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

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Loose Threads

One Hundred Forty One


            Iain stopped the Tub and did a visual survey of his surroundings. He’d named the tiny vessel after trying to turn it while moving somewhere else and, honestly, the name wasn’t really that exact. The maintenance vehicle was designed for precision movement at very slow speeds, which was exactly the opposite of what Iain had been using it try to do when he’d named it. It’s just that tub was the nicest thing he'd called it during that incident. He activated the radar and began mapping his surroundings. Fortunately, the radar return on Caintigern’s draconic form was easy to differentiate from the surroundings. She’d apparently exited the gate and floated a dozen meters away from it before coming to a halt against a pile of desiccated trees.

            Iain frowned and focused on the image as he rotated the Tub in that direction and eased it forward. Caintigern had curled into a ball, looking like a much larger version of the minimal dragons he’d seen, and she was floating almost in contact with what looked the broken pieces of large trees or some other plant.

            If she had a twee, you could be talking to her, his twee noted.

            I see no reason to give them twee yet. Iain activated the EVA belt.

            Field activation fault, his twee announced.

            I was afraid this might happen. The field can’t activate while I’m in my seat. Iain began rapidly deep breathing to oxygenate his blood as much as possible. I’ll have to open the hatch and exit before the field can form. This ship isn’t designed for going EVA, so I can’t even pump down the cockpit to save the air. At least the tanks are full.

            She had better be worth this, Iain’s twee grumbled.

            Iain took one last breath, held it and unsealed the hatch. Air pressure pulled the handle from his hands and only the hydraulics kept the hatch from slamming open. Iain closed his eyes and shoved as, in his mind’s eye, a timer began spinning up from zero to tell him how long he’d been holding his breath. He got the hatch open and slid out of the Tub into space.

            As soon as he was clear, he activated the belt again. The field formed around him but he held his beath for another ten count. Pressure nominal, his twee announced.

            Iain used his magic to hover in place and slowly exhaled. He inhaled and relaxed a little. He glanced at the modular excursion pack. It was a directional gravity generator that could be worn to get around easily in space. It also generated its own atmosphere field and, additionally, a light forcefield to protect against low velocity mishaps.

            It also wouldn’t fit through the hatch of the Tub, so if he put it on, he’d have to take it off too. Then he frowned and looked at the pack again. Safety was paramount, after all. He took remote control of the Tub and unfolded the arm to present the pack.

            It took nearly a minute to put the pack on. It fitted much more securely than the much simpler belt, but then it was designed for acrobatics and the belt had no way to generate thrust. Once settled, he activated it and headed towards Caintigern’s huge form.

            He darted in and touched Caintigern on the top of her head. She didn’t react and he tapped a knock code she’d taught him from her childhood.

            She twitched and he felt her presence in his mind like when they’d first met. Is someone there?

            Iain had learned something about this form of communication over the last thousand years. Me. Shift to human so I can rescue you. Do not try to breathe until I tell you to.

            Trust you. She shifted to human and Iain grabbed her and pulled her close, inside the atmospheric field of the excursion pack. Her arms and legs went around him and clamped down like vises. Safe?

            Not safe. Breathe. Caintigern inhaled slowly and opened her eyes. Iain smiled at her. “The atmosphere we’re in is almost skintight and not designed to process air for two people. It can’t keep up for long. I need you to do exactly what I tell you to. Don’t argue.”

            “Tell me what to do.”

            “Breathe deeply. Relax your grip a little.” She did. Iain reached between them and deactivated his belt. He unhooked it and slowly pulled it from around his waist. “Take one last deep breath, hold it and let go of me with your arms. Then I want you to lean back away from me, into the vacuum. I must put this around your waist. Close your eyes and keep them closed while you do.”

            Caintigern took a breath, held it and leaned back until only her legs kept her connected to him. Iain quickly put the belt around her waist, connected it up and waited until the diagnostic check finished before pulling her in against him again. “You can breathe now.” Behind them, the Tub, under control from his twee, moved until it was less than a meter away. “I want you hold your breath again and let go of me except for my hand. Hold on to my hand with yours only.

