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One Hundred Thirty Eight
“How are you doing?”
Rowan shook her head. “I was pissed off earlier when I thought I’d be trying to figure out what to take and what to leave. I didn’t realize I’d get my own moving crew.” She looked at Iain curiously. She’d found Iain in the living room, helping some of his people to pack. “Where did you get all of these people and why are there four sets of twins here?”
Iain considered how to explain things and finally decided to just do it. “Do you remember Pokemon?”
“James, I mean Iain, even though I haven’t played it in a few years I still have Pokemon Go on my phone.”
“I forgot,” Iain admitted. “It was on my phone too. Anyway, in some universes, pokemon are real. A man by the name of James Scott found a way to travel across universes and he went to the pokemon worlds and gathered a bunch of pokemon DNA. He spliced that DNA, along with some DNA from people and creatures from other worlds he’d visited into some human DNA he had and created humans with pokemon and other supernatural abilities. Being a complete misogynist, he made them all female, with one futa breed, and he made them critically dependent on humans. Without regular sexual contact with a human, male or female, these pokegirls, which is what he called them, would slowly lose their humanity and become what’s called feral. Some pokegirls look very human while others look much more animalistic. Pokegirls give birth to litters of pokegirls until about halfway through their lives and those litters are all identical in appearance to the mother who gave birth to them as well as to each other. The biggest problem is that for that first part of their life, pokegirls reproduce parthenogenically, meaning they don’t need sperm, and the so the feral pokegirls in the wilderness are reproducing uncontrollably. And feral pokegirls are not afraid of humans, so there are lots of attacks and killings.”
Rowan stared at him for a moment before turning to look at the closest pair of Elves, who were wrapping dishes with bubble wrap for another Elf to stack in a box. “Those are pokegirls?”
“Yes.” One of the Elves looked up, realized that Iain and Rowan were watching them, and gave him a huge smile and wink before going back to wrapping the bowl she held.
“She wasn’t winking at me,” Rowan said. “Are you the one giving these their sexual contact?”
“Pokegirls can also have sex with each other to remain sane, although it’s not as effective as having sex with a human.” Iain chuckled. “And yes, I have had sex with all of the Elves who are helping here.”
“Are they all Elves?”
“Well, Candace, Irena, Vanessa and Heather aren’t, although Heather did evolve from an Elf a while ago.”
“They can evolve like pokemon?”
“Or pokemon can evolve like they can,” Iain said.
Rowan sighed. “This is all too fantastic to believe and yet your story is too consistent for me to find it easy to disprove. How did Candace get in that bathroom with you?”
“Some pokegirls can teleport. Some pokegirls have mental bonds that allow them to teleport to their human. Lynn is one of these and she brought Candace to where I was.”
“She looks like one of the nurses in pokemon.”
“Her breed is based off of them,” Iain replied. “And Scott mixed in some of the healing abilities of Chansey and maybe some other beings. Her breed is actually called Nurse Joy and they are some of the best healers among all of the pokegirls.”
“And you’re having sex with her?”
“Do you love her?”
“I’m getting there. She doesn’t want me to tell her that I love her until I actually do, but she’s got all the things I look for in a woman worth loving, so it’s just a matter of time before I do.”
“I like women who are strong, pretty and smart. Candace is all of those things.”
Rowan cocked her head. “How many women do you love?”
Iain smiled. “That’s only your business if the individual women want you to know. It’s more than three, not including my sisters, whom I do love in a nonsexual way.”
“Do they know about each other?”
“They do. Yes, you can ask them to prove I’m not some cheating scumbag like your last ex.”
“I will.” Rowan shook her head. “Carlos is so lucky Jo has been protecting him from you.”
Iain looked at her for several seconds. “Was.”
“Carlos was lucky. His luck has run out since he almost killed Jo. I no longer care what she says about the matter, which is good since she can’t talk right now, being in the coma he made the hospital induce to save her life from what he’d done.”
“James, he’s not worth it.”
“Nobody harms my family,” Iain said simply. “That was my rule before I was kidnapped, and that rule was only reinforced while I was gone.”
“Jo’s going to be furious with you.”
“She may be,” Iain admitted. “And if she never forgives me, then I’ll live with it. But she’ll get to live to be furious with me. Carlos will probably kill her next time, so he doesn’t get a next time.”
“The police take a dim view of murder.”
“I know. I’m willing to live with the consequences, but I intend to try to arrange things so they never look at me. I have never had an argument with Carlos, I’ve never had cross words with him and, other than one time, three years ago, I’ve stayed away from him out of respect for Jo. There are lots of people who have negatively interacted with Carlos much more recently that will make dandy suspects in his death.”
“All murderers intend to arrange things so the police never suspect them,” Rowan noted. “Most of them fail at it.”
“That’s not true,” Iain countered. “The national solve rate for murders is around fifty five percent. That means that they catch one of every two murderers. Around here, the closure rate is closer to sixty percent, but I still like those odds.”
“You can’t go murdering him, James. Iain.”
“I am not going to murder anyone here. Too many of my women would be worried that I’d enjoy doing Carlos and,” he shrugged, “I would. I’m not going to kill him.”
“What are you two talking about?” Candace joined them.
“I need to take a drive and I want you to come with,” Iain said.
“He intends to kill Carlos,” Rowan told Candace. “That’s murder.”
Candace looked at Iain curiously. “I’m not going to kill anyone,” he said. “Lucifer and Pandora would be a mite upset if I did.”
Candace nodded. “They would. Why am I coming along?”
“When we get someplace quiet, I’d like you to return to the shuttle and bring me Bellona.”
An elegant pink eyebrow rose. “Not Zareen?”
“Bellona,” Iain said firmly. “It’s time she had some opportunities to possibly enjoy herself and help out.”
Candace looked at him thoughtfully. “I believe she would like that. It’s a huge display of trust, and you know full well how we feel about being given that level of trust from you. I’ll get her for you. Will I get opportunities like that?”
“Do you want them?”
Candace nodded. “It’s my family too and I’m going through your guard training. Ask me later and I’ll decide then.”
“Are you asking to kill people,” Rowan asked incredulously.
“No,” Candace said. “I am asking to be offered a choice. I was never a pacifist and becoming a kami has strengthened some protective drives that I’ve always had.”
“That makes sense,” Iain said.
Candace looked at him. “It does?”
“Magnified, those drives help to explain the behavior of the Night Nurse after a Nurse Joy evolves. If they’re not present in the first place, Nurse Joys would just die instead of fighting back enough to evolve since they’re not as durable as a Damsel.”
“Do you want me to become a Night Nurse?”
Iain chuckled. “First, we’re not sure you can evolve. What is important is that I want you to be happy with yourself, Candace. I realize that you still blame yourself for what happened, but it wasn’t your fault. And a Night Nurse couldn’t have changed anything that happened to Shikarou and the others. What do you want?”
“I want you to answer my question,” Candace said firmly. Rowan snickered softly.
Iain ignored his sister. “I will want you no matter what you are, Candace. However, my personal preference is that I’d like you to stay a Joy. I’ve always had a soft spot for the breed. That doesn’t mean that I’m interested in you just because you’re a Joy.”
Candace stepped up to stand directly in front of him. “I know that. You are attracted to me because of who I am. That includes both my personality and my body. You are not attracted to every Joy you meet the same as the way you are attracted to me. The fact that I’m so hot just makes it better for both of us.”
