going?”
“I was going to leave you to enjoy the Tears. I do not wish there to be any mistakes in our relationship.”
“You will stay.” Iain looked surprised. “I swore that we would be mates,” she said quietly. “And you are correct that it has been a very long time since I was with anyone sexually. I am nervous about this, just as you are and the Tears will help me to overcome that nervousness today.”
Iain smiled slightly. “As you wish.”
“This is the Sempadan Forest,” Iain said. He and Caintigern stood on the side of a mountain looking over a dense forest that extended to the horizon. “Or that’s what it’ll be called in roughly thirty thousand years. Right now it’s uninhabited by sentient races, but it is full of animals for hunting. The Tearfall took place a thousand years ago and the land has finally recovered from the devastation. Historically, this is the start of the Dawn Age, when dragons and giants spread to cover the lands and then went to war. The giant kingdom of Ostoria never made it this far, so they shouldn’t be an issue and the dragon kingdoms weren’t around here either. In Nightraven’s time, this is a no man’s land between Kara Tur and Zakhara. We should only be bothered by solitary dragons and their hoards will just add to your treasure and give us something to trade if you want to.”
Caintigern nodded. “I will be undisturbed here, which will allow me to focus on teaching you.” She glanced at him. “Nightraven has told me that you gave her a gift of Queen’s Tears and that the two of you have mated. I would not have believed her except she smells of the drugs present in Tears. Will I receive this gift as well and will we also mate?”
“I found references to how much Nightraven liked the Tears in the journals that the dead one left,” Iain replied. “I sought them out for her for that reason. I know you had much more access to them while you were Queen. I would be honored if you would accept them as a gift from me.” He was quiet for a moment. “And I did not offer her the Tears hoping we’d have sex. In fact, I offered to leave while she tried them. She asked me to stay.”
“I will too,” Caintigern said. Iain looked surprised. “I have not been with a drake in a very, very long time. I would like to have sex with you before I have Queen’s Tears, but the Tears are a powerful aphrodisiac for the People.”
“I hope you’re not angry that I had sex with Nightraven first.”
“I will not be, if you do not wait too long to have sex with me,” Caintigern replied.
“Today is good for me,” Iain said.
Caintigern looked at him and smiled slowly. “Now you sound like a drake.”
“You are an attractive woman, no matter which form you wear. You will give us strong sons and daughters and we will raise them together. What reason would I have for not wanting to start that today.”
“Will you be infertile with me as well?”
Iain nodded. “Did she tell you why I am that way?”
“She did. As is often the case with you, it makes no sense from the perspective of a drake of the People, but it is consistent with the behavior and beliefs you have continued to say are yours.” She turned to face him. “And right now it is for the best if I do not become pregnant.”
“I will be teaching you. A child would keep me from focusing on that as I wish to in order to give you those lessons as quickly as I can. It would distract both of us.”
Iain nodded. “That is logical. Do you know how to make yourself infertile until you’re ready to start having children?”
“I do not.”
“I can teach you that. It’s not difficult and will help you to control when you can become pregnant even if I do get to liking you enough to want to have children with you and so become fertile.”
“It would be for the best,” Caintigern said thoughtfully. “I believe you should get Nightraven pregnant before I become pregnant.”
Iain raised an eyebrow. “I do too, but I’d like to know why you think I should.”
“She has never had a child and she is very proud. If I become pregnant first, she may become angry because of it. I have had children, both Princesses and drakes.” Caintigern frowned. “I must tell you this, even if it upsets you. Descent is through the dragoness. Any drakes are taken away by members of my court and given away to be raised. I do not know what happened to any of them after that.”
“I don’t care what happened to your previous children if you do not,” Iain said quietly. “I think it’s a travesty of parenting to abandon your children at all, but that’s looking at things from my viewpoint, which is not the viewpoint of a dragoness or even that of a drake of the People. I accept that your ways were different without judging them or accepting those ways as mine.” His eyes searched hers. “You do understand that I will not tolerate that happening to our sons or daughters. If you try, I will not allow it and if you force it to happen, we will never have another child together.”
“I am glad you are not upset about children you will never meet,” Caintigern turned to look out over the forest again. “And you are correct. All of our children will be raised as our children.” She glanced at him again. “Why did you choose this forest?”
