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Loose Threads

One Hundred Forty


            “My lord, may I have a moment of your time,” Eirian asked. They were at the Observatory and doing the first sort of the documents that mentioned Selsharra, the Duchy of Ty’althalael or both. Selsharra was watching and learning with his and her twee’s help since she hadn’t had much to do with technological systems up to this point.

            Iain looked up from the holographic display and nodded to the silver Dragoness. Viersunuth and Varasilith were with her and he nodded to them in turn. “Ladies. What is it?”

             “I would like to add someone to the undead harem, my lord. She is powerful and influential in her position in Guallidurth.”

            Iain was not excited at the idea of adding to the ranks of his undead. “Who did you have in mind?”

            “The drageloth named Tadaraleth of House Janaleth, my lord.”

            “I’d think she’s a little too prominent to make her disappear for the time it would take to process her without her being missed and an investigation started. If nothing else, House Janaleth is third and would be worried that her disappearance would be the opening gambit in eliminating the house or at least reducing its rank.” Iain said thoughtfully.

            Varasilith smiled. “With your help, my lord, we will take her to the Titan station, process her there and return her to Gualidurth before an hour has elapsed. She would make a perfect spy for us, considering she has free access throughout the noble and common houses as well as complete access to the Council of Noble Houses.”

            “You have not been to the Titan station in three months,” Eirian said. “If you take us there right after you left, she will be ready to return here long before the present in One.”

            Viersunuth grinned toothily. “Alyfaen Dinaen thinks this would be a sound tactical exercise, my lord, and she is the expert on Guallidurth for us.”

            “Any drageloth is undeniably evil,” Selsharra commented. “No one in the living harem would protest her removal. Her enslavement, possibly, but not her removal. That would give us eyes inside the council, something you have been trying to find a way to get without using detectable electronic or magical equipment.”

            “I’m glad to see everyone else is in agreement,” Iain observed wryly. He shook his head. “I had hoped that we were past adding to the undead harem since I have to kill people for them to enter it. Your logic, however, is compelling.” He gave Varasilith a searching look. “Am I resisting your attempts to turn me more to the dark side?”

            The Marilith demoness growled. “There are certainly easier ways to attain many of your goals, my lord. The fact that they would result in much more anguish, destruction and death is something to be appreciated, not avoided.”

            He nodded. “They are easier, not necessarily better. Eirian, am I resisting your attempts to do the same thing?”

            “Always, my lord. You walk the paths you choose to, not the ones we would necessarily have you walk.”

            “I guess if my undead harem hasn’t corrupted me yet I can probably resist Tadaraleth’s attempts to do so, especially with the help of the women I love. Do you have a timeline for kidnapping her?”

            “Once every seventy days she goes off on her own and supposedly spends a tenday wandering the wilderness and killing everything she encounters,” Eirian said. “Her next hunt is in three days. With your permission, we will take her during the first week of it.”

            Iain raised an eyebrow. “Supposedly? What does she really do?”

            “She is building a network of allies and spies, my lord. Liadan says she has plans to take over her house and, eventually, all of the other houses in turn.”

            “Of course she does, since that’s the kind of chaos the Spider Queen loves.” Iain frowned. “How long have you been spying on her?” When Eirian hesitated, Iain folded his arms. “I asked a question. I expect an answer and now.”

            Eirian gave him a suddenly wary look. “We have been monitoring her movements for several centuries, my lord. She has the ability to unexpectedly turn up in places and we learned her strengths and weaknesses in case she needed eliminated quickly if she found out something of our plans.”

            “I see. How long ago did Alyfaen put you up to recruiting her daughter?”

            Eirian chuckled harshly. “She brought it up almost immediately after joining the undead harem, my lord. The insult of the theft of such a powerful child had never left her mind, but it was not necessary to consider her revenge until recently, when we lost so many powerful members of the undead harem. I did not realize just how much their loss would cost us. My prejudice against those who are not dragon types blinded me to their true worth until they were gone.” Her eyes met his. “Please do not tell them that I admitted that.”

            “Selsharra’s right here and she heard you. I can’t control what she tells them.”

            “My lord, she has not been harem for a very long time and does not talk much with Sorrel or Matilda. And if she tells them what I said, it is not the same as you doing so.”

            “She has ever been an odd woman,” Selsharra noted.

            “I won’t tell them,” Iain said.

            “Thank you, my lord.”

            Iain took a moment to consider options. The truth was that he desperately needed information on what the noble houses were planning, if only so he could adjust his plans for the future of Guallidurth. “When you have Tadalareth, let me know. In the meantime, send someone to get what you need to process her from the Titan station. While I haven’t been there for three months, members of the undead harem have. You’ll process her at my lab in the station we have orbiting Ragnarok IV on Sixteen, where the undead harem hasn’t been in over a year, and neither have I.”

            “Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord.”

            “Is there anyone else you want me to murder and recruit,” Iain asked.

            Eirian shook her head. “No, my lord. Please understand that I do not wish to add to the undead harem any more than Ninhursag wishes to add to the living one. Tadaraleth will help us greatly in our plans for Guallidurth. She is trusted, as much as anyone is trusted among the unrepentant drow, and the intelligence she will generate is likely to prove invaluable when the time comes to move against the most powerful houses. As for her power,” the Dragoness shrugged. “She is powerful, but Varasilith is much more powerful than she will ever be.” Her teeth gleamed razor sharp. “Julia is more powerful than she is. Her magical training is nonexistent and her clerical training is lackadaisical. If we could blanket the Council and Houses Ghell, Janaleth and Khaven with sensors, I would not be asking you for her.”

            “You just said that the harem lost a lot of depth recently,” Iain noted.

            “I did,” Eirian admitted. “She will help a little with that, but my primary goal is to institute a training program that will force us to get stronger, as mages, as liches and as pokegirls. That will allow us to regain the lost strength much more quickly than bringing a chaotic drageloth up to a basic level of competency will.” She hesitated. “Which necessitates an urgent request, my lord, that you change some priorities around regarding research involving us.”

            “Let me guess, you want me to prioritize changing Julia into a pokegirl without bringing her to life first?”

            “My lord, you have divined my intent, but not only her. Talyl and Zarza would like to become pokegirls, and Sabrae is strongly considering the idea. If you could transform the others, she could easily be persuaded to take that final step and become much more powerful than she is now, especially if she could continue to look like a drow.”

            “I’ll move it way up on my research list.”

            “Thank you, my lord.”

            “Let me know when you have Tadalareth and we’ll proceed from there.”

            “My lord.” Shadows slid towards the three liches and they dropped into them.

            Iain turned to Selsharra. “Traqen and his people should be landing tomorrow. Do you want them to wait in Leuthilspar for Mialla and her group or head upriver towards Ty’athalael?”

            “Have them head for the duchy. Mialla’s ship is at least a week out and combining the groups would make them more memorable, which I don’t want.” Selsharra eyed the display. “Let’s get this done so we can get my duchy recognized and our people settled in properly.”

            Iain smiled. “Yes, Your Grace.”

            Selsharra glanced at him. “While I need to get used to hearing that again, I don’t want to hear those words coming from the mouth of my husband.”


            “Good. Now what do I do next?”


            Iarralei Veishinn brushed her bright red hair back as looked down that the books suspiciously. “What are these?”

            “This is a two volume treatise called A History of the Duchy of Ty’athalael,” Selsharra said.