“She’s so humble,” Rowan smirked at them both.
Candace flashed a grin in Rowan’s direction. “If you know you’ve got it, you can hide it. But if you do, your tamer may never see it because some of them are that dense,” Candace gave Iain an affectionate look. “Iain isn’t that way, but I was originally a governmentally owned pokegirl and we get overlooked all the time. It teaches a girl to do what she has to in order to get some positive attention. And,” she sighed gently, “sometimes Shikarou was that way too since he had his favorites and I hadn’t been one of them for a while.”
Rowan’s mouth dropped for a second. “Governmentally owned? What does that mean?”
“Where I ended up originally, pokegirls are property,” Iain said quietly. “In some places they can be freed, but that’s up to their individual owner, who is called a tamer. Civil service pokegirls, which is what the ones owned by any government are called, in a lot of cases don’t even have a particular tamer. They have to find someone who works for the government who is willing to have sex with them when they need it. Sometimes someone from the government isn’t available and they have to settle for the closest available human they can find. These people, both government and civilian, know full well how much power they have over the civil service pokegirls and, being human, some of them abuse that power.”
“You were a slave owner?”
“It wasn’t called that, but legally, that’s what it was and yes I was a tamer,” Iain admitted. “I didn’t treat them like slaves and I’d set up things so that if I did die they’d all be manumitted, but I couldn’t free them before that and still keep them safe from unscrupulous people. Where we live now, pokegirls are as free as anyone else is, but that’s not true elsewhere in most of the world. We’re working to change that, but in the not very distant past there were some events that made people hate pokegirls and the enslavement of pokegirls was part of the response to that hatred.” He smiled. “Later, when you meet April and some of the others who have been with me the longest you can get their opinions of how I treated them, hopefully before you start hitting me for being an asshole.”
“Can I ask what seems to be a sensitive question,” Rowan asked.
Candace nodded. “You can.”
“I presume this Shikarou was your tamer before Iain. What happened to him and the others?”
“Shikarou was my tamer before Iain,” Candace said. “Understand that when Iain said that in the other places around the world that pokegirls weren’t free, it means exactly that. The fact that some governments, including ours and Texas, where Iain lived, didn’t follow the rules the leagues wanted, it angered the leagues. They saw us and the freer pokegirls as threats and they struck at us with some small nuclear weapons. Shikarou and most of my family were caught by one and killed. Iain lost several of his family in the nuclear attack on Austin and the other so called rebel governments were also hit by small nuclear devices. It was to show us that the leagues were serious about us surrendering and allowing them to take us over.”
Rowan gaped at her. “Oh my god, Candace. I am so sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” Candace said.
Heather came into the living room stopped in front of Iain. “You called me?”
“It’s time to pay a visit to Carlos. I’ll need my guards.”
Heather nodded. “You know I’ll let you do whatever you want to do to him without protest, but as your lover you want me to warn you if I see you doing something that will cause problems in the harem. Pandora, Lucifer and several others are not going to like this.”
“I’m not going to kill anyone today. Pandora and the others will agree that Carlos is a not good bad person and I’m going to have him stopped. I am not going to be personally involved in these events and I don’t expect my guards to be involved either, just to clarify things a bit.”
Heather nodded. “You know you can’t send us in, so you must have other plans. Irena and Vanessa will be here in a minute.”
“Thank you.” Iain turned to Rowan. “Well, Sis, do you want to come along?”
“What are we going to be doing?”
“I’m going to let you meet someone you haven’t and, if she’s willing, Carlos Juan Fuertes Rivera will die soon after.”
“What if she refuses,” Rowan asked curiously.
Candace laughed. “She won’t.”
“Zareen,” Heather asked.
“No,” Candace said, “Bellona.”
“Oh,” Heather said. “She hasn’t done that sort of work before.”
“No,” Candace corrected her. “She hasn’t done that sort of work here, before.”
Vanessa and Irena came out of the house. “Sorry, we were moving the refrigerator into the dining room for the others,” Vanessa said. “We were in the middle of the move when Heather called us.”
“I said it wasn’t an emergency,” Heather looked at Iain. “We’re ready.”
“Quick, to the Bat minivan,” Iain said heartily.
Rowan snickered. “Do you understand his humor,” Irena asked.
“Sadly, yes. It was a reference to an old television series where the hero’s equipment names all started with bat.”
“Can you explain it to us when he does it,” Vanessa said as they climbed into the minivan. “We’re leaving the front seat for Rowan.”
“Wow,” Rowan said. “I used to always have to fight for shotgun.”
“I can shove you out of the seat for old time’s sake,” Iain commented cheerfully as he got into the driver’s chair.
“Thanks, but I’m good,” Rowan shot back as he put the vehicle in gear and backed out of the driveway. “Do you remember where Carlos lives?”
“Yes. I also know where he is.” He smiled at Rowan when she looked quizzically at him. “The house on Plymouth Avenue. Jo was dumped outside the ER of the hospital closest to Plymouth and not anywhere near the house he owns. That’s the hospital where we went, remember? Besides, the Plymouth house is where Carlos was peddling his drugs a few days before I was abducted. Jo was there too. And the house on Plymouth is where we’re going.”
“His gang is there,” Rowan pointed out.
“I’m not going to face them unless I have absolutely no choice,” Iain glanced at her for a second and returned his attention to the road. “And if I did, I would not give them the respect of facing them honorably. They would never know I was there until I killed Carlos.” He turned down a street and pulled over to the side of the road, next to a copse of cedar trees.
He got out of the vehicle. “Rowan, Candace.” He looked in at Heather. “Set a perimeter. We can’t be seen from the house, but Carlos isn’t stupid and I have a reputation for protecting my sisters. Of course, he also thinks I’m a coward and I haven’t done anything the other times he hit my sister, but he might be expecting me to pay him a visit.” His quick smile was as cold as a glacier.
He led Rowan and Candace into the trees. “Rowan, you’re going to get to watch Candace teleport and return with a woman named Bellona. She’s another pokewoman, but she doesn’t look very human compared to what you’re used to.”
“Is it ominous that she’s named after an ancient Roman goddess of war,” Rowan asked.
“Not for us,” Candace said cheerfully. “Leaving.” She vanished.
Rowan stared at the spot. “She’s gone.” Her eyes lifted to look at Iain. “You were serious.”
“What would you have done if I’d refused to pack?”
“As I said earlier, I would probably just take your house and you. We did it once before, to a woman named Monica.”
“What happened to her?”
“I can’t wait to hear the whole story about what’s been going on with you.”
“You won’t hear it, instead you’ll experience a bunch of it.” His eyes unfocused for a second. “Candance will be back in about a minute.”
“I want one.”
Iain produced a vial from his pocket and shook out a twee pill. “I don’t have any water.”
“I’ve taken pills dry before.” Rowan swallowed it down. “How long?”
“Three days or so.”
Candace appeared with Bellona. The Dragonqueen was barefoot and wearing cargo shorts and a tight shirt. “Candace says you have something for me to do.” Her tail lashed slowly as she glanced at the Nurse Joy. “But that’s all she’d say.”
“Bellona, this is my sister, Rowan.”
Bellona gave her a half bow. “I am Bellona Grey. It is my pleasure to meet you, Rowan McCoy. Do you have many stories about your brother? A lot of the women in the harem hope you do since he doesn’t talk about himself much.”