“It reminds me of the forest I found you in. The fact that you chose that forest to sit and think led me to decide that you like dense forests. After all, it would have been much easier to lair up in a cave and easier to block so you wouldn’t be disturbed while you thought.”
“I do like forests, and this is one is a good choice. Now we must fly and seek out a place for where I will recreate the castle where I spent many years in as Queen and where I will teach you how to be a Princess.”
Iain chuckled. “I know what you mean by that, so ok.”
Caintigern shifted to her dragon form. “You will learn the secrets of the Queens and Princesses and how our magic works. It will give you a significant advantage when you face any of the People.”
“Are you going to teach this to Nightraven?”
“I am already teaching her some of it. Will I teach her everything that I teach you? I have not yet decided. She is unstable and she keeps deciding that killing my mate is called for. I do not like this and I want you to be able to resist her long enough, if she decides this again, that I can come to your aid.”
“She did take the oaths I gave her and they were very complete.”
“I will hear these oaths before I agree.” Caintigern spread her wings. “Now come. We will find a place for my castle and being your training.” She launched herself into the air. “And you will become my mate today,” she called.
Iain grinned, shifted and gave chase.
Iain dropped his pack on the bed and stretched. “Tell April and Ninhursag to meet me in medical.”
Theodora appeared. “April is preparing the goblins for another training session and says she is currently unavailable.”
Iain smiled pleasantly. “Did I tell you to ask her if she’s available? I want her and Ninhursag to meet me in medical when I come out of the medic. I have important news to give them, it’s private and it can’t wait.”
Theodora looked surprised for an instant before nodding. “Am I to use force if someone refuses the summons?”
Iain pursed his lips thoughtfully before shaking his head. “No. I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I’m not and haven’t been a ruler like that.”
He began uploading his memories to Theodora and her eyes went very wide. “I’ll make sure they’re there.”
“Are you cheating and remembering things you shouldn’t be unless told to?”
Theodora blushed. “I must confess that, regarding you, I am.” Her blush deepened when he waggled a finger warningly at her. “Are you ordering me to stop?”
Daya appeared. “I must confess that I do the same thing,” she said.
“Naughty, naughty, girls,” Iain said with a smile. “Just remember that discussing these things could get everyone here except me killed.” His smile faded. “And I would probably die not long after when I tried to get revenge for your deaths.”
“We would never think of discussing your private memories,” Theodora assured him.
“Weren’t you supposed to never think of eavesdropping on my privacy without permission,” Iain asked curiously.
Daya shook her head. “Iain, you told each of us, separately, to do whatever we thought was necessary to successfully complete our jobs. While it might seem like we’re prying into those memories for fun, we decided that monitoring your activities and not forgetting them could be crucial to those successes. And just for the record, we each decided this on our own and then discussed it together and came to the same conclusion when we did.”
“We also have an appointment to reexamine that decision once every twenty eight days,” Theodora added, “and immediately if there are any new developments. So far that decision has remained unchanged.”
“If you need that access to do your jobs, then I gave you your orders. Do your jobs.”
Daya bowed formally. “Thank you, Iain.”
Iain headed for the exit from his lab and towards medical. “You’re welcome.”
The medic hissed as it opened and Iain sat up, rubbing his eyes. From where she sat at a table with Ninhursag, April gave him a sour look as he peered around blearily. “What’s the emergency?”
“During my free time today, I took Caintigern to see a place where I thought she might want to put her castle where she could teach me.” Iain climbed out of the medic and reached for the clothes that were piled on the one next to his. “She liked it so much she created her castle out of thin air and she started my lessons immediately. I’ve been gone for three hundred and fifty years. I promised you to tell you what I could about being away when I could and this was the first chance I had to tell you.”
April was gaping at him. She pulled her mouth shut. “I feel like such a prat right now.”
“Is it bad if I enjoy that for a moment,” Iain asked as he dressed. “I have never summoned you for anything that wasn’t really important.”
“Do we have three and a half centuries of horny Iain to deal with right now,” Ninhursag asked with an amused smile.
“No, but it’s been over a month since I last got laid. So if you two have some free time,” Iain winked. “I still have five hours of my free time left.”