            “I have never heard of such a treatise,” Iarralei said. “I, as the premier authority on the history of that part of Evermeet, should have known of it, if it were historically relevant. And there are four books here. Finally, they look suspiciously new if they are to document the history of a duchy that has been unoccupied for thousands of years.”

            “We brought two copies, one of which is yours to keep,” Selsharra replied. “The other is for you to review and verify is accurate and complete.” Iain glanced at her and she nodded. “The books look new because they are new. They were not copied from an older manuscript, instead A History was assembled recently, by me and my husband.”

            “And who are you,” Iarralei asked irritably, “to be writing a history of anything?”

            Iain made a movement and stopped. He’d agreed to let Selsharra do this and only get involved of she requested it of him.

            Selsharra’s slight smile told him she’d noticed his almost reaction. “Are you aware of who the last legitimate duchess of Ty’athalael was?”

            “Of course I am. It was the Duchess Selsharra of the Greystarr family. She voluntarily became a baelnorn in order to protect the entire royal family. The queen took over custody of the duchy after that.”

            “But she never added the title of Duchess of Ty’athalael to her awards or awarded it to anyone else,” Selsharra said quietly. “I told her to and she ignored me, saying she’d get to it later or give it to one of her children. Now I’m glad she didn’t, because I am Selsharra of the Greystarr family and I am the Duchess of Ty’athalael, brought back to life after the Greystarr family line ended so disastrously. I wrote this book to give to whoever is the historian at the palace before I present myself to the king and announce my return.”

            “Wouldn’t that make you Selsharra Greystarr,” Iarralei asked.

            “We didn’t use family names that way then,” Selsharra replied. “I was born Selsharra of Greystarr and I died Selsharra of Greystarr. Now I am her alive again and I see no reason to adopt conventions that I have never used just for the convenience of others.”

            Iarralei smiled slightly. “At least, if you are a pretender, you know the naming conventions of the royal family during the time period you claim to have been alive. Is this created entirely from your memory or are there primary documents you used for this?”

            “Primary documents were used for this,” Selsharra replied “As they’re referenced in the work, something called footnotes are added to show where the information came from.”

            “I will need access to these primary documents as well,” Iarralei said primly.

            Selsharra smiled. “Get your cloak. Iain, please collect the books.”

            Iain scooped the books into the bag he’d taken them from as Iarralei pulled on a utilitarian looking cloak. “Will we be going far,” she asked amusedly. “You don’t have to carry on this deception. I am willing to let you leave without causing trouble if you merely admit that this is some kind of farce.”

            Selsharra took her hand, murmured softly, and the scene around them changed. They were standing in a library that extended from floor to ceiling. A handful of small, ornate tables, each with two chairs, were in the center of the room and a pair of large desks sat next to the entrance. Stairs going up led to another floor also filled with books and scrolls. “As a specialist in that time period, you are undoubtedly aware that the Castle of Serenity and the Library of Ty’athalael disappeared when I became a baelnorn, to the queen’s immense irritation.” She waved a hand at the books. “When I returned to restore the duchy, the first thing I did was restore the castle and its contents. The contents of the library provided the primary sources for A History.”

            Iain laid the books down on the closest table as Selsharra motioned towards it. “You can either stay here while conducting your verifications or Iain can bring you here each day if you’d prefer to stay at home. I’d recommend you stay here. Iain is an excellent cook and the room you’d be staying in is the one the royal family would use when visiting.” She smiled apologetically. “We are a little short handed on staff right now, but that will change as soon as my retainers arrive.” She looked at Iain. “Do you have the bracelet?” Iain produced a thin silver bracelet from a pocket. “Please explain to her how it works.”

            “You’re not used to this place and don’t know where the primary references are housed, which are scattered throughout the library,” Iain said as he held out the bracelet. “You’ll wear this while doing your work for the duchess. While wearing it, if you read a footnote out loud, the item used for the reference will be magically brought to you. When you’re done with it, just place your hand on it and say ‘finished’ and it will return to where it belongs. If you don’t send the materials back, at the end of the day they’ll return unless you ask me to grant that item a waiver so it does not.”

            Iarralei took the bracelet gingerly and examined it. It was covered with runes of some kind. “I have never heard of magic like this,” she said quietly.

            “That’s because it’s unique to libraries of powerful mages,” Iain replied. “which the duchess is, having been a High Mage of Evermeet. It’s just that most of them would never open their library to an outlander, I mean stranger.”

            “Who are you?”

            He smiled. “I’m Iain.”

            “Um, Her Grace,” just in case she really was the duchess, “said you were the cook.”

            His smile widened. “I do a lot of things around here. Do you have any dietary restrictions?”

            “What does that mean?”

            “Is there anything you will not eat, for any reason such as because it makes you ill, it’s forbidden by your religion or by personal choice?”

            She frowned. “I have never been asked that question. I do not like very sweet wines.”

            “Then you won’t get them. Because of the age and rarity of the contents of the library, food is not brought here, but I’ll set up a trolley in an antechamber that’s just outside where you can get tea and some snacks. I’ll check up on you every hour. If you would come with me, I’ll show you where the closest room with a chamber pot and a sink is. As far as meals go, when they’re almost ready I will give you ten minutes or so warning so you can find a stopping point. You will eat meals with us, it being polite.”

            “You are very solicitous of my heath,” Iarralei said. “Why is that?”

            “You’re helping the duchess regain her land and title.” Iain twisted his back slowly to loosen it up. “We appreciate that very much. And I want to keep you eager to continue reading and verifying the books. More importantly, you are our guest while you’re here and we take care of our guests.” He smiled again at her look of surprise. “No, you don’t understand it. You can, however, enjoy it. Now, let me show you to the washroom.”


            Iarrelei sighed. Iain glanced at her curiously and the sun elf gave him a half smile. She was up on the battlement taking some sun, while Iain was using a telescope to look over the lines laid out for some nearby construction projects and comparing them to an architectural drawing that he'd brought with him. “I like it here. I’m not ready to go back to Leuthilspar.”

            “So don’t.”

            “My job here is done. I’ve verified the volumes you will be submitting to the court historian.”

            “Your stuff, including everything in your house and your library, can be moved here more easily than you would think, you’re a scholar and you’re a trained researcher. I have no doubt that Selsharra has any number of things you could do for her, and those while you’re still exploring the library. If we put out word, potential clients will come here to seek you out.” He grinned at her. “And you could reconsider our offer to become clan. The benefits are excellent.”

            Iarrelei eyed him curiously. “Who is in charge here?”

            “Selsharra is the duchess. Or she will be as soon as we take the report to the palace and get an official ruling from His Majesty.”

            “I am a trained observer, Iain, and I’ve been here for over two months. Commander Mialla works for the duchess, but she listens to you as much as she listens to Her Grace. And Traqen looks to you before he goes to Her Grace. Why is that? You are Selsharra’s husband, but other than that there’s nothing all that special about you.”

            “Traqen is a miner and I know more about mining than Selsharra does. As for Mialla, I have a lot of military experience she doesn’t, what me being older than dirt and all.” He grinned. “It doesn’t help our relationship that, when we first met, she was only this tall.” He held his hand at waist height. “There was an accident in which she was badly burned. I was the duty healer at the time and she became my patient for the next few months while convalescing.”

            “You’re avoiding the question, Iain.”