Rowan grinned. “I certainly do.”
“Excellent.” Bellona turned to Iain. “Theodora briefed me on the events involving your sister Jocasta. What is it that you want?”
“I want to choke the life out of Carlos Juan Fuentes Rivera,” Iain said evenly. “I want to watch the life fade from his eyes and death claim him. I want to do it slowly, taking weeks, so I can enjoy it as much as is possible.”
Bellona was watching him intently. “I was told that’s a bad idea for you to do things like that, especially if you enjoy them.”
“It is, which is why, while it is what I want, it is not what I am going to get.”
Bellona nodded once. “I asked the wrong question. What is it that you want me to do?”
Iain smiled. “Very good.” He pointed through the trees. “See that house, a hundred meters from here?”
“It has a stone façade and two stories. The blinds on every window are closed. It looks rather unprepossessing, perfect for a safe house, although I prefer to put them in higher scale neighborhoods since police don’t go there unless someone reports a problem. Even then, they usually just knock and ask if something is wrong. What of it?”
“Inside that house is Carlos and members of his gang. They deal drugs out of there and are undoubtedly armed. Carlos beat my sister so severely that she almost died today. The others either watched or helped. I want you to kill them all. And I want it to be as messy as you can make it but without bringing down the house.”
“Why? You don’t believe a slow, messy and painful death is any different than a quick and clean one most of the time.”
“I don’t care if their deaths are slow or quick. What I do care about is you. The local police don’t know anything about pokegirls,” Iain explained. “The kind of damage one can do is completely out of their collective experience and will be way out of their comfort zone. It’ll confuse evidence and make it harder to aim anything at us.”
“And if I leave DNA behind, they won’t even recognize it as human,” Bellona grinned widely. “Why ask me for this?”
“This is something that you used to enjoy and you haven’t had the chance to do anything like it for a rather long time.”
“You know my past.” Bellona nodded. “If you’d had been my tamer while I was with Team Viper, we’d have ruled them, wouldn’t we?”
“Probably. I certainly don’t think Devon would have been able to trick us enough or surprise us enough to defeat us, not us working together and I think we would have been working together.”
“I’ll do it for you.” Bellona pulled off her shirt and handed it to Candace. “It’ll be fun.”
Rowan’s eyes went wide as Bellona undid her shorts. “What are you doing?”
The Dragonqueen glanced at her as she wriggled out of the shorts. “I like these clothes and don’t want to ruin them when I change form or when I get covered in blood and offal.” She stretched, shifting to her armored form in mid-stretch, but not summoning her wings. She ignored Rowan’s gasp of surprise, stepping up to press her nude body against Iain’s clothed one. “The next time I get the chance, I am going to pull the scales from your skin, one by one.”
“You tried that last time,” Iain said cheerfully. “Remind me again, aren’t those your scales in that jar I have on my desk?”
“I will be victorious.” She gave him a quick kiss. “Next time.”
“How about this,” Iain said. “If you kill everyone in that house and you don’t get shot, I’ll be your slave for the day.” Bellona’s eyes lit up. “You can do anything to me that you want, even manage to pull out those victories that have eluded you so far by ordering me not to fight back. But,” he held up a finger. “Pick up one trace of lead on that skin and you’re my slave for a day.”
“Define a day, fey dragon,” Bellona said lustfully. “Tell me how long you’ll be mine.”
“From the stroke of midnight until first stroke of the next midnight,” Iain said.
“Done!” Bellona turned and ran towards the house in a blur. She crossed the hundred meters in less than two seconds and smashed through the wall to disappear inside without slowing.
“Was she flirting with you,” Rowan asked incredulously.
“Something like that,” Iain’s eyes twinkled amusedly. “The relationship that she and I have has,” he paused, “turned out to be very good for her. She needs it.” Sounds of gunfire came from the house. “Well, so far they haven’t hit her yet. I might just end up as her play toy after all.”
Candace blinked. “She’s giving you a feed from her twee?”
“How else can I know she’s not lying to me when she tells me she hasn’t been shot,” Iain asked.
“You made that agreement with her so that you could watch them die,” Rowan said suddenly.
Iain gave her a wary look. “Maybe.”
Candace frowned. “No, that’s not it, at least not entirely. It’s not,” she paused. “It’s not your pattern. You are not a voyeur. You trust us. But what you really are is always more concerned about us than you are about your gratification. Iain?”
“What?” He didn’t sound happy.
“You made that agreement with her so she’d do her best not to get injured, didn’t you? She will actively move to avoid attacks rather than trust in her strength to soak them up without being incapacitated.”
Iain shrugged. “A bullet in the eye shouldn’t kill her, and the odds of her actually taking a bullet in the eye are essentially infinitesimal, but why take the chance?”
“Are you worried that Bellona has a death wish of some kind?”
Iain turned serious eyes on Candace. “Like you, she has not started to forgive herself for what happened in Haven. Unlike you, she was ostensibly Shikarou’s security chief, and she never saw the attack coming. Selene is really his security chief and intelligence had become something of a hobby to Bellona, and not a serious one at that. To her, that doesn’t matter, because she doesn’t see it that way. You’d all gotten more than a little lackadaisical about being attacked because you’d never really been attacked on Haven and it had been several years since you’d been attacked on Two.” His eyes unfocused for a second. “She’s doing well.” His attention returned to Candace. “I know she has a death wish. She’s not suicidal, but she’s careless with her safety more than I’d like to see. You’re that way too.”
Candace’s eyes turned dark. “There’s a huge hole in our hearts where he was and it’s still a raw and bloody wound, Iain.”
“Honestly, I’d think less of you if it weren’t.” She looked surprised. “We in Grey were and still are much more alert to the possibility of attack. Our enemies are still new and unknown and our pain from previous attacks is still fresh. None of us saw the deployment of nuclear bombs coming. None. Only Theodora’s and Daya’s routine paranoia saved my life and the lives of the other people at the ranch. In Austin, we weren’t paranoid enough and I lost women that I love and women that I was moving towards loving. We lost children and we lost friends and employees. It’s a little easier for me, but then I’ve had over seven centuries to work through everything and you haven’t had that time.”
Rowan frowned. “What does that mean?”
“I’ll explain later.” Iain blinked. “Well, the woman with the shotgun was a complete surprise to Bellona, blindsiding her from the left like that. I wonder how she didn’t hear her.” His eyes widened as more gunfire sounded from the building. “And she still dodged all of the pellets but one.” His eyes flicked towards the house when the sound of a roar of fury echoed from it. “Now’s she’s pissed off.”
The building visibly shook and dust exploded from the walls and roof. The blinds on all the windows flew outwards and the sound of glass breaking carried to them. Candace nodded. “That was probably one of her dragon type attacks. Yes, she’s a little unhappy right now.”
Theodora’s voice issued from Iain’s pocket. “I am monitoring two 911 calls from this neighborhood. Police will be dispatched to the area soon.” There was a pause. “Radio telemetry indicates a call for all available officers and they are rolling SWAT, rescue and fire units. Apparently this building is known as a criminal haven. Bellona needs to hurry.”
“She’s done.” Iain watched as Bellona raced from the house towards the trees. “Candace, please return Bellona to the shuttle.”
Bellona stopped in front of Iain and knelt as Candace reached for her. She was specked with blood and had a large gray blemish on her left side just below her rib cage. “I have failed,” she said, “As agreed, I am your slave.”