“Sorry, but that program ended and you’ll have to seduce someone else.” April grinned. “Did you fuck Caintigern?”
She cocked her head. “Say the words, Iain. ‘No, I did not fuck Caintigern.’”.
Iain gritted his teeth for a second. “I can’t say those words. Now drop it before someone gets killed.”
“Is she pregnant or are their children from this,” Ninhursag asked calmly as April’s mouth dropped again.
“Will there be?”
“I can’t tell the future, Ninhursag.”
“How often do you have to go back to her,” April asked as she got up and moved to take Iain’s hand.
“She’s returned to her house in the forest and she’ll let me know when the next session is.” He tugged on April’s hand. “Come with me or let go, my dear. I still have to do the possession test.”
“What’s the number of this one,” Ninhursag asked as Iain and April headed for the door.
“Twenty Six,” Theodora said as she appeared.
It’s a good thing we have you to help keep that list,” Ninhursag got up and followed Iain and April. “I’d go crazy trying to keep all of those different worlds straight.”
Theodora laughed. “At least you haven’t named one Myrtle yet.”
“I heard that.” Iain’s voice drifted in from the doorway. “And I still have hope. Myrtle is an awesome name for a universe.”
Ninhursag laughed again and hurried after them.
Iain stood still, looking out into the darkness. His head twitched but he didn’t move when Ygerna laid her head on his shoulder. “It’s done,” she said tiredly. “Perhaps I should teach you how to do this spell.”
He chuckled. “You say that now. When you’re rested you’ll pop off with some statement about how only Sidhe can properly direct the involved magic.”
“You are probably right. Do you want to see them?”
“Are they decent yet?”
“Why is that suddenly so important,” Ygerna asked curiously.
Rosemary’s voice came from behind them. “They are decent, Iain, and Theodora has given them all a clean bill of health.”
“Thank you,” Iain said as he put his arm around Ygerna’s waist and turned them both to face the Mistoffeles.
Sorrel, Matilda and Selsharra were all sitting on the stones they’d been resurrected on. Each was wearing a comfortable looking robe of silver and black.
Sorrel gave Ygerna a tired smile. “I requested Iain not see us before we were dressed. He has never seen me nude and this is not the time or place for him to see me that way for the first time.”
“He is going to see you that way when he tames you for the first time,” Matilda growled. “Unless you’re going to wear clothes then too.” Sorrel flushed slowly.
“I don’t think I could ever truly tame you, Matilda,” Iain said with a smile. “I do intend to fuck you stupid, however.”
The White Tigress responded with a broad grin. “You’d better. I have centuries of anticipation of how good this is going to be. You will not disappoint.”
“Gee, no pressure,” Iain muttered. Ygerna laughed.
“Iain has also never seen me undressed,” Selsharra said quietly. “While I do not have the taboos that Sorrel has, I want to wait until I’ve adjusted to being alive again and we’re married. Marriage is something that I have never experienced and I want to make sure he can’t get away.”
“I would be more concerned about getting away from him than the reverse,” Ygerna said with an amused smile.
“Welcome back to the world of the living, ladies,” Iain said. “I’d like to thank you, Rosemary, for volunteering to help out.”
Rosemary’s ears flicked. “It was my pleasure, Iain. They are going to be my sisters, after all.” She grinned suddenly. “And I will be senior to them!” Her ears flicked again. “What’s next for them?”
“They’re going to go into medics, where they will spend the next week or so while Theodora teaches their bodies how to respond to being alive again. It should help avoid some of the unpleasant issues that Helesatra went through when she came back to life. Then Sorrel and Matilda join the family while Selsharra and I get with Kasserine, Ava and the other Selsharra and we start plotting.”
“Iain is imprecise. They will be in the medics for at least three weeks,” Theodora said. “While they’re under my care, I will also use this time to give their bodies the equivalent of a full program of heavy exercises and conditioning during all of the time they’re in the medic. That’ll help give them a better physical baseline to start from when they begin training with us.”
Matilda’s ears went flat. “I won’t go feral in there, will I?”
“I will carefully monitor that,” Theodora assured her. “If I think you’re getting even a little close, I’ll bring you out so Iain can bond you and then you’ll go back in.”