            Iain chuckled. “If I am, then apparently I am doing a crappy job of it. What do you know about the political situation among the elves outside of Evermeet?”

            “I know less than I know about the political situation here and I don’t know very much about Evermeet’s politics,” Iarrelei admitted sourly. “And it’s gotten me in trouble with the nobles two times when people powerful enough not to pay me didn’t and I didn’t know who they were and protested being robbed.”

            Iain put the telescope down and looked at her. “Privacy.”

            Iarrelei gave him a startled stare. “I’m not clan.”

            “You’ve been invited to become clan. You know what the invocation means. Accept or reject it.”

            She hesitated and squared her shoulders. “I accept the invocation.”

            “I’m the Grey. That means I’m the clan’s leader. As the Grey, I outrank the Duchess Selsharra. As the Grey, I rank at least equally to the ruler of Evermeet. But as Iain, her husband, I don’t. More importantly, here, until I have no choice but to reveal that I’m the Grey, I’m not anyone special. All I happen to be is merely Selsharra’s husband, which is how she and I want things to be.”

            “Why are you here?”

            “I’m helping Selsharra prove she’s the duchess and that these are her lands.”

            “Why are you doing this?”

            “My goddesses thinks this is a good idea for Selsharra, the clan and the elves of Evermeet.” He shrugged. “At least the ones in this duchy, if nothing else.”

            “Did they tell you to do this?”

            “They didn’t tell me no.” Iain smiled when Iarrelei looked doubtful. “I laid out our plans for one of them. She asked me what I’d do if she told me not to carry them out. I told her that, in that situation, I’d not do them. She then told me that she was not going to tell me not to do them and that her sister wasn’t going to stop us either.”

            “Are you a priest?”

            “Her clergy are almost all female, so I’m a priestess. Yes, I am a member of her clergy.” He held up a hand when she started to speak again. “There are some things I can’t discuss, even under privacy, such as who these goddesses are. Rest assured that they’re not evil and their worship is not prohibited in Evermeet. It’s just not welcomed right now. One of them hasn’t been actively worshipped here in quite some time and the other is new to the elves.” He grinned. “Anything that’s less than three thousand years old is new to most elves.”

            “Would I be working for you or the duchess?”

            “Both of us and each of us in turn, at different times. For you, however, her projects take priority over mine.” He smiled suddenly. “As clan, you’d be under our protection. You can continue to do work for others, if only for new books and some spending money. The biggest difference is that we’d vet your clientele so you don’t get robbed again.”

            “How can you keep them from doing that? I was told it was just a hazard for being so famous that nobility would sometimes seek my assistance with something.” She grimaced. “And I was told that I should feel honored whenever they chose to do so. Such work for them would enhance my status among the other scholars and commoners and increase my income by association..” She rolled her eyes. “Other scholars don’t care who I work for unless they can use my prices to raise theirs or they feel I stole a project and a patron from them.”

            “If they’re financially unreliable, and it’s usually not hard to find out if they are, they pay half before you go to work for them. If they refuse, they’re free to find another sage to answer their questions. And I’m ending privacy. You’ve got enough to think about now, while Selsharra and I take the book and head for Leuthilspar and our rendezvous with court. Selsharra says it will take up to a moon. I hope she’s right and it goes that quickly.”

            “I think she’s being optimistic. Thank you for answering my questions, Iain.”

            “You’re welcome.” He smiled at her as he put the telescope back in its case. “And I didn’t charge you anything for it.”

            She laughed.


            “Did you see the splash we made when we landed at the harbor,” Selsharra asked amusedly.

            Iain glanced at her as they hiked up the street towards the palace. “You’ve been spending too much time listening to slang not used around here. As for splashing,” he smiled. “Splashing is bad. Splashing means that you’ve landed your flying ship in the water too hard. That means that somewhere, somewhere you can’t see it, at least one seam has, almost certainly, started leaking and water is now entering your vessel, which is a very bad thing for the whole idea of floating.”

            “You know what I mean. We drew a lot of attention when we landed the Lemon Sour and sailed it into Leuthilspar’s harbor.”

            “Yeah. We knew we’d draw attention, but not quite that much. I saw riders racing away from the harbor mistress’ office as soon as they realized we don’t have sails or oars. It makes sense when you think about it, though. We know from the reports Helesatra and Shatris have been getting from our space forces that the current ruling family of Evermeet thinks that keeping a close relationship with the Imperial Armada is not all that important. They’re welcome to land here and resupply and I’m sure they’re welcome to let their crews have shore leave for some R&R, if only for the money they inject into the economy and the potential exchange of genetics, but there is no royal representative in space anymore and hasn’t been for some time, at least according to Iarrelei’s knowledge of the past.”

            “I hope she joins the clan,” Selsharra noted quietly.

            “I hope she does too. She is inclined towards it, if only because we all have that almost perfect memory she envies so much.” Iain shrugged. “But in the end, she is free to make her own decisions about her life.”

            “I don’t like the idea that the nobles robbed her,” Selsharra noted irritably.

            “I see you’ve already made her your subject in your head.” Selsharra shrugged and he nodded. “She gave me their names and I checked around. She had the bad luck to somehow interest two of the most deadbeat nobles in the kingdom. Their families cover up the worst of their indiscretions, but for some reason they didn’t bother to pay her off like some of the others. But then, she’s not an influential merchant or well-known artist of one type or another that they know they’ll end up doing business with again later.” Iain shook his head. “And we know that those kinds of people exist everywhere. Fortunately, most of the nobles in Evermeet are decent enough sorts.”

            Selsharra glanced at him. “I’m surprised you didn’t add ‘for nobles’ to that statement.”

            Iain shrugged. “I’m a noble too. And being the royal consort, a prince and a general in Vyshaan has taught me you need to keep some of them around while you teach their children to be better people. Even then, there will be some rotten ones. Clan is different, but then I don’t have thousands of years of nobles and their issues to wade through to find the good ones.”

            Selsharra gave him a grim smile. “Rotten fruit will be discarded. Rotten family trees will be pruned as severely as necessary to let the tree survive. If the rot is too extensive, the tree will be removed to save the orchard.”

            “Damn, and I’m supposed to be the sociopath.”

            “Being a duchess or a queen is about making the hardest decisions of all sometimes. I remember helping my sister make some of those decisions when she was unsure of how to respond to problems when they arose.”

            “Was there that much unrest in the kingdom?”

            “Like you said, there are always some nobles who think the commoners exist for their use and entertainment. My family took a very dim view of that sort of behavior, and we stopped it whenever we found it.” She grinned lazily at him. “After all, as you sometimes say, without farmers and fishers it’s hard to find enough to eat.”

            They paused in the courtyard while Iain took his first close look at the Royal Palace of Evermeet. While Selsharra’s castle did have some defensive design built into it, this tremendous building was wide open. It was of white and black marble with dizzying swirls in it. Spires on top of towers everywhere glistened like diamonds in the sun. Pennants of various sorts snapped in the breeze as individuals and small groups of elves moved purposefully in and out of the three gates. Guards stood at each gate. While they looked alert and fit, they didn’t have the air of veteran soldiers that Iain’s security elements in the valley had. His security elements were drawn from the active duty units in the clan and rotated back to their units on a regular basis. Instead, these reminded him of the palace guards Theodora had taken videos of when she’d stolen her namesake’s DNA in Byzantine Constantinople. The women and men he could see were probably very good at guarding but were no longer part of the ranks of the trained killers that they’d originally been drawn from.