“Get up.” Bellona did, watching him carefully. “The time doesn’t start until I say it does,” Iain explained. “I’ve got to arrange some things so your slavery is as enjoyable as possible, at least for me. I’ll let you know when it’s time. Now, Candace is going to take you back to the shuttle where you can clean up. She can stay there with you or meet us at Rowan’s house.”
“Bellona?” She cocked her head. “Thank you for doing this.”
She chuckled. “It was fun. And I get to send Pandora, Lucifer and anyone else to you, which makes it even more entertaining.”
“Of course it does. Candace.” Candace took Bellona’s hand and they vanished. “Heather?”
She appeared out of the woods. “I’m collapsing the perimeter. Are we going back to the van?”
“Yes, and then to Rowan’s house. We’ll finish the packing and rescue Jo tonight. Then Ninhursag and April can work on what they’re doing, and we’ll help as we can. Let’s go.”
Iain stepped into Rowan’s kitchen and paused at the sight of his sister leaning against the counter. She was holding a cup of hot chocolate and blowing gently on it while staring at a television that had been mounted on the wall. On the screen, a perky, smiling Asian woman was pointing back at the house Bellona had entered. As they watched, a policeman stumbled out of the building, turned to the right and managed to drop to his knees as he threw up.
“According to my sources,” the woman was saying cheerfully, “the police still aren’t sure how many people died inside. Apparently,” she dropped her voice conspiratorially, “all of the bodies have been dismembered and scattered around the house.”
Rowan gestured towards the television with her cup. “Well?”
Iain shrugged. “From the color, I’d say the cop either had Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms for breakfast. From the amount of color, I’d say it was Fruit Loops. Lucky Charms would have had more of the color brown in it.”
“I was asking if Bellona did that.”
“Oh.” Iain got a plastic tumbler down from a cabinet and filled it with water. “You weren’t very specific. Yes, Bellona did what that woman is so happily commenting on.” He shook his head. “She’s the gruesome one, but this sort of thing is sensational enough to be good for the local new ratings.”
“Not just local,” Rowan noted. “It’s already been picked up by the national feeds and it’s starting to trickle into the international news.”
“Ever the news junkie,” Iain grinned for a second.
“You used to be a worse one than me.”
“Not television. As far as I’m concerned, it earned its name of the idiot box many times over. I got my news from places online that I trusted.” He grinned again. “And that hasn’t changed. I still am a news junkie and I get my news from sources I trust. It’s just right now those sources are named Theodora and Daya. I get the raw news from them, without hiding anything unpleasant or trying to whitewash it in any way.”
Rowan gave him an eager look. “Can I get that too?”
“You can if you want.”
“Who are these women?”
Iain pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Ladies?”
Theodora and Daya appeared. “I am Theodora,” Theodora said with a smile and a bow. “Greetings to you, Rowan McCoy.”
“And I am Daya,” her sister bowed too. “We are inorganic intelligences who are also members of Grey Clan.”
Laruen blinked and looked at Iain. “Those are real too?”
“We are real,” Theodora smiled at her. “Our kind have been clanswomen for thousands of years. Iain purchased me as part of an agreement he made with Magdalene Wolf and Daya joined us a few years later.”
Rowan took a long sip of hot chocolate. “Wait, Magdalene Wolf? You’ve met that family?”
“Is Kerrik like he was in your stuff?”
“He sounded hot. Is he as married as he was in your stories?”
“Very much so,” Daya said with a laugh. “And he has pokegirls of his own. Very jealous, very possessive and very murderous pokegirls.”
“I was curious, not interested,” Rowan said with a smirk. “He’s got way too many wives for me.”
“That’s good. My relationship with Kerrik is complicated enough,” Iain laughed.
“Iain,” Theodora said quietly.
“Jocasta is almost ready to be released from her medic.”
“What did you find?”
“She’s got nearly three dozen healed fracture sites. Some of them are more than a few years old. She was physically addicted to cocaine, likely the variant that’s mixed with sodium bicarbonate and commonly called crack.” Rowan gasped quietly. “The physical dependency and the damage to her lungs from inhalation have been repaired, but the psychological need will still be strong. She needs immersive therapy with someone like Ganieda or my technological version of dreamtime to work through them and avoid a relapse, which would be easy since we’re producing cocaine on the ranch for medical sales.”
“Jo is banned from any of the drug processing areas,” Iain said. “And she’s banned from the fields where we’re growing any of the drugs we manufacture. And she’s banned from receiving any drug of any sort except for alcohol for meals and whatnot from anyone here except Candace or Irena and only while they’re doing their jobs as our healers. And I don’t want her getting anything from anyone else either, without my express permission. You and Daya are ordered to violate her privacy to monitor her and remember that monitoring while we’re treating her. When her treatment is complete or, in any case, no more than a year and a day has elapsed, remind me of this order so that I can reexamine it for rescinding.”
“Understood, Clan Leader.”
“You can do that,” Rowan asked.
“I am the leader of our clan, the Grey. I can, although I try very hard not to overreach into tyranny. Jo has had addiction problems for a while. She tried to hide them, but I knew and, if you think about it, you did too. She’ll undergo therapy. When she’s clean and her mind is free from the mental addiction, I’ll end this policy. At that point, she’s free do to whatever she wants, including going back to the drugs.”
“No, it’s acknowledging that Jo may want to use those drugs. She’s an adult and it’s her choice, once she’s free from their influence and can make that decision of her own free will. Until then I have to treat her as an incompetent minor and, therefore, I have to police her life for her. It’s what I would want for me if I had her addictions. It’s what I would want for a member of my clan who had her addictions. But once she’s free, she’s completely free.”
Iain smiled slightly. “Now the fact is that by then she’ll have a twee and it’ll make it a lot harder for the drugs to have the same effect on her is entirely beside the point. Speaking of which, Theodora, inject her with a twee before she wakes up.”
“Iain, I must protest. Jo does not know about twee and has not asked for one nor acquiesced when asked to be given one.”
“I’m her brother and I want her to have one. Rowan is her sister and I think she wants Jo to have one. Do you?”
Rowan nodded. “I do. I remember Iain’s discussions on them and I hope it’ll help her work past everything faster. Does it help that, legally, I’m her guardian? I have the papers around here somewhere from the lawyer giving me guardianship.”
“That will help indeed,” Theodora said. “You are requesting that Jocasta McCoy be given a twee on your instructions as her guardian?”
“That will satisfy clan law and establish proper clan precedent instead of Iain issuing a fiat order for her to get one. Thank you, Rowan.” She looked at Iain. “A cloaked shuttle has landed on Rowan’s back lawn to take you the Theodora.”
“Cool. Let’s go, Sis.”
“How long will it take to get there?”
“Less than ten minutes. The Theodora is parked on the far side of the moon.”
Theodora held up a hand. “One other thing, Iain. Just so you know, I reviewed the video footage of that unfortunate police officer’ regurgitation of his breakfast meal. Enhancement shows you were incorrect and he had, in fact, consumed a cereal called Fruity Pebbles.”
“Thanks, I think.”
Rowan sat down beside Iain on the couch in front of Jo’s medic and grabbed his hand tightly. He looked at her hand holding his “What’s this about?”
“You sometimes walk away instead of answering uncomfortable questions and I have some,” his sister said cheerfully. “Unless you want to use force, that option is no longer available.”