“You could just fuck him now,” Rosemary said. “That would reset the clock.”
“My first time with Iain is not going to involve me lying like a corpse while he,” Sorrel blushed again, “has his way with me. I would rather go feral and have him awaken me.”
“Let’s try to avoid that,” Iain said quietly. He reached out and touched Sorrel’s cheek. “You are one of my women now and if we have to make sure you stay aware even if our first time isn’t perfect for you, well I’ll see about making it up to you later. You’re a pokegirl again and you can go feral now. I don’t want that to happen.”
“As I once told you, Iain, I am a pokewoman,” Sorrel said as she pressed her cheek against his fingers. “But I hear your words and I will heed your advice, my lord.”
“You can no longer call him that,” Eirian stepped out of the darkness. “That is our name for him.”
“We have called him that for over seven hundred years,” Matilda said. “It will take some time to break the habit.”
“Break it quickly,” the silver Dragoness snapped.
“Eirian?” Iain’s voice was soft as he turned to face Eirian, and the Dragoness came to attention at the sound of the steel in it.
“My lord, I will let them be.”
“You have learned to do that well,” Ygerna said as she watched the interplay. “Zilvra said you had grown into the role of the ruler of the clan and I now see that she was not mistaken in her assessment.” She smiled. “Congratulations. You would now no longer be welcome in any court I have belonged to.”
Rosemary’s ears flattened for a heartbeat. “Why is that a good thing?”
“He would not be welcome because the ruler would be worried that Iain, to whom command now comes naturally and automatically, would claim the throne for himself, after gathering sufficient support to make such a move a success.”
“I can’t see where I’d ever want to rule a Sidhe court,” Iain said. “I already have the only Sidhe that truly matters to me.”
“You don’t care about my mother?”
“I like Gormlaith. I love you.” He looked at Matilda, Sorrel and Selsharra. “Ladies, let’s get you into the medics so you can start recovering.”
“Are you sure you want to do this now,” Iain asked quietly. “I am happy to welcome you and your family into the outer clan, but we’re about to embark on a trip that involves the entire clan going.”
Lorena grinned. “I know. Marguerite was careful to explain time differentials well enough that even Aaron understands we’ll be gone for a while but return an hour after we leave.”
“As long as you can’t say you weren’t warned,” Iain pushed his chair back and stood. “Let’s go outside and I’ll induct everyone at once.”
“Is my being President and your boss going to be a problem,” Lorena asked as they walked down the hall.
“I won’t accept the orders I wouldn’t accept before,” Iain said as he opened the door and held it for her. “So it’s not going to be a problem for me. Besides, you’re only going to be President for another seven months.”
Lorena smiled. “Six months, fourteen days and a wake up.”
Iain smiled back at her. “I haven’t heard it put that way in a long time. I take it you’re ready to not be president anymore?”
“I am.” She held up her arm. “I have both arms again, and I’m physically young. We have the girls, but I want to have a few more babies. Aaron has good genes and they need passed on to another generation of people.”
“You have good genes too,” Iain pointed out.
Lorena smiled. “You know when to give compliments. Many men can’t do that.”
“I get lots of practice.” Iain stopped. “Get your family so I can oath them.”
The ceremony didn’t take that long and, when he was done, April and Vanessa took everyone away for a small celebratory feast.
Lorena had waited behind with Aaron. “Iain, can we have a word with you in your office?”
Iain glanced at Scheherazade, shrugged and headed for the house, motioning for them to follow. Scheherazade posted herself outside the door to his office as he led Aaron and Lorena inside and waved them to sit as he grabbed a chair. “Would anyone like a beer or something?”
“No. Hopefully, this won’t take long,” Aaron said. He looked at Lorena and she nodded. “I told her about my indiscretion in Vietnam.”
Iain looked at Lorena. “And how did you feel about what he did?”
Lorena looked at her hands. “I know it was a long time ago and he’s been faithful to me ever since, but it hurt more than I thought it probably should.” She lifted her head, and her eyes met his. “Are you really a priest?”
Iain’s eyebrows rose as he wondered who had said something to her about it. Then he gave a mental shrug. “With the understanding that I am not a Christian religious authority of any kind, yes, I am.”
“Is this some kind of cult, like the neopagans are?”