            Also at each gate was a group of younger elves, most barely adult. They were dressed in the palace livery and stood talking quietly among themselves.

            Iain noticed that there were two types of people going into the palace. The first ignored the guards and went straight past them into the interior. Most of these were either in the palace livery or wore a badge with it or some other livery on it, suggesting they worked here in some capacity.

            The members of the second group would stop and speak with the guards. Most of the time, a guard would motion to one of the young elves, who would come over. A few coins would exchange hands and the young elf would then lead the group into the castle.

            “Those look like guides,” Selsharra said quietly.

            “I get that impression as well. Unless you remember the interior well enough to get around, we’ll want one too.”

            “Remember? That place was built when the first Greenshadow became king. I have never been inside it.”

            “Then we will definitely want a guide,” Iain said. “That place looks to be at least an acre in size.”

            It is roughly three hundred feet on a side, his twee noted. That’s what it measures according to the Phantasmal Surveyor’s satellite observations. That makes it two acres in square footage, before the additional floors are added in.

            “We never needed anything that obnoxious and vain,” Selsharra grumbled.

            “And you don’t have that now,” Iain gently took her elbow and led her towards the closest gate. “Good morning, we’d like a guide to the palace historian and record keeper.”

            The woman looked surprised and then curiosity filled her eyes. “Nobody ever wants to see Magrieth. Why?”

            “I am contesting an issue involving my family,” Selsharra said smoothly. “I believed that some of the records involving the issue were incorrect. I went to a sage whose specialization lay within the contested information and she issued a clarification so I can get the records corrected and then I can hopefully prevail.”

            “Oh,” the interest in the guard’s eyes faded. She turned and waved at the group. “I need a guide.” She looked back at Selsharra and Iain. “The guide fee is six silvers.”

            Iain was opening his purse while Selsharra was still digesting that the fee was roughly six days wages for a skilled worker. He counted out the coins. “How much for you arranging the guide?”

            The guard smiled. “That’s two of the silvers.” Iain handed her two coins. “Welcome to the palace.”

            The young elf male trotted up. “How may I help you today?”

            Iain handed him the coins as Selsharra smiled. “I need to see the historian,” she said.

            “This is new.” The elf looked at the guard. “What is her name?”

            “She’s Magrieth Quietbreeze,” the guard replied. “She has no titles.”

            “I understand,” the guide said. He looked at Selsharra. “What is your name?”

            “I am Selsharra Grey.”

            “Come with me.”

            The interior of the building was as ornate as the exterior and filled with high quality pieces of artwork and paintings. The guide ignored them all as he led them unerringly through the building, up two flights of ornate stairs and onto the landing, where he turned to a sentry. “Where are Magrieth Quietbreeze’s offices?”

            “Her office is the fourth on the left,” the bored sentry replied.

            The guide led them to the fourth door on the left and knocked firmly, waited a second and opened the door. “Selsharra to see Historian Magrieth Quietbreeze,” he said loudly. He pushed the door completely open and, without another word, headed quickly for the stairs.

            Selsharra looked in the doorway to see an older elf woman wearing worn robes and seated at an old looking desk. A stool sat to the side of the desk. The elf’s hair was still golden copper, but liberal threads of silver traced through it, She looked vaguely surprised as she stared at them, a forgotten quill in one hand. A blob of ink dripped from it on to the book in front of her and she cursed loudly, put the quill in a pot and picked up a piece of cloth to press against the large blot on the page. “What is it,” she asked irritably.

            I’m going to try being helpful, Iain said across his twee to Selsharra as they stepped into the room. He handed her the bag of books. “We’re sorry to startle you. Since that wasn’t what Selsharra intended, I’d like to offer to fix that.”

            “Fix what?”

            “The ink you dropped. I can remove it without harming the rest of the book.” He smiled. “There’s no scrubbing or strange liquids or other bizarre ideas that won’t work. It’s a simple spell that cleans up the fresh ink in a small area.”

            The woman’s eyebrows had risen high on her forehead. “You can do that?”

            “May I show you?”

            She pulled the cloth off the page to reveal a huge spot that had splashed over the original lines on the page and spun the book around. “Yes!”

            “May I have the piece of cloth?” She handed it to him and Iain touched the fresh ink with his index fingertip. The ink vanished and reappeared on the cloth he held in his palm. “There you go.”

            Magrieth turned the tome around and peered closely at the page. Her eyes went wide. “It is as if nothing ever happened to it. Even the words that were underneath it are undamaged!” She looked up at him. “I have some skill at mending magic. Could you teach me this spell?”

            Iain smiled easily as he took the bag of books back and opened it. “It is not a difficult spell to teach, but I created it and it’s something we’d have to discuss before I’d even consider it. And that will have to wait until later. I’m Iain and this is Selsharra. She has business with the court’s historian today if you don’t mind.”

            The sun elf drew herself up formally. “I am Historian Magrieth Quietbreeze. What is your business with me?”

            Selsharra indicated the copy of A History of the Duchy of Ty’athalael as Iain laid the two books on Magrieth’s desk. “I would like to add these to the royal library and use them to press my suit to reclaim my birthright, the Duchy of Ty’atalael. They have been verified as accurate by the sage Iarralei Veishinn, a known expert on the time involved when I was duchess.”

            Magrieth frowned. “I know who Iarralei is, She is an expert on the histories of the Greystarr family and the early Greenshadow kings and queens. I am also aware that Ty’atalael Valley is land belonging to the royal family. There is no duchy there.”

            Selsharra nodded. “My duchy was given in trust to my sister, Queen Dathyra of Greystarr, when I became a baelnorn. The title was held without ever being awarded again. When the Greenshadow line took the throne, they received that duchy in trust as well, allowing them to use the income from it, but it was never awarded, it was never bequeathed and it was never dissolved. I am alive again and I, Selsharra of Greystarr, once a princess of Evermeet, am the legal and rightful duchess.”

            Magrieth was staring at her in horror. “I can’t verify that!”

            “No, you cannot. That is not your job, Historian,” Selsharra said gently. “As the Historian, you must read the treatise and verify its provenance. Then you must enter it into the histories and the royal library. Iarralei Veishinn has already verified its accuracy. The veracity of my words will have to be judged by a priest of Corellon. I will insist that a priestess of Vandria Gilmadrith also be present in her role as the guardian of justice.” She smiled affectionately at the sun elf. “You can do that, can’t you?”

            Magrieth nodded firmly. “That I can do. Thank you for not expecting me to do more than that.” She smiled hesitantly. “Your Grace.”

            “I appreciate the sentiment,” Selsharra said as her smile warmed. “But until the king verifies my title, I cannot in good conscience allow you to call me that.”

            “Just a moment.” Magrieth got up and went to the door. “I’ll be right back. Please wait.” She slipped out the door to return a few minutes later with a book. “I remembered that nearly a thousand years ago, part of the law you will use to get your title back was changed. It mandates that whoever temporarily holds the title must return all of the monies generated during that holding.” She smiled. “It was enacted so one of the ruling queen’s sisters could recover the lost income of her lands while she was thought dead. You will want to make that request.”

            Selsharra laughed. “You are a delight, Magrieth. I will certainly remember that change.”