He gave her an amused smile. “What happens if the answers are uncomfortable to you?”
“They won’t be.” She settled against his side. “You told Candace you’d had seven hundred years to come to terms with your dead women. What does that mean?”
“The simplified version is that I live on One, which is an arbitrary number representing that individual universe. This universe is Five. The time differentials are such that several years passed there with only a few days passing here. You with me so far?”
“I have a teacher who lives on Seven. I go there and she keeps me there as her student for several years at a time. When I return to One, the time differential is such that only a few minutes or seconds pass for everyone on One.”
“What does she teach you?”
“I’m not going to answer that right now. I’m giving you the simplified answer to your first question, and I want to finish that first. May I continue?” Rowan nodded. “Thank you. If you remember what I told you about twee a while ago, they confer a much longer life span on people who have them. I have spent many years on Seven. My teacher sent me to Twenty Three on a mission of hers.”
“I’m going to want to know about the universes you’re skipping over.”
“We’ll discuss those later. In the timeline on One, my mission on Twenty Three started after the nuclear attacks by the leagues and after the Kingdom of Haven had started dismantling the leagues with a series of orbital bombardments. I spent seven hundred years on Twenty Three carrying out this mission. On One, only five days passed. Because of this, I’ve had a lot longer to work through my grief over the people we lost. That more or less brings us to now, where you have my hand in a death grip and we’re waiting for Jo to wake up.”
“Did the people at the hospital get in trouble when you took her?”
“Nope. Cooler heads prevailed over mine,” Iain explained. “A different and, so I was told, better plan was put together and executed. According to the hospital’s records, after she was examined by a doctor and verified as being stable enough to move, Jo was transferred from it to a private medical facility in Louisiana. The staff remembers a normal transfer taking place and any video records will corroborate their memories. Oddly, the entire camera system had recently developed an odd software problem where it intermittently stopped recording various camera inputs. That problem lasted until a technician from the camera company restarted the recording servers, but Jo had been unfortunately transferred right in the middle of the worst of the outages. A lot of the footage of the ICU and the surrounding parts of the hospital aren’t available because of the software issue.”
“You can change people’s memories,” Rowan asked incredulously.
“I didn’t do it. We have people here with the necessary skillset and abilities, yes,” Iain replied quietly. “We don’t do it lightly and they don’t go rampaging around inside people’s heads. That would be rude and we try not to be rude. The only reason we did it this time was so the staff wouldn’t be blamed for anything. And as a point of fact, a fairly normal appearing transfer did take place. The only unusual part is where she was loaded into the minivan instead of into an ambulance for the trip.”
“Magic is scary.”
Iain chuckled. “For most humans, magic is a tool. For pokegirls, magic is part of who they are. People are scary or safe or reassuring, not the tools they use to accomplish their goals.”
She eyed him shrewdly. “That explanation sounds suspiciously rehearsed. Do you use magic?”
“Can I learn to use magic?”
“Probably. How much you can learn depends, but there’s a test for magical aptitude that would give you a rough idea of how well you could do if you applied yourself. Hopefully you have more magical aptitude than I did. I was originally told that I had about as much magical aptitude as a broken toaster.”
Rowan looked at him shrewdly. “What is it that you’re not telling me?”
“That is currently a much longer list than the one of things I am going to tell you,” Iain said easily. “Let’s get you and Jo settled in before any super big reveals.” He grinned suddenly. “Except for this one. I met my analog on One. His name is James McCoy, but his middle name is Alvin. He also has two sisters, unfortunately deceased. But his mother, Catherine, is still alive and has adopted me as her second son. I think of her more as Mother’s sister than anything else. She really wants to meet you and Jo, too.”
Rowan stared at him. “The woman who was our mother in our world is still alive?”
“And doing quite well. I see her regularly since she’s adopted our children as her grandkids. James doesn’t have any kids of his own. His first wife was a pokegirl and was murdered by some members of the Sunshine League’s military and he’s just started a new relationship with a woman named Lucy and her lover and best friend, Danielle.”
“Are they pokegirls too?”
“Are there that many pokegirls?”
“It’s more that there are so few humans. Remember I mentioned James Scott? Well, he unleased a plague that sterilized most of the human women on One. Later, that plague mutated and killed ninety percent of all non-plant life on the planet. Everything from the humans down to the plankton were decimated and are recovering. Well, decimated isn’t the right world. Devastated is more accurate since a lot more than ten percent of the populations died.”
“How many people are left?”
“There are less than a hundred million humans, and a large percentage of the women are sterile. The number of pokegirls is hard to estimate, but the ferals are breeding and that’s not good for civilization.”
“Can you fix the sterility problem,” Rowan asked. “With clan technology and all.”
“We can,” Iain said. “And, for the most part, we are not. First, they’re outlanders, many of them are still our enemies and, finally, if it became common knowledge that we could do something like that, they’d be taking my people hostage to try and force us to do it for them. Or trying to throw their, to us at least, imaginary power around to force us or even arriving in droves to sit on our doorstep and demand our charity for themselves or their women without offering anything in return.”
“Charity is a Christian obligation,” Rowan pointed out.
“Even Christ carefully picked and chose the people he healed,” Iain replied. “And I have not been Christian for a very long time, Rowan.”
Theodora appeared. “Jocasta is ready to be released. I finished flushing her bladder and returned control of her autonomic system to her.”
“Please wake her up. Where are her clothes?”
A storage box drifted away from the wall, its doors opening as it did. “There’s a robe in there for when she wakes up,” Theodora said. “The clothing she wore into the ER was badly damaged. I’ve reproduced them without the extra wear and they’re in the box too.”
“Jo is going to be nude coming out of the medic. You can cover her with the robe when she wakes up so I don’t see her nude,” Iain said quietly to Rowan. “Or I can do it if you want. You both have nudity taboos, so she’ll most likely want it.”
“What, you don’t?”
Iain chuckled. “Not anymore.” He got the robe out of the box. “One of my goddesses wants her priestesses to be nude whenever practical while carrying out their official functions. We usually dance nude as part of our daily worship of her, often in public.”
“Yeah. I worship and am a priestess of two different goddesses.”
The medic unsealed with a hiss and Rowan jumped. “What was that?”
“Medics molecularly bond the lid with the body of the medic while they’re working on someone. It keeps them as safe as possible in case of catastrophic failure of the environment the medic is in. The process reverses and the molecular bonds are unraveled when it opens. The hiss is the sound of the air coming to equilibrium between the medic and its surroundings.”
“What happens if the power fails to the medic?”
“Medics have an internal power source that’s good for a thousand years. To damage it, you’d have to pretty much destroy the medic and kill whoever was inside. And there’s a manual release if you have a twee.” The lid slid down and lifted to the side as Iain draped the robe over Jo’s still form.
“You saw Jo’s tits,” Rowan said.
“I’ve seen them before and, this time, it was just for a second. Remember when she got hammered, stripped and then danced for us?”
Rowan laughed. “I do. I also remember the spectacular hangover she had the next morning and how she swore she didn’t have any guilt for shaking her money maker at us.
Iain shook his head. “I’d forgotten about that part. You know, in retrospect, she might make a good worshipper of Eilistraee.”
“Is that your naked goddess?”
“Yeah.” Iain smiled when Jo stirred slowly. Her eyes fluttered open. “Hello. This is becoming a habit.”
She blinked several times and focused on him. “James,” she said softly and reached out to take his hand. “What is becoming a habit?”