Iain chuckled. “Neopaganism is a blanket phrase regarding attempts to resurrect some of the ancient religions of humanity, or at least some of their currently legal, nicer and better aspects. It’s not organized and is instead composed of a bunch of small groups all doing their own thing and involving a multitude of ancient religions, many of which aren’t documented well, in part because of Christian and other current religious attempts to destroy all history of them. I’m not involved with the neopagans.”
“So what religion are you ordained in,” Aaron asked curiously. “And how old is it?”
“I am a priestess of Eilistraee, an elven goddess that I was introduced to by Ava and Lady Dancer.” Iain was not going to bring up Mielikki during this discussion, mainly because they’d met her, and Iain wasn’t going to try to explain that she was a goddess and living among them. That was a conversation for another time, if ever. “Christianity traces its founding back to Christ, who walked the earth a little over two thousand years ago. Christianity’s roots lie in the Hebrew religion, which can be found to be almost another two thousand years older than that. Eilistraee originally was part of the Seldarine, the gods of the surface elves, and they have been worshipped continuously for over seventeen thousand years. At that time, on this world and in human history, humans were somewhere in the Mesolithic Period or early Neolithic Period, depending on the scholars involved, their nationality and their personal politics.” He smiled. “That means my religion is far senior to yours if I were inclined to play that particular game. I’m not, by the way.”
Lorena was looking at him curiously. “Priestess?”
“The vast majority of Eilistraee’s clergy is female. I’d guesstimate probably on the order of ninety nine percent of it is. It’s just as sexist as Christianity can be, so I’m a priestess who happens to have a dick.”
“What are their marriage rules?”
Iain checked the time with his twee and leaned back in his chair as he mentally put on his priestess hat. “It’s a mix. The majority of marriages in my religion are monogamous, but there is a significant percentage of them that are polyandrous, others that are polygynous and some that are truly polyamorous.”
“How well does that work out?”
“That, like any other marriage, depends on the people involved and just how determined they are to make their marriage succeed. Marriage is an investment, and if you refuse to invest in it, you won’t get much out of it either. And it only takes one person who is not completely committed to making a marriage work to make it all come crashing down into a wreckage of pain and misery.”
Lorena smiled slightly. “You do sound like a priest.”
“Now that you’ve become clan, you’re going to learn that I do some dimensional travelling as part of the things I have to do,” Iain said. “And now that you have a better understanding of time differentials, you can hopefully accept the idea that I’ve been gone a few years in some other places and that time didn’t pass here. During that time in these other places I have been very active as a priestess of Eilistraee.”
Lorena nodded. “We already knew about it, Iain. During a few visits I’ve overheard some of your family talking about it.”
“I guess it’s more of an open secret where you and your family are concerned,” Iain said. “While I like discussions like this, you’re supposed to be at the celebration of becoming Greys. What did you two want to discuss that you feel is more important than that?”
Lorena didn’t move. “When Aaron told me about what happened, it hit me pretty hard. It also made me realize that I’m not happy with what’s going on now.”
Iain glanced at Aaron. “You’re talking about the girls, right?”
Lorena shook her head. “They’re the reason I’m not happy, but they’re not the problem that’s made me that way.”
Iain leaned forward slightly. “Lorena, you need to tell me what the problem is.”
She sighed. “I adore the girls. They are as much a part of our family as anyone is. It’s just now I want Aaron’s attention sexually too and there are so many of them.”
Iain frowned. “This sounds like we’re getting into marriage counseling. I can do this, and I’m willing to, but perhaps you need a Christian perspective more than the heretical one I can provide.”
“Our church was less than helpful,” Aaron said with a look of distaste. “We actually broke with them over our pastor’s opinions of the situation.” He shrugged. “And you’re our friend and probably have similar issues crop up from time to time.”
Iain eyed them thoughtfully for a moment. “Do you also believe there is a problem?”
Aaron nodded. “There just isn’t enough of me to go around, even with the potions and everything.”
“What solution did your pastor suggest?”
“He said that I should spend most of my attention on Lorena, my lawful wife, and whatever I had left on the girls. According to him, they’re people, but just barely.” He scowled. “I know my history and where this is going. Next they’ll be establishing drinking fountains that are human only and others that are pokegirl only.”