            Caintigern nodded and uncurled her legs from around his waist. “I trust you.” She took a breath, held it and pushed away, grabbing his hand as she did. Iain activated the belt and the field formed around her.

            Iain pulled her in close again and she wrapped her arms around him. Once activated, the field was hard to accidentally shut down. It was just the formation stage that required most of the user to be not touching anything. “You can breathe and talk normally now. Just don’t become a dragon here.” Inside his head, the telltales from excursion pack warning of O2 system overload went out.

            Caintigern began breathing. “How do we get home?”

            “Look over my shoulder.” The Tub’s running lights came on as she did. “That’s a ship. I’m going to put you inside that and close it up. Then we will return to Ragnarok. Once we’re there you can get out of the ship and inform Nightraven that you’re safe.”

            “How is it that you are so comfortable here in this strangeness,” Caintigern asked. “It is so empty. The People have no business here.”

            “Just like we train for magic and fighting, I have trained for this place. It frightens me, but I work hard to overcome that fear. Do you, later, want to train for it?”


            “Then let me get you inside this ship and back home.” Using the excursion pack, Iain turned them and moved to the hatch. “Once you’re inside the ship and I’ve closed it again, you can talk to me by vocalizing or you can use that mind speak you have since I’ve learned how to do it too.”

            She touched his face. “You came and rescued me. I will not forget that.”

            “Nightraven heard you and tried to rescue you. It didn’t go so well and so she then came to get me since she hoped I knew about space.” He grinned. “I couldn’t leave you here. You’re supposed to give me children and, besides, that would have left me all alone with Nightraven. Not happening.”

            Caintigern smiled. “No, not happening.”

            “Now, I’m going to guide you into the hatch. Once you can, pull yourself inside and sit in the chair. It has a belt in the seat. Fasten it around your waist. There are other straps as well. Ignore them. While you’re doing that, I will be sealing the hatch and repressurizing the ship.” He was not going to try to talk her through putting on a five-point shock harness.

            “I am ready,” Caintigern said.

            “The field around you will allow you to continue breathing, so you don’t have to hold your breath. It may fail when you’re in the ship, but the ship has its own air supply too. Now, let me go and I’ll move you into the hatch so you can climb into the ship. We won’t be able to talk while we’re doing this because the air envelopes won’t be interconnected.”

            Caintigern released him without hesitation. Iain took her by the waist and guided her into the hatchway. He motioned and she grabbed the rungs and pulled herself into the ship. Iain closed and secured the hatch as, with his perception, he watched her get into the seat and belt in.

            The Tub rotated in place and moved slowly towards the portal as, behind it, Iain paused and took a moment to get this universe’s coordinates. This was an odd and interesting place that he intended to return to.

            He programmed the Tub to transit the gate, turn ninety degrees and move just far enough to clear the gate. The excursion pack didn’t have enough thrust to keep him airborne in an Earth normal gravity field, so he intended to go through fast enough to arc to the ground instead of faceplanting when he exited. He gave the Tub a five count after it vanished into the gate and pulsed the drive.           


            The forcefield failed explosively but still kept him from breaking bones when he exited the gate and slammed into the stern of the Tub. He fired the drive to the right in an attempt not to bounce into the entrance field of the portal and crashed to the ground on his side hard enough to crack something in his shoulder as the portal closed. Iain muted the pain, hit the release and shed the excursion pack before clambering to his feet.

            Oddly, the Tub was resting on the ground and Iain stepped around the ship to see its front had been ripped apart. Nightraven and Caintigern were facing each other and neither looked particularly pleased.

            “While I didn’t expect to see you two hugging it out, I also didn’t expect to find you squaring off against each other. What is it?”

            “Nightraven destroyed your ship, Iain. I did not realize what she was going to do so I did not stop her. I do not know how to repair it and it upset me.”

            “I saw a metal vehicle come out of the gate with Caintigern in it,” Nightraven said evenly. “I released her. I did not know how to properly open up this vehicle.”

            “It’s all right, ladies. The ship served its purpose. It’s regrettable that it can’t be used again, but it’s not an insurmountable issue since there are other ships.” He opened a gate under the Tub and it fell into it to vanish. He sent a message via twee to the satellite orbiting this Ark explaining the change and had it sent to Theodora through the laser communication network they’d established in this system. “I’m just glad that everyone is safe now.”