“I can’t leave town for more than a day without you getting into some escapade.” Iain leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “You’re safe now.”
Jo’s eyes widened. “Carlos,” she said. Tears suddenly glittered in the corners of her eyes. “He hurt me badly this time, James. I’m done with him. Get him for me, please.”
“I’ll take care of it,” Iain squeezed her hand. “Consider it done.”
“Good.” She looked around. “Rowan?”
“I’m here,” Rowan sat down on the edge of the medic. “How do you feel?”
Jo looked thoughtful for a moment. “Good. Better than I have in a long time.” Her eyes darkened. “The nurse told me I lost the baby. Is that right or is that just part of the bad dreams?”
“I’m afraid that was real,” Iain said gently. “That I can’t make right.” He wiped the tears from her eyes with his thumb.
Jo looked at him and blinked. “What happened to you? You’ve got long hair.” Her eyes widened suddenly. “Was I in a coma for years,” she asked frantically.
“No,” Candace said from the doorway. “You were not.” She gave Jo a warm, welcoming smile. “I’m Candace and I’m your healer.”
“Things are a lot different than they were when you saw me last,” Iain said. “You rest and I’ll explain what’s been going on later.”
He nodded. “Promise.” He stroked her forehead. “Now rest.” Jo went limp as Iain looked up, his voice suddenly crisp. “Theodora, tell Ninhursag to wrap up whatever grandiose plans she and April were enacting to buy everything of value from this Earth. Since Dominique is putting in a doorway in my old house, we can come back later for whatever they want to acquire. I want to get my sisters to their new home where they can start learning about where they’ve moved to and Jo can start her psychological treatments.”
Theodora’s voice came from the air near the doorway. “Ninhursag would like to know if she can wait for the deliveries for the things she’s already purchased before we leave. She’s having everything shipped next day air so, even with the vagaries of the various delivery companies involved, it should only be a few days before we have the items.”
Iain frowned and then shrugged. “She has seventy two hours from now. At that point we break orbit and head for wherever you and Dominique want to open the gate home.”
Theodora nodded. “Ninhursag acknowledges the time limit. She’d also like to know when she can meet her new sister-in-law. She means Rowan.”
“Rowan and I are going to move Jo to a regular suite with the others. After that, she’s free for a meet and greet, with the proviso that there’s a lot of new things she has to take in, so let’s not mob her with everyone at once.” He looked at Rowan. “Are you good with that?”
Rowan was staring at him. “Did I just hear that you, James Iain McCoy, the confirmed bachelor, are married?”
“No, you heard that Ninhursag wants to meet her sister-in-law. That infers that I’m married to her, but nobody has actually told you that I’m married.” He grinned when she scowled. “I’m married. I have several wives, they all know about each other and, other than some odd restrictions that some of them have imposed on my life that I mostly cheerfully accept, we all have decent relationships.”
“Can Jo have the suite next to mine?”
“That’s exactly where we’re putting her. Let me get a gurney and we can move her there.”
“Did you use magic to put Jo to sleep?”
“I did. Does that bother you?”
“You say you’re clan. According to what you told me about them, you should have asked her permission first.”
Iain nodded. “I should have and, later, I will apologize to her for it, but right now things are a bit hectic and I want it to be calmer when she wakes up again so we can spend the time with her that she’s going to need.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” Candace said. “Iain, Rowan and I can dress your sister and get her to her room. You can go push Ninhursag so she’ll meet your timetable and Rowan doesn’t have to fret about you seeing Jo nude.”
“That works.” He rose and paused. “Theodora, Rowan has her cell phone. Go ahead and let it access our com net so she can call me with it until her twee comes online.”
“I’ve evolved the necessary protocols for her cell phone to work with our systems. I’ve also gone through her phone’s memory and if she calls your cell phone number it’ll contact your twee.”
“Good. Candace, I leave my sisters in your capable hands.” He hugged Rowan. “Call me if you need or even want to. If nothing else, I’ll see you at dinner.”
“April would like to remind you that you have training in half an hour,” Theodora advised him. “Now that you’re done with the emergency, you’re expected to attend.”
Iain sighed. “I’ll be there.” He waved at Rowan as he left the room.
Wake up now!
Iain opened his eyes and looked around for a second to verify he was in his bedroom before sitting up as nausea rolled through his gut and tried to climb out through his throat. He forced the gorge back down. It must be from his twee, even if he’d be damned if he knew how it did it. I’m up. What is it? He glanced to his right and smiled through the nausea to see Sofia peacefully asleep with their children in her arms. The nausea vanished.
We have lost fourteen seconds. There was a sudden discrepancy between my timestamp and the one from the orbital network. Nausea lanced through Iain’s abdomen once more to vanish. And we have lost fourteen more seconds.
Iain slid out of bed as his mind raced. Remember, roughly two hundred years ago, the wizard casting time stop spells? They made my stomach hurt like this while I was in the area of the spell’s effects and nobody else could detect what was happening.
It was two hundred and sixty seven years and she is the reason I regularly match time with the satellite constellation. Only the fact that I was doing it during that time period with the Phantasmal Surveyor’s satellite constellation while you were running those experiments into time dilation around the edges of a sphere of annihilation allowed us to determine what she was doing. Who could be doing that here?
I don’t know. Iain headed downstairs. The pain came again, but this time he was ready. He twisted with his magic and suddenly nothing except him was moving as he tricked the spell into believing he was the spell’s castor and it excluded him from the effects of stopping time. We’re in. He summoned his weapons and armor with a thought. I don’t think I’ll need these but I’ve been wrong before.
The magic broke along with his nausea. The ratio, at least that time, is roughly three and a half to one, his twee said. Fourteen seconds of external stasis giving forty nine seconds of free activity. And I didn’t like getting cut up that time any more than you did, his twee noted amusedly.
Spell durations are often delineated by the time scale used by the castor and the castor’s personal power, Iain mused as he opened the door to go outside.
That is true for formal magic users and priestesses, his twee countered.
Iain stopped dead. True. The pain lanced through his belly again and, once again, he merged with the effect. This time, however, he let the magic flow through him more as he analyzed it in detail. This is not a formal magic spell.
Tick Tock pokegirls can manipulate time to some degree but we have never dealt with any of them, his twee supplied. A version of stopping time is one of their possible abilities.
It’s coming from the west, Iain turned and headed away from the house. And it’s not far away. The magic ended and he paused. Pain and nausea spiked through his stomach, and he matched it and began tracing the source once more. It’s getting closer.
Fourteen seconds again external and forty nine seconds internal. The time between activations is thirty three seconds. Presume that the user is activating it as often as it can?
No presumptions as this point, Iain stated. I don’t have enough data yet. The stomach pain came again and he stepped into the spell, moving when the time stop was active and stopping when the duration ran out. The source is moving. He waited until the spell ended. Shoot everything I know to Theodora and Daya.
I can’t detect anything out of the ordinary in the area, Theodora said in his mind. But I still can’t reliably detect magic use. If something is there, it’s masking its presence from technological sensors. Do you want me, her voice stopped when the time stop resumed.
It’s moving towards us, Iain noted to his twee.
It hasn’t threatened us.
Weapons! It must be a truewizard. You realize that too.
Iain smiled. It could be a god instead. We will politely greet our guest.
to warn everyone else, Theodora finished abruptly. Drones are ready to deploy and Daya is arming the orbital arrays.