Iain nodded. “Fortunately Texas can’t do that universally and we can always refuse to patronize places with policies we don’t like and refuse to associate with those who hold them. For the most part, Texans like pokegirls and acknowledge that they’re people with some special needs.” He looked from Aaron to Lorena. “The pokegirls you and Aaron have accepted into your life have those needs. What do you think will help keep them having those needs met while giving you what you want?”
“I’m not sure,” Lorena said quietly. “We’re going to be spending a lot more time here training and I hope I can figure something out while observing your family and how they interact with each other.”
“Are you determined to make your marriage work?”
Lorena looked surprised. “Of course I am. I love Aaron and I like the girls. I also accept that they are part of our family, now and forever.”
“Good. Now, you,” he looked at Aaron, “both of you are welcome to talk to me about this or pretty much anything if you have something you need to discuss. If you will just let me know, I’ll free up some time as quickly as I can, to spend privately with you, like we did here. And, for you two, I’ll try to be available around the clock.”
“Thank you, Iain,” Aaron said.
“All I’ve done today is give you some fairly basic marriage counseling and I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more that needs to be discussed, but since I’m now involved, I’ll be involved for the duration unless you decide to exclude me for some reason. Understood?”
“Do we have to go to your services,” Aaron asked.
Iain grinned. “You’re welcome at them, and I’d be pleased if you did attend, but I’m doing this more as your friend who happens to be a priestess than as a priestess who happens to be your friend. I will warn you that parts of some of the services are skyclad, and that can include both the priestess and the congregation.”
Lorena frowned. “Skyclad?” She blinked. “Oh. Naked.”
“Exactly. I can tell you which ones are and which ones aren’t, so if you do decide to attend you’ll have a better idea of what you’re going to be involved with. If you do attend a service, leave your inhibitions and cultural baggage at the door. Anyone causing a scene will be politely asked to leave and then, if necessary, removed. My religion has a very long history of persecution. Because of that, I decided a long time ago that I am not going to tolerate that sort of behavior in my services.” Iain looked at them both in turn. “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss right now?”
“No,” Lorena said. “Thank you for taking this time to talk with us.”
“I don’t have many friends,” Iain stood, smiling at each of them in turn as he did. “For better or for worse, you two are among that group. That means I’ll do things for you that I wouldn’t do for someone who isn’t a friend of mine. If someone needs it, and that includes Hypatia and the rest of your girls, I’ll put them up for a few days if they need to get away to avoid hurting other members of your family.”
“Is that common in your religion,” Lorena asked as she and Aaron stood.
“Most of the worshippers of Eilistraee are drow, a subterranean species of elf. Drow are raised in a society where violence against things that frustrate or anger them is culturally encouraged. While Eilistraee wants her children to live peaceful lives, sometimes the transition from drow society to their new one, even if they are devoted converts to Eilistraee, can be difficult.”
Aaron chuckled. “Now you sound like a priest.”
Iain, stay back for a second, Scheherazade sent to him across their delta bond.
“Well, fortunately I’m not a priest, I’m a priestess.” Iain opened the door and ushered them out. “Now you two need to get the celebration while there’s still some sushi since Lorena really likes it and Kasumi made it mostly for her. I need to go to the bathroom and I’ll be right behind you.”
He watched them leave. “What is it?”
“Lorena really isn’t happy, is she?”
Iain glanced at her and then up at the top of her head. “I need to improve my soundproofing if I’m going to be doing more counseling.”
“We tend to keep things private when we’re on duty,” Scheherazade said. “Pandora considers it part of the discretion of your guard.”
“That’s great, but I still need to have real privacy during some of those conversations.”
“Soundproofing isn’t going to stop me since I can read Lorena’s and Aaron’s minds fairly easily. But that’s not why I asked you to wait. I’ve been testing after you showed me what to look for. Did I scent that Lorena is pregnant?”
“You did. She may not know that she is, though. She told me once that, back before menopause, her periods were irregular. While her twee would have eliminated that issue, she might not be aware that her twee would have done so, so it may take a little while before she realizes what’s happened.”
“So we don’t say anything until she does?”