            If you ask for the return of all that income, Iain said across his twee, you’d empty the royal treasury. Even then, they’d still have to issue a large IOU for what they couldn’t return. That would certainly get the assassins sent out.

            Selsharra glanced at him. If I publicly remind them of that obligation and then forgive them of it, then I’m being magnanimous in my victory.

            If you were being magnanimous, Iain countered, you’d never bring it up in public. They’re likely to feel you’re rubbing their nose in their inability to pay you back.

            And I would be, to an extent. But currying favor with the commoners will help me if we decide to pursue the throne.

            Iain grinned suddenly. Thank you.

            For what?

            Mialla bet you’d get assassins sent after you within the first decade. We started a pool. I said you’d have them sent out within the first two years. Nobody else’s bet was for earlier than that. You do that to the royal family and I win the pool.

            Selsharra shook her head slightly. “Magrieth, can you do what I need immediately?

            “I can,” Magrieth said cheerfully. “My duties are currently very light. Only Princess Krisraralla is interested in the royal library and she cannot allocate funds for new acquisitions.” Her cheerfulness faded. “The chamberlain isn’t hers to command until she takes the throne which, hopefully, won’t be for a very long time as His Majesty’s health is excellent. I am fortunate to have the monies needed to maintain the collection in a decent state.”

            “Are you having a problem being paid,” Iain asked

            Magrieth flushed. “There are many expenses and the library isn’t that important, after all. I live with my daughter and eat at the palace as much as I can.”

            Iain and Seslsharra exchanged a look. If she is disaffected, she could be recruited and having eyes inside the palace could never hurt, Selsharra noted.

            Agreed. Iain dug out his purse. “May I make a contribution to the maintenance of the library and the librarian?”

            Margreith shook her head. “That’s not necessary.”

            “Hold out your hand.” She did and Iain dropped a stack of gold coins into it. “I didn’t ask that. If you cannot maintain yourself, it is necessary. Your job is vital, and not just because you’re helping Selsharra establish her legitimacy. The fact that the chamberlain disagrees about how important you are doesn’t make your job any less vital. We understand that, so please let us help you.”

            Margreith stared at the stack before her hand closed tightly around the pile of gold coins. Her hand disappeared inside her robes as she looked from Iain to Selsharra and back. “I have already said I would enter this into the library and have it available for when you press your claim. You don’t have to pay me more to do this.”

            “Selsharra and I are not giving you this because of that,” Iain said. “And you already know that.”

            “I want to stop living with my daughter and her children, who touch everything that’s mine and are the reason I cannot do any work or get any rest at home,” Magrieth stated in a rush, her words almost tumbling over each other. “Can that happen for whatever you really want from me? I want to live someplace nice, too.”

            “We will purchase a small but nice house,” Iain replied. “You can live there. Newer clothing and equipment, too. And I will make sure you are reasonably taken care of. How does that sound?”

            “It sounds wonderful. What do you want for it?”

            “All we want is a friendly set of eyes and ears in court,” Selsharra pulled the stool out and sat down on it. “If you hear anything we might need to know, you send us a message telling us about it.”

            “What are you concerned about?”

            “Reclaiming my duchy is going to make the king unhappy. It’s valuable land that, even today, as run down as it has become, has a decent income that he’s about to lose. Kings can try to take pieces of land away from nobles. Kings can change the taxes and other rules, sometimes arbitrarily. Kings even have troops and they have assassins. Sometimes they want to use them on their own citizens. Fortunately, for most people at court, keeping secrets is very hard when rumors are so valuable and can grant so much prestige. You should hear things quickly enough that we can respond to them.”

            Magrieth frowned. “Even if I heard about it immediately, I couldn’t get word to you in time.”

            “I was a High Mage,” Selsharra said. “I can make sure your messages get to me or Iain just as soon as you send them.”

            Magrieth looked down at the books for several seconds. She looked up. “I want one more thing. Teach me that spell to remove ink from books.”

            “You have to promise not to teach it to anyone else,” Iain said.

            “I promise,” Magrieth smiled widely at him. “Who would believe I had anything of value?”

            “We do,” Selsharra gave Magrieth a serious look. “If we didn’t, you’d still be adding the history of my duchy to the official record, but that’s all we’d have talked about. I have a large library and I took care of it, by myself, while I was a baelnorn. Iain has a large library of his own and he understands just how diligent a librarian must be to keep things in decent condition, and that without having strangers mishandle the books or even steal them.”

            “It’s a lot of work,” Magrieth said hotly. “And there is not enough money to take all the ones that need rebound to a bookbinder, so I had to learn how to bind them as best I could. Fortunately, only a few people have access to the royal library. Fewer ever visit, but still, you’re right.”

            “You will still have to bother people to get paid, just like before,” Iain said. “To stop would look suspicious. As for caring for the books, I think I can get you some help with that.”

            “I must continue to act as if you are not helping me,” Magrieth said. “How will I explain the house and other things?”

            “You have been making investments and they have begun to bring you some profit,” Iain said. “You will be investing some of the money we’ll give you. I’ll help you with that and I can assure you a decent return on it. When you’re old, it’ll help you live at a decent level.”

            “I am old now,” Magrieth said.

            Iain grinned. “You don’t look like you are. You’re actually kind of cute.”

            Magrieth bronze skin flushed dark red. “Do you really think so?”

            “I do.”

            “Stop trying to seduce her,” Selsharra half growled as she stood. “You can do that later, Iain.”

            Magrieth turned even darker as she blushed more.

            Iain chuckled. “See you later, Magrieth.”

            “Yes,” she said as she stared books in front of her. She opened the top one and looked up at them. “This will take a few days.”

            “That’ll give us time to find you a place to live,” Selsharra said. “Once we have it, we’ll show you where it is and help you move into it.”

            “You are being very kind,” Magrieth said softly. “I don’t understand why you are being so kind to an old woman who has no rank or favor here in the palace, but I won’t turn your kindness down.”

            “Iain and I don’t look at people and see nobles and commoners,” Selsharra said gently. “You are a person and you should be treated politely.”

            “And you’re working for us as well as with us,” Iain added. “I take care of the people who work for me. Yes, it’s a form of kindness, but it also helps to ensure their loyalty when I need it most. You agreeing to keep an eye on things here means you work for us and so you will be taken care of in the tradition that I have always had of taking care of my people. As we get to know each other better, there may be additional work I ask of you, and commensurate rewards for doing it.”

            “I took an oath of loyalty to the Crown,” Magrieth said. “I will not betray it.”

            “And I won’t ask you to, not while that oath is in effect. I wouldn’t want to be foresworn and I won’t ask you to be foresworn. If you feel that something I ask you to do might violate that oath, tell me and we will discuss whether you’re right and what could be done about it.”

            “Thank you.”

            “You’re welcome. Right now you need to focus on what you’re reading for Selsharra. Selsharra and I will take care of the rest.” He looked at Selsharra and they left.


            The Chamberlain’s name was Caroneth Fargaze and he was, like most of the functionaries at court, a sun elf. Like many of his race, he felt an innate superiority towards his moon elf cousins and that attitude seemed to ooze from him as he regarded Selsharra and Iain. Also, like many of the other functionaries at court, his family was noble, with his sister being a countess of an area on the eastern coast of Evermeet, so he was addressed with the generic noble title of lord.