Warn them. This may be another truewizard. Whatever it is, it’s hiding from you and trying to hide from me. Get them moving to the Danger Room and then to the Theodora. Once they’re clear, if I die, you and Daya are to break orbit immediately and proceed past the asteroid belt before you will inform Ninhursag that she is the Grey. Twee, block my family’s demands to speak to me until I say otherwise. If they try, tell them to get to the Danger Room immediately. Remind me every two hours.
Obeying under protest, Theodora said. My place is with you.
I am the present. Your place is to protect our future. Besides, I’m not dead yet and, until then, you help protect me. Time stopped again and Iain followed the source into the trees to the west of the Sabine House.
Time resumed just as a figure stepped into view. Although the bulky armor hid her form, the breeze was blowing from behind her and his nose told him he was facing a female. She was a little taller than he was and wearing exquisite plate armor made of a dull golden color. The shield on her left arm and the naked sword she held in her right hand were both also made of the same material. Her helmet was open faced and bright blue eyes gleamed at him as she scowled and spoke in a language he didn’t recognize.
It’s the oldest form of Sidhe that we have records for, his twee said. Gormlaith uploaded it with her memories. Downloading the dictionary and syntax lexicon.
His mind replayed her words and this time he could understand the message. “You are the fledgling. No one has ever detected my presence before. How is it that a fledgling did so?”
His twee expressed its opinion simply. Weapons! Now!
Iain bowed slightly and replied in the same language she’d used. “Good morning. I hope I can welcome you to my land, but I must inquire as to your name and business here, so early and unannounced.”
She smiled. “I thank you for the polite greeting. I am Anust, the daughter of Ethniu and Cain and the sister of Lugh the Traitor. Now, name yourself.” Information flowed into his mind from Theodora as she traced the names she could identify from her records and gave him what she had on them.
“I am Iain, the son of Catherine and Ronald and the brother of Rowan and Jocasta. What is your business here?”
“I would have you stand aside and remain unharmed,” Anust said. “There are two Sidhe here and Sidhe are my mortal enemies. This night they shall die.”
Iain drew his swords. “I cannot grant your desire. Your brother commanded the Sidhe and you are part Sidhe. Why seek the deaths of my wife and her mother?”
Anust’s eyes blazed angrily. “I am Fomorian! Lugh betrayed us, first by joining the Sidhe and then by murdering High King Balor! Our grandfather! I stood with my grandfather and the rest of the Fomorians, as he would not! The Sidhe only won because of my brother and that dishonor will last until my grandfather is avenged! All the Sidhe must die! Stand aside!”
I still cannot see whoever you are talking to! Theodora snarled in his head. Even looking through your eyes I cannot see it to kill it! Ygerna, her harem and Gormlaith are safe on the Theodora. The rest of the harem will be there soon and the goblins and unicorns are loading through doorways Dominique set up for them as part of Bolt Hole. Be careful, my love. This is a terrible day to die.
“I refuse to stand aside,” Iain stated flatly. “You will have to go through me.”
Anust’s teeth bared. “Then die, fledgling.” Light flared in front of her and became a beam of energy that smashed at him. It hit his forcefield and reflected in a spray that instantly burned the trees around them to crystallized carbon for a hundred meters in every direction.
Iain stepped forward as the energy slashed at him again.
Anust hissed like an angry tea kettle and pointed at him. A large chunk of soil tore itself free from the ground and hurtled at Iain. It struck his forcefield and shattered. “You have some small skill in defending yourself, but you do not attack back. That allows me to dictate your final battle and guarantees your defeat.” Iain continued walking towards her. “I do not wish to destroy you. Stand aside. The lives of the Sidhe have no value to a human!”
Iain halted nearly a dozen meters from her. “Their names are Ygerna and Gormlaith. Ygerna is my wife, she carries our children and I love her. Gormlaith is clan and I am the clan’s leader. Neither of them was alive when the Sidhe and the Fomorians made war on each other. Therefore, they had no part in that war. You will not harm either of them or anyone else here. I will not allow it.”
“Allow?” Anust screamed at him. “Here and now, you will die!”
She appears to be more powerful than you are, Kerrik said into Iain’s mind through his twee. But her power is all over the place. I don’t think she had a teacher like we did. The autodidactic among us usually lack disciple like she’s demonstrating with the fluctuations in her power. It means my getting involved could get you and me killed. I’m still willing to do it if you’d like.
If she kills me, then I ask that you kill her to protect Kasserine and Ava, among others. Iain could feel Anust gathering her power. Iain focused his will into defense. But don’t endanger yourself to protect me.
Don’t you dare make my mother and sister into widows. I won’t forgive you if you do. However, if you do fall, I will finish off what of her you leave to me as my prey.
Anust lashed out with a wave of energy that vaporized the earth under it into plasma as it swept towards Iain. His forcefield shattered under the assault. Iain focused on his absorption field and supercharged it just as the wave hit while lifting off the ground to levitate just high enough that his toes didn’t touch the ground. His absorption drained the portion of the wave that touched it and the rest swept by, carving a channel ten meters deep underneath and past him for another hundred meters.
Using magical flight, Iain launched himself in a blur at Anust, his swords ready. She pointed at him, using her index and middle fingers. A ball of green energy appeared at her fingertips and expanded into a hemisphere that covered a little more than a kilometer around them. Golden sparkles suddenly danced inside the entire volume of the hemisphere. They moved in a blur, racing for the edges. When the last of them passed over Iain, his flight instantly ended. Inertia carried him far past Anust onto the undamaged ground behind her where he smashed into the ground in a tumble of limbs that spun his swords away from him.
Iain opened his eyes and realized he was lying on his back. He could feel an unnatural pressure building in the back his head. It felt like someone was squeezing his brain, harder and harder, as he immediately shot to his feet and spun to face Anust. She was standing several meters away and watching him with open amusement as he brought up his hands and went into a ready stance. “I have no urge to kill someone who is unarmed, even if you are a human. Retrieve your swords and then I will kill you.” The pressure in Iain’s head increased, making him gasp in pain. “Neither of us can do anything about it if you are injured,” Anust said sympathetically. “I have pushed all of the magic away from this area, at least for a time. Now we will fight without any unnatural enhancements. Of course, I am Fomorian and therefore naturally superior to you, but that is not my fault. It only ensures my victory.”
Iain lunged for one of his swords, skidding onto his knees and then his chest as the pressure in his head grew even higher. Unable to walk, he crawled towards the weapon.
Anust cocked her head. “Are you dying? I haven’t faced a human in a very long time. I remember you being fragile, but it seemed like your kind was stronger than this.”
Now the pressure felt like something was trying to force its way out of his skull. Iain touched the sword but couldn’t make his fingers grasp the hilt. Every time he tried, it fell out of his unresponsive fingers. Finally, he gave up and levered himself up on his knees. Slowly he stood and rotated in place to face Anust. He was not going to let her butcher him from behind. He focused his will and summoned his swords from their tattoos. Nothing happened and, mentally, he roared in frustration.
She regarded him curiously. “Arm yourself.”
Iain hissed the words between clenched teeth. “I can’t.”
She nodded and settled her sword and shield into position. “I will not hold back just because you are defenseless.”
“You know, fuck you, bitch,” he snarled as the pressure increased again and his vision blurred.