“I can do that.” Scheherazade put her hand on Iain’s shoulder. “Why can’t Aaron keep up with everyone? You do and you’re involved with many more women regularly, and that’s not counting the irregular ones like Ninhursag’s and Heltu’s courts. It’s a lot of women if you add them up.”
“You need to keep in mind that I have tools that Aaron doesn’t and isn’t going to ever have access to.”
Scheherazade’s ears flicked. “I hadn’t considered that. Sorry.”
“It’s not a big deal. Because they don’t see it every day, lots of people here forget what’s actually going on behind the scenes.” He took Scheherazade’s hand. “Now let’s go. I want some sushi too.”
“You told Lorena about it. Unless Kasumi filled an entire table with it, you are already out of luck.”
Lorena stared at the bronze three hundred and fifty meter long shuttle. It had landed on its belly but had also deployed eight massive outriggers with circular pads fifty meters wide to try and increase its surface to weight ratio to the point that it wouldn’t dent the steel landing pad it was resting on. “That thing is huge. I didn’t realize you had ships that big.” They were in Shield, where Lorena and Aaron had brought their family to load for the trip.
Aaron shook his head. “Is that bigger than an aircraft carrier?”
“That’s one of the six main shuttles for the Comito, the transport you’ll be in for the trip we’re going on and, yes, she’s a little larger than the USS Enterprise was before she was sunk during the Revenge War.” Iain did a quick query with his twee. “That’s the Epsilon and she’s not your shuttle. You’ll be going on the Zeta, which will be here in three hours and fifteen minutes.”
Lorena grabbed Iain’s arm. “Why aren’t you using those to move cargo to the governments you’re supplying?”
“Prometheus is giving them supplies,” Iain said quietly. “The sizes of the ships involved were selected to match the sizes of the shipments. What Prometheus is not doing, is getting my clan directly involved in every war on the planet. Some idiot general would see that and immediately try to steal it to use to move an army somewhere he thought it would do the most good for his side. We’ve already had problems like that crop up in the beginning when we were making deliveries in the smaller transports.”
“What did you do,” Aaron asked.
“We’d figured someone would try something like that and had standing orders already in place. As soon as someone trying to steal the ship, the shuttles involved sealed up and left with whatever was still inside their holds. In one case, Prometheus had to send in an assault team to get back some crewmembers who had been kidnapped. Some people got killed, some things got broken, all on the Outlander side. Even in the incidents that didn’t involve kidnappings and raids, Lucifer lost her temper; the involved governments were told she would have nothing to do with thieves and some delivery contracts got torn up. The involved governments tried to smooth things over by disavowing the involved troops and were told they would have to renegotiate the entire contract at much worse rates and that if anything like that happened a second time, there would be no forgiveness. People listened and it didn’t happen a second time, at least not with the same government.”
Lorena shook her head. “Why would someone be that stupid?”
“It wasn’t an organized effort in any of the cases, as far as we could tell. It was some general or admiral who was used to playing god who saw the shuttles and went full despot.” Iain gently peeled Lorena’s fingers from his arm. “I would point out, however, that while not a theft arranged by the government, in none of the three instances were the people involved tried or punished for their actions. It just went away as much as the governments involved could make it happen. To this day, the admiral who tried to snatch a shuttle is the point of contact for deliveries to that location.”
“Which governments was it,” Lorena asked.
“Lucifer has requested privacy for that information.” Iain grinned. “And she did so in order to keep me from trumpeting all over the world which governments and their lickspittle lackeys were lying, stealing, treacherous assholes that nobody should trust or give the slightest bit of help to, ever.” His grin faded. “For some reason she seems to think I’m some kind of loose cannon diplomatically. I have no idea why she’d think that.”
Bellona, who was his guard today, made a choked noise from behind him.
Iain gestured over his shoulder with his thumb at the Dragonqueen. “And that behavior would lead me to think that others agreed with her, if I didn’t know just how wonderful and perfect I am and how everyone already knows it.” Lorena laughed and Aaron smiled.
“With all due respect, Clan Leader,” Bellona said quietly, “did you have an extra helping of breakfast this morning? I only ask because you’re more full of shit than usual.”
Iain turned to stare at her for a long moment. “Would you have said that to Shikarou?”
“He wouldn’t have allowed me to,” she said. “You encourage it, at least among friends like the Robinsons are.”