            He leaned back in his chair, steepling his hands over his chest as he regarded them standing in front of his desk. “Many people desire a private audience with His Majesty.” He smiled humorlessly at them. “Very few have a legitimate reason for such an audience, and it is my responsibility to ensure that His Majesty is not unduly bothered by those who do not.” He unlaced his fingers to pick up his goblet of wine and sniff it delicately. “To that end, for what purpose do you seek such an audience with our blessed and incredibly busy king?”

            Iain’s thought to Selsharra was tinged with good natured humor as her eyes narrowed. Stop that, my dear. Glaring just makes them cautious and you know that. You know it’s much easier to lure them out of the thicket before shooting them to make sure the bushes don’t block your arrows than it is to take blind shots and hope they find their mark. Tell it like we rehearsed it.

            Selsharra shot him an irritated look but her face and shoulders relaxed. “Lord Caroneth, I am Selsharra and I am a noblewoman who has, for some time, been unavailable to look after my lands in Evermeet. To ensure their proper care, I voluntarily loaned them to the court for safekeeping, as is my legal right and responsibility. The court accepted it as such. Now I have returned. Of course, I wish to regain my birthright, as is also my legal right and responsibility. While rare, there is a proper precedent and, because of that precedent, such happenings are handled in a private audience instead of in open court.”

            Caroneth’s right hand absently touched his blouse over the place where he’d tucked the small bag of gems Selsharra had slipped to him when they’d touched hands in greeting. The word bribe was never used, instead, such a gift by someone seeking an audience with the Chamberlain merely served to prove that they were serious about their desire for his assistance and to keep wastrels from frittering away his valuable time. He gave Selsharra a polite smile. “What was your title?”

            “I am a duchess,” Selsharra deliberately used the present tense instead of the past tense.

            “I am unaware of any duchies that have been placed into royal care,” Caroneth sipped at his wine. “And it is part of my duties to know these sorts of things.”

            “My duchy was loaned to the court before King Heixidar took the throne,” Selsharra said. “You became Chamberlain after that. Your predecessor may have known about my duchy and failed to annotate its existence properly. Fortunately, the library has the necessary documents to prove my claim exists and we have a copy of what the library has that we can present it during the audience.”

            Caroneth scowled. The previous Chamberlain had not been happy to be replaced and failing to do something like that was very much in accordance with what the woman had been like. It was fortunate for the prosperity of the crown that she’d been removed from her office and he had taken her place. “The library has the official records of the duchy, you say?”

            “We verified their existence and accuracy with the Historian, Margrieth Quietbreeze, before I came to you to seek an audience,” Selsharra replied.

            “That will certainly help,” Caroneth said. “It will take some time to set up an audience with His Majesty. I would strongly suggest you come back to see me daily until I can finish the preparations for this.”

            “We will,” Selsharra assured him she motioned to Iain and turned towards the door.

            “A moment, please,” Caroneth called.

            Selsharra turned back to him. “Yes, Lord Caroneth?”

            Caroneth motioned towards Iain. “He hasn’t said a word. Who is he?”

            “I’m Iain, Lord Caroneth,” Iain said politely. “Her Grace brought me along in case she needed my assistance. So far she hasn’t, so I’ve just been available if she does.”

            “Iain?” Caroneth frowned. “That doesn’t sound like much of an elven name.”

            “It might be because I wasn’t born on Evermeet,” Iain explained. “I met Her Grace some centuries ago.”

            “What do you get out of this?”

            “She’s my wife. It makes our children nobles here in Evermeet, as it should be.”

            “That would make you duke along with her as the duchess,” Caroneth said.

            “It will, but I won’t be here a whole lot. I have responsibilities off the island and some of them I can’t just abandon. Hopefully I can arrange things so that later I can spend the time here I need to, but until then, duty calls.”

            “You are a soldier?”

            “Believe it or not, Lord Caroneth, somewhere else, I’m a general.”

            Caroneth’s eyes went wide. “Then you’re a nobleman too, aren’t you?”

            “That is true,” Iain admitted, “but my title isn’t in this kingdom and, honestly, I don’t want to look like I’m trying to use my foreign rank to help my wife. I often get foreigners, usually humans, who show up with some silly title that they’ve probably made up and try to use it to get special treatment somehow. It annoys the queen and everyone else when some human or dwarf from some place that isn’t old enough that we’ve even heard of it claims equal rank with us.” Iain grinned. “I certainly don’t want to be thought of here the way we think of them.”

            Careoneth’s eyes glittered with amusement. “I can certainly understand that. What kingdom are you from?”


            Caroneth’s eyes went wide. “Are they really all demon worshippers there?” He blinked and his cheeks flushed slightly. “I mean except for you and the other important people.”

            “No offense is taken, Lord Caroneth. The truth is that, when it was the Empire, that sort of thing did happen. After Queen Helesatra took the throne, such activities were vigorously discouraged, usually with beheadings and the seizure of titles and properties for all involved. Worship of demons, devils and evil gods have all been outlawed and malefactors are hunted down and dealt with using the full force of the law. Her Majesty is determined that those sorts of behaviors will never happen in Vyshaan again.”

            “Good.” Caroneth nodded. “Come by tomorrow before the midday meal and I can update you on my progress setting up your audience.”

            “Thank you, Lord Caroneth,” Selsharra said. “We will.” Out in the hall, she glanced at Iain. I presume we will have to give him a bag of jewels each time we see him.

            We will. It’s a small enough price to get your duchy reinstated. And if he takes more than a week to set up the audience, I think that makes him an obstacle and Liadan can fix his dawdling.


            Selsharra bowed. “Your Majesty.” She turned to the queen. “Your Majesty.” Behind her, Iain bowed as well.

            King Heixidar Greenshadow of Evermeet inclined his head. “You are Selsharra and I understand that you’re here to reclaim a duchy that I never knew existed. When exactly were you last its duchess?” Beside him, his wife, Iarsatra, watched with open curiosity. On the queen’s other side stood a richly dressed younger elven woman who bore a distinct resemblance to the queen.

            Selsharra looked around. “With all due respect, your Majesty, I do not see the priest of Corellon or the priestess of Vandria Gilmadrith that I have requested.”

            “Due to the unusual circumstances surrounding this request, I did not see a reason for their presence,” the king said coolly. “Answer my question.”

            I have been recording everything since before we entered this chamber, Iain sent to Selsharra.

            “I was last duchess during the two hundredth year of the reign of Dathyra of Greystarr,” Selsharra said evenly.

            Heixidar’s mouth twisted. “That was several thousand years ago. How is it that you have returned, now, to reclaim your title and lands?”

            “How is it that you are even alive,” Iarsatra leaned forward to watch Helesatra’s face.

            Selsharra smiled. “Your Majesty, I have returned to reclaim my land because I was not able to do so before.” She looked at the queen. “Your Majesty, I spent time in another universe, where time runs much more slowly there when compared to this universe.”

            The woman standing beside the queen stirred. “Are you a wizard? You sound like how my tutor in magic sometimes sounds.”

            Iarsatra reached out and put her hand on the woman’s shoulder. “This is our daughter and heir, Princess Krisraralla.”

            “Your Highness,” Selsharra said, “I was once one of the High Mages of Evermeet.”

            “Do you want that back too,” Heixidar asked curtly.

            “No, Your Majesty, I do not. Right now, I wish to settle on my land and start a family with my husband.”

            Heixidar’s gaze shifted from Selsharra to Iain. “Come forward, young man, and tell me your name.”