She smirked. “If you were to defeat me you could demand anything from me, even that, and I would have to acquiesce. You cannot defeat me and now I will kill you.” She stepped forward.
Relax, his twee whispered to him. Stop fighting whatever it is.
I don’t understand.
Something is trying to happen. It hurts because you’re fighting it as hard as you can. If you don’t let it happen, good or bad, you won’t be able to fight at all and I/we/you will die.
Drones floated in from outside the hemisphere and shot forward. Theodora screamed triumphantly in his head. I see her! She will be in range of the drones in five seconds.
Theodora hissed to herself when the first drone that crossed the glowing barrier exploded into an eye searing brilliance and dropped to the ground. Telemetry indicated the instant and complete failure of almost every electronic component in the device. When the second drone failed the same way, the others shot into the air, following the curve of the barrier as they climbed for its peak. The range would be very long for the short ranged weapons on the drones, so long in fact that plasma rounds would dissipate before reaching Iain’s opponent. But the coil gun equipped drones fired osmium pellets that would still have the energy to penetrate flesh at that range. If she could hit Anust. She damned well intended to try. Iain was hers.
In the meantime, five assault shuttles streaked from the Luna refueling station towards Earth and the Sabine Ranch. Each carried weapons designed for space combat at distances of thousands of kilometers but were precise enough to pick off individual targets. The shuttles would enter the atmosphere and hover over the dome where they could be used precisely to kill Anust. If only Iain could survive until they arrived.
Equipment allocation tables and production priorities changed elsewhere in Theodora’s consciousness as she drove the drones upwards and the shuttles towards Earth. Even as she prayed to Eilistraee and Mielikki to keep Iain safe, things would be different from now on. No matter what happened today, much more powerful weapons would be stationed at every property owned by the clan. She had counted on the abilities of the pokegirls too much. Never again would they be in this situation, where the only tools she had available were on-site drones that weren’t capable of stopping their enemies due to range and orbital weaponry that was too powerful to safely use around her clanswomen.
The drones were not designed to fire accurately at this range and Daya helped Theodora aim by sending her targeting data from the observation and interdiction satellite parked over the Sabine Ranch. It had the software to compensate for wind, thermal effects and any of the million other variables necessary to hit a target from orbit with a single round each and every time. Theodora aimed carefully and fired the drones as a group.
Anust paused several meters away. “I give you one last chance to yield to me, Iain.” Her eyes went wide when pellets slammed into the ground around her. She reacted almost instantly, raising her shield over her head just in time for the next volley. Several of them hit the shield, driving her to her knees from the force and leaving deep dents in the golden metal. Another volley ripped down, smashing into her shield and taking her back to her knees as she started to rise. “Stop this immediately!”
In his mind, Iain located the place where the pressure was coming from. It was pushing on something that his mind represented as a large knife switch that was in the open position. Help it, his twee demanded. Reacting on instinct, Iain added his strength to the force pushing on the switch’s lever. It closed.
Iain’s eyes closed for a second in relief as the pressure vanished. He’d shifted into his full sized form, the shift ending with him standing upright on his hind legs. He relaxed and toppled forward, pulling his forelimbs against his torso as he dropped.
Anust stabbed upwards as he fell. Her now mundane blade slid off his scaled chest. She screamed briefly as his chest crushed her to the ground. He hopped backwards a short distance and lunged, his jaws snapping shut on her body. She screamed again as he bit down several times in rapid succession and shook his head violently with her in his jaws before tossing her high in the air. Several violent blows struck Iain in the wings and back as Theodora’s next salvo hit him. They weren’t powerful enough to puncture his scales and he ignored them.
Anust crashed to the ground, still screaming. Her armor was covered with punctures and rents from his teeth and one shoulder joint was so deformed he doubted it would still bend. Blood poured from the holes in an amount that would have already killed a human from exsanguination. Iain hooked her with the claws of his right forefoot, turned and smashed her, with all his might, into the biggest tree he could see. The tree shattered under the blow and Anust went limp. Iain dropped her and flicked her sword away with a talon.
Eat her, his twee advised. We must be sure she’s dead.
Iain turned his head sideways and held it over her body. He wasn’t completely surprised when, after a few seconds, he heard her heart beat once. Several seconds later it beat once more. He picked her up in his jaws and loped for the edge of the magic deprivation field. I don’t eat sentients. It’s a good rule to keep.
This is incredibly stupid, his twee said. Don’t do what you’re planning.
Anust gave me several chances to yield. I will give her one, if only to placate Lucifer and Vanessa if she refuses and I kill her. I can drain her soul before she can do anything else. He increased his speed to a sprint.
And if she’s faster than you are?
Iain skidded to a stop at the edge of the barrier and dropped Anust just inside it. He stepped out of it. Magic flooded back into him and he shifted to his elf form. He knelt and carefully keeping her inside the barrier, stripped off her right gauntlet and pulled her hand just enough outside of the field that the hand to the wrist was exposed. He shifted to his dragon form and laid his right forepaw down on her body, pinning it to the earth with some of his weight. His left forepaw covered her bare hand and arm. He sank his claws through her hand, and into the dirt underneath, immobilizing it completely. He experimentally used his magic to briefly absorb her power through the contact. I believe I can drain her soul before she can do anything else as she wakes up and, since she can’t move, she can’t pull away from me to save her life. With his perception restored he could see her wounds closing inside her torso. He examined her magically. She has the same curse of infertility that Yuko has. The magic is a little different, but it’s definitely a curse.
We’ll know if you’re right in a few minutes, his twee said sourly.
I am not doing this out of altruism. She said that if I defeat her, she’ll do what I want and another truewizard could be a great asset. A few minutes later, her breathing began to speed up. Iain cast a truth detection spell as her eyes opened. He tilted his head to look down at her. “I have defeated you. Do you keep your oaths?”
“I do,” she hissed through the pain radiating up from her arm and from where the torn armor was still piercing deep into her body and his claws drove through her body. “I will never be foresworn.” Her brilliant blue eyes met his amber ones. “You have defeated me and I am yours to command.”
“Then I am going to give you an oath to swear to me. Do you accept this oath from me freely and of your own free will?”
She blinked and smiled slightly. “If I do, then the oath is not given under duress, even though we both know that if I refuse you will kill me.”
“I, of my own free will, swear that I will give you any oath that you require of me and I will keep it as much as you will let me.”
“It will require you to never harm me or mine, including any Sidhe that I claim.”
“You do not require me to stop killing other Sidhe?”
“I do not. Outlanders are outlanders and if outlander Sidhe need to die, I will let you kill them. I will have that oath before I will release you.”
“That shows that the man who defeated me has wisdom. May I ask how is it that you became a dragon when there was no magic?”
“You are Fomorian and your magic healed you, even inside this field. It is intrinsic to your being a Fomorian and the removal of magic from around you cannot stop it. Did you already understand this?”
“Well, I am a dragon, not a human, and I have intrinsic magic too. It allowed me to take my true form, even inside your nifty field.”
“I had been observing you for some time. You never became a dragon this big. Because of that, I thought you were merely a human wizard who took the form of a dragon from time to time.” She broke off and hissed softly. “Some of my armor is buried in my stomach and I am still bleeding badly inside. Give me your oath that I may swear myself to you and take my armor off.”
Iain nodded once. “Repeat after me.”
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
Matilda - White Tigress
Sorrel - Armsmistress
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
Liadan - Twau
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
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)