“Very good,” Iain smiled warmly at her.
“You encourage this behavior,” Lorena asked.
“Up to a point, yes, I do. As the Grey, I could easily become a tyrant in every bad sense of the word. I have the power and I have the authority to horribly misuse that power. I want my family to remind me that I’m not supposed to be doing that. Assuming I’m infallible is one of the many steps down that road. Even in jest, it’s not a good idea.”
“I don’t have that as President,” Lorena noted.
“Well, the President of Texas evolved out of the role of governor of the state of Texas,” Iain replied. “And some of the governors were arrogant berks who did believe in their own infallibility. You’re not that way.”
“I’m glad you think so highly of me,” Lorena said with a smirk.
“Are we going to be with you,” Aaron asked Iain.
“No. You’ll be with the Sisterhood. I’ll be on the Theodora. She is, essentially, our flagship and, along with the Ouroboros, is armed and armored to fight while the Comito gets away if the worst happens and we get attacked in strength.”
“We should be on the Theodora with you,” Lorena said firmly.
“No. While you’re the President of Texas, in the clan you’re a civilian and you’ve been a member of the clan for two weeks. You haven’t even started conditioning training yet. I don’t expect us to get attacked and I don’t expect to have to sacrifice the Theodora or the Ouroboros, but sometimes what I don’t expect is exactly what happens.”
Aaron snickered as Lorena scowled. “While you’re not used to hearing that word, Iain is right and you know it.”
Lorena sighed. “I guess that’s my own version of others making sure I don’t become a tyrant.” She turned to Aaron. “I love you.” She kissed him gently. Then she turned to Iain and kissed him. “Thanks.”
Iain gave her a startled look as she pulled back. “What was that for? You don’t love me.”
Lorena gave him an impish grin. “I am fond of you, but no. Thanks for not letting me run roughshod over you.”
“You’re welcome.” Iain smiled. “And you’re welcome in advance for all of the other times I’m going to end up not letting you do that.”
Lorena gave him another grin as she took Aaron’s hand. “Theodora, where is my family waiting?”
Theodora’s voice came from the air ahead of Lorena as a blue ball of light appeared. “Follow the ball.” It led them away.
Bellona waited until they were out of sight before speaking. “I was told that Lorena doesn’t want to fuck you. I was told wrong.”
“You were told right. She’s not really interested in me.”
“Iain, I’ve seen her type before, with Shikarou. She wants you to fuck her silly.”
“No, she’s just a tease sometimes.”
Bellona chuckled behind him. “When I’m proven right and you’re proven wrong, I want a grooming with many, many treats.”
Iain looked over his shoulder at her. “What you’ll get is strung up by your ankles and whipped bloody.”
She grinned toothily. “That does sound like something fun to do to you.”
“Yes, tiring out my arms by stripping the skin from your body does sound amusing.” Iain winked at her. “Job.”
Bellona blinked and nodded. She did a quick sweeping look around them. “Correction received and accepted. Sorry.”
“No problem, here.”
“Can I have perception?”
“We’ll test and see how well you handle it. It’s not for everyone.”
“If I can handle it, I want it.”
“And I’ll give it to you for a few days and we’ll see if you can handle it.” He glanced over his shoulder again. “Now take me to Thistle, please. I need to check up on the loading of the Iain Grey into a shuttle.”
Bellona took his hand. “Why did you allow them to name a ship after you? I’ve wondered about that for a few years now. I didn’t think that kind of hubris was part of your psychological profile then and I know it’s not part of you now.”
“I didn’t so much as allow it happen as I wasn’t fast enough to forbid it from happening.” The terrain changed around them and Iain was looking down into Thistle Bay. “I thought Lucifer was joking. And then she was named and it’s bad luck to change the name of a warship.” He shrugged. “At least that’s what I was told.”
“You were US Navy. Is it bad luck to change the name of a warship?”
“It’s considered to be bad luck to change the name of any ship,” Iain said. “But there are ways around it, if you’re really worried about Neptune getting mad over a name change.” He looked up. “The transport won’t be here for about twenty minutes. Let’s go find Lucifer and get a status report on preparing for loading.”
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
1048 Elves & Elfqueens
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)
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)