            Iain stepped to stand evenly with Selsharra. “Your Majesty, I am Iain.”

            Heixidar raised an eyebrow. “I know of you, Iain Grey, the Grey of Grey Clan, lord over Grey Valley, the Queendom of Vyshaan and the Queendom of Keltormir. Yet here you stand before me, in my country and without any notice of your arrival.”

            “Your Majesty, you are surprisingly well informed about the world outside of Evermeet,” Iain said with a smile as Queen Iarsatra and Princess Krisraralla gaped at him. “With all due respect, most of the citizens of your island nation feel the world ends at its borders. I gave no notice of my arrival because I am not here as the Grey, and I thought advertising my presence might make it harder for Selsharra to regain what is hers.”

            “What is the duchess to you?”

            “Iain is my husband,” Selsharra said. “He also advises me in some matters.”

            “Are you here to kill us like you did Morefin and take over Evermeet,” Heixidar asked.

            “Morefin was evil, Your Majesty,” Iain replied. “Corellon endorsed the religious war between the Empire and everyone else. Killing Morefin and eliminating his family was necessary to end that war and stop the unnecessary deaths of all the people both fighting to destroy the Empire and those misguided souls trying desperately to protect it.”

            “After my chamberlain advised me of your intent,” Heixidar said to Selsharra. “I had some research done. It confirmed your claims of both the existence of the Duchy of Ty’athalael and the fact that you were its last duchess. To be honest, if I had known of the duchy’s existence, I would have dissolved it. If I had ever suspected that the last duchess would return to claim it, I would have immediately dissolved it and then reformed it to give to my daughter.” His eyes met hers. “Especially if I had known that the last duchess was a Greystarr princess who had become a baelnorn for the sole purpose of keeping the Greystarr line alive and prosperous. Fortunately,” and his smile was cold, “you failed, allowing my family to take the throne.”

            Selsharra’s face paled. From Heiidar’s reaction of pleasure, it was obvious to Iain that he thought it was with shock and shame, but Iain knew it was the sign of just how furious she was at the king’s mockery. “Yes, Your Majesty,” she said with the very faint tone of warning in her voice that Iain knew so well from Kasserine and her.

            Heixidar either didn’t recognize it or didn’t care. “The law is clear and if I tried to change it now, the uproar from my nobles would deafen everyone on the island. The duchy is yours. But be warned, give me one excuse, one justification and I will remove you.”

            “I understand, Your Majesty,” Selsharra said evenly. “I will do my utmost to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

            “Good. Considering the immense amount of time that has passed since you were last duchess, I don’t think you should consider pressing your potential claim for the income that your duchy has generated over the years. Do you understand me?”

            “I do, Your Majesty, and I had no intention of doing so.”

            “I’m glad we understand each other, Your Grace.” Heixidar gestured towards the door. “This audience is over. Congratulations, Your Grace, on regaining your title and your lands. You’ll find a guide waiting outside to take you to the front gate.”

            “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

            Once they were in the hall and following the group of guards that had been waiting for them, Iain reached out over their bond that had survived her return to life. Calm.

            The fury he got back was like a pool of bubbling white hot molten steel. Failure, am I? I was willing to let his line continue its haltering steps on its lackadaisical path. I knew the Greenshadows were arrogant. I expected him to be arrogant. But to be so stupid as to say what he did to me, that I didn’t expect. How dare he treat me like that! Her eyes cut to Iain and back to the guards around them. How quickly can we make my duchy a political power strong enough to become the most powerful political rival the crown has?

            The plans we are already following were designed to do that in case you decided you wanted the throne, Iain replied. It’s still going to take a century or more. We cannot just invade Evermeet. All of the outlander elves would unite to stop us and the clan isn’t strong enough to face that and survive. We must still take the long view. Have you decided that you want the throne?

            Selsharra took a deep breath and let it out as the guard stepped aside at the entrance gate that she’d led them to. She stepped out into the sunshine and looked at Iain. “No, I have not. I want what’s best for Evermeet and its people. I’m not certain that would be in their best interests just yet.” She looked over her shoulder at the palace. “But I am more certain than I was before we had that audience. I want to prepare as if I had decided it was in Evermeet’s best interests.” She chuckled as they left the palace grounds and stepped onto the street. “Apparently I have to build a hoard. I never thought I’d say that. I wanted my duchy to be prosperous, but just enough to ensure I could take care of my people when times were lean.”

            “Has there ever really been a lean time here?

            Selsharra took his hand. “People don’t starve here, no. But in some years the land doesn’t provide as much as it does in others. It’s part of nature’s cycle. During those times, I want to make sure my people are taken care of.” Her voice dropped. “Especially if we are going to be bringing children into this world.”

            Iain squeezed her hand. “We’ll make it happen.”


            Ninhursag pointed the gun at the tree and pulled the trigger. There was a quiet pop of air and a silver nail appeared in the trunk. The Elfqueen looked around and headed for another small group of nearby pines.

            “Why are you doing that,” Sorrel asked from where she stood sentry with Ganieda and Bellona.

            “I’m putting transponders on the trees that need to be removed to make room for healthier growth of the ones around it,” Ninhursag said as she began examining the trees in the group. “Their removal will also make sunlight available for the berry bushes we intend to scatter around the area.”

            Sorrel frowned and looked at Iain, the person she, Ganieda and Bellona were guarding. “Why doesn’t she just cut them down?”

            “The Elf breeds I have acquired on this world are all fairly solid with their combat techniques, although there are some odd gaps in their skills.” Ninhursag said as she shot two of the trees in the group and headed for another cluster. Iain and his coterie followed. “What they’re deficient in, in my clan leader’s opinion as well as mine,” she frowned and shot one of the trees immediately. “Rot.” She glanced back at Iain and his guards. “They’re deficient in the noncombat skills that make us so useful, including commanding plants and trees. What I’m doing right now is marking the trees they’ll be practicing on next week.”

            “Besides, Ninhursag doesn’t just want the trees cut down,” Iain added. “She wants everything removed, including the roots. Some of the trees will be aged to ash and the others will be commanded from the ground to go to the mill to get processed into lumber, organic fertilizer and mulch. We thought we had a lot of lumber by dismantling the buildings and houses on our land, but Lucifer and Prometheus sold and donated a lot of lumber to help with the rebuilding of Austin and sent some to the UK and Israel for use there and that pretty much exhausted our stocks.” He shrugged. “We use synthetics for some of our building, but wood is still very useful and it’s sometimes much more renewable than synthetics, concrete or steel.”

            “It’s also used as firewood and Zilvra said Iain will use it for sculpture sometimes,” Ninhursag added.

            There was a flicker to their left and Nightraven appeared. She ignored the panoply of weapons that were instantly pointed her. “Iain, you must come with me.” The quiet urgency in her voice made the hair stand up on the back of his neck.

            “This is Nightraven, everyone. Stand down. Is my family in danger?”

            “No. This has nothing to do with them.”

            “Ninhursag, put the clan on alert. Until I return, you’re in charge.”

            Ninhursag’s living bow vanished. “Understood, Iain.” Be careful, my love.

            I will. He took Nightraven’s hand. “Ready.”

            The scene shifted around them. When it stopped, they were standing on an island only a few meters across. According to Iain’s nose, the water surrounding it was seawater. An open gate hung in the air. “Come.” Nightraven stepped through it.

            Iain glanced at the coordinates as he followed. It was to a Ragnarok, but one he’d only been to while mapping the Arks. He stepped out into the cave in the Highlands. Another gate stood in front of him. The first thing he felt was that Caintigern needed help and she was on the other side of that gate. The compulsion was very strong and, for a long moment, Iain fought not to throw himself through to rescue her.

            “She called me,” Nightraven said as she let Iain go. “I came here to find this portal. It came out someplace I have never been before. It was completely dark, so dark that I could not see at all. I could not stand and there was no air. I managed to return here. Rescue her if you can.”

            Iain was staring at the rim of the gate. Where there should have been the coordinates to the destination or something hiding them, instead there was an ever-changing series of numbers, letters and symbols that made no sense that he could fathom.

            A portal opened as the one Nightraven had led him through closed. “I’ll be right back.”

            Nightraven grabbed his arm. “She is your mate and my aunt. Rescue her. Hurry”

            “I intend to, but first I have to know what’s going on. I will rescue her if I can.” Nightraven tightened her grip. The gate closed. “Eirian.”

            Silver smoke poured off him. “My lord.” The Dragoness ignored Nightraven’s angry hiss.

            “Fetch me the pack in my lab, the brown one with the green straps. It’s in the closet in the dayroom.”

            “I know of it, my lord.” Eirian vanished into a shadow and returned a few seconds later with a backpack. “Here, my lord.”

            It was the pack he’d used when he was beginning to explore the dimensions. Iain pulled out the camera and the rod and screwed them together. He attached a sensor head to the camera, turned the camera on and stuck the contraption through the portal, using the rod to hold it.

            “Why is that abomination here,” Nightraven hissed. “I cannot stand the undead.”

            “She’s being helpful.” Iain said as he counted in his head. “Drop it.” He pulled the camera out. “Well, it’s in one piece and still has power.”

            The sensor reports a partial vacuum on the other side of the portal and microgravity, his twee told him. It’s almost cryogenically cold, too. Accessing the camera.

                        The display lit up even as his twee fed the footage straight into his mind. Enhancing the imagery. The image brightened.

            It was the damnedest scene Iain had ever seen. The view was filled with rocks that floated only a few meters from each other. The largest extended to the right and out of the viewscreen while the smallest ones were pebbles that sluggishly moved. “What the fuck?” He eyed the gate and tossed the pack, rod and camera to the side. “I will be back. I will open another gate and bring a piece of machinery through that will keep me alive while I rescue Caintigern. Eirian, go to the Ouroboros. Tell Daya I am going to open a gate into Boat Bay Five and she is to prep the Tub. I want an EVA belt waiting for me.”

            “My lord.” Eirian sank into a shadow and returned. “Daya won’t open fire on the gate when it opens.”

            “Hurry,” Nightraven said.

            Iain turned to face her. “I am not going to hurry. Stop telling me to. Hurrying is how I end up trapped with her and then we’re both dead and you’re alone. I will do my best to rescue Caintigern as long as I don’t die while doing so. Now, you can’t help, so get out of the way.”

            Nightraven’s eyes narrowed but she stepped back a few paces. “Get your device,” she snarled in a voice heavy with impotent fury.

            Iain opened a gate and stepped through as soon as it was stable. “Hi!” It suddenly felt like fingers were poking around in his brain as Daya and his twee exchanged dozens of signs and countersigns in milliseconds.

            Daya appeared and motioned towards the maintenance vehicle Iain had named the Tub after using it once. It was two meters in diameter and six meters long. Five mechanical arms with various cutters, drills and three fingered hands were rotated back into their travel positions behind the short nose. “The Tub is ready, the EVA belt is in the seat and arm three is holding a modular EVA excursion pack. What is going on?”

            “You’ll have to wait for the memory upload after I’m done,” Iain said. “The mission is rescue with probable EVA.”

            “I have purpose build rescue shuttles,” Daya pointed out. “For rescuing people, even.”

            “The Tub will fit through the existing gate,” Iain said as he unsealed the manual hatch and began putting on the belt. “I don’t understand enough about this particular gate design to consider trying to change its size and I can’t read the exit coordinates to open a gate nearby.”
            “You’re going through an unknown gate blind,” Daya said numbly. “Can it even be passed through by organic life?”

            “Caintigern did and she’s still alive. Nightraven too. When I return, I’ll make another gate that exits near the Danger Room. I’ll power down the Tub and go EVA. Theodora can pick me up and then destroy the Tub with fire, just to be safe.” He ran the diagnostics on the belt. “I won’t have a partner, so check me.”

            “The belt is ready for normal operation,” Theodora appeared next to Daya. “Your twee now has the passcode I’ll accept. If you do not send it within five seconds of arrival or send the wrong one, I will destroy the Tub and anything that exits it, including anything looking like you. Don’t make me do that.”

            “I’ll send it just as soon as I exit the gate,” Iain grinned. “Not ready to die, not in the slightest.”

            “Don’t change your mind,” Theodora said.

            “I won’t.” He slid into the cockpit and sealed the hatch. The Tub lifted off and drifted through the gate, which closed behind it.

            Iain had deliberately positioned the exit of his gate to perfectly face the entrance of the one Caintigern had used. That meant he didn’t have to use the Tub’s ungainly lateral thrusters to try and reposition it inside the gravity field of the Ark. Nightraven watched as it slowly entered the original gate and vanished.


Iain Grey



Ninhursag Grey - Elfqueen & maharani

April Grey - Duelist & beta

Dominique Grey - Blessed Archmage

Pandora - Fiendish Archangel

Zareen - Nightmare

Sofia - Ria

Vanessa – Evangelion

Lucifer – Megami Sama

Ganieda – Snugglebunny Splice

Heather - Elfqueen

Marguerite – Unicorn

Scheherazade – Dread Wolf

Irena – Sanctuary Goth

Lynn – Dire Wolf

Rosemary – Mistoffeles

Dianthus – Elfqueen

Candace – Nurse Joy (kami)

Bellona – Dragonqueen

Elizabeth – Vampire

Matilda - White Tigress

Sorrel - Armsmistress



Outer Clan

Golden Cloud – equine unicorn

Arianrhod -Fey Goblin Female


Satellite Clan

            74 male Goblins

            89 female Goblins


Queendom / Outer Clan

1048 Elves & Elfqueens

Dionne - Elfqueen

Adrianna - Elfqueen

Heltu - Wet Queen

14 Wet Elves


Dead Harem

Eirian - Silver Dragoness

Aurum - Gold Dragoness

Skye - Blue Dragoness

Emerald - Green Dragoness

Beryl - Red Dragoness

Julia - human

Ling - Cheetit

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


Mother                        Children



                                    Myrna (Age 4)



                                    Dorothy: Duelist (Age 3)

                                    Meara: Duelist

                                    Regan: Duelist


                                    Olivia: Megami Sama (Age 6)

                                    Seraphina: Megami Sama

                                    Miram: Angel (Age 5)



                                    Caltha: Nightmare (Age 0)

                                    Kim:  Nightmare

                                    Xanthe: Nightmare

                                    Epona: Nightmare

                                    Philippa: Nightmare

                                    Nott: Nightmare

                                    Nyx: Nightmare



                                    Anna: Ria

                                    Esmerelda: Ria


Monica Chambers

                                    James: Jamie Harris kid (Age 2)