            “It is good that my niece chose you as our mate,” Caintigern said. “A drake of the People could not have done what you did.”

            “Honestly, a drake of the People or a dragoness of the People can learn to do what I did. It’s just that none of them ever will. Fortunately, I’ve always wanted to be in space and got the training necessary to survive when something went bad.”

            “You are favoring your right arm. Are you injured?”

            “I’m healing. You’re good?”

            “I am unhurt.” Caintigern looked up at him. “I believe the proper response for me is to say thank you, Iain. I panicked and you rescued me.”

            “You are welcome. You are my mate. I will come for you if you are in danger. But you should thank Nightraven. She heard your call for help and, when she realized she couldn’t rescue you, got me so I could.”

            “You are right.” She turned to Nightraven. “Thank you for helping to rescue me.”

            Nightraven looked at Iain. “Why are you trying so hard to promote civility between us? We already can work together against our enemies.”

            “I am your mate and hers,” Iain said. “I’d like you two to be friends We will be raising children together eventually. We’ll also be fighting our enemies together and friendship can create a gestalt that is much more powerful than two people who are not friends working together can achieve. We’re horribly outnumbered and I’m pretty sure we’ll be outgunned too. If we weren’t, you wouldn’t have needed me or Caintigern for your revenge. Since that’s not the case, we need to mesh when we work together. I realize it’s something that is foreign to dragonesses, but the proverb that Ben Franklin quoted is correct when it says that we either hang together, meaning we work together, or we can hang separately, which means we’ll be executed as individuals. I’m not expecting you two to start sharing clothes or anything, but we’ve got a long time we’ll be working together and frigid civility isn’t going to work out in the long run. Yes, you’re a dragoness of the People and she’s a dragoness of the People and apparently all dragonesses are somewhat antagonistic to each other. But if you want revenge on Blacktooth’s bloodline and if you want that throne, the only way we are going to succeed is if you move past that.” He shook his head. “Right now, it would be best if I gathered up my family and ran. Hopefully I could keep ahead of the waves of truewizard assassins they’d send after everything that was ever associated with either of you after you were captured and interrogated.”

            “We can defeat any dragoness who stands against us,” Nightraven pointed out.

            “Then why aren’t you Queen now,” Iain asked belligerently. “It’s because we know they won’t fight you individually. They’ll mob you with magic and their bodies until you lose. I’m sure the trail of carnage you’d leave would be frighteningly impressive.” Nightraven looked slightly pleased. “Until it stopped suddenly.” He eyes narrowed and he grinned. “If you want to hear nothing but how great you are, you should have gotten a drake from home.”

            Caintigern chuckled. “She is what the dragonesses who will want to mate with you and kill you at the same time will look like. Learn it so that you know when to flee.”

            Iain frowned. “If I run from a dragoness who looks at me like that, won’t she chase me down?”

            “Undoubtedly she will. Chasing you will put her mind more to mating than to murdering you.” Caintigern smiled. “As long as you eventually let her catch you.”

            “I am not convinced that statement is true,” Nightraven said slowly. “The idea of rending his flesh is very appealing right now.”

            “You feel that way because you are insane,” Caintigern replied. “You wish to resort to violence instead of sex. That is one of the things that we must work with you to correct if you wish your daughters to survive to adulthood without fostering them out from birth.”

            “Caintigern, if you think someone like Nightraven is insane, you don’t tell her that. She’s as proud as you are. Besides, she’s not insane.”

            Nightraven cocked her head. “You do not think I am insane?”

            “I don’t lie to you. May I approach you closely?”

            “How closely?”

            Iain waked up until he stood right in front of her. “This closely. Please close your eyes.”

            Nightraven’s eyes stared into his for several seconds before they slid shut. “What now?”

            Iain held his forearm under her nose. “Just breathe.” She inhaled slowly and her eyes opened. “Please close them,” he said softly. She closed her eyes again. “I am your mate. Know my scent. You may want to taste me, but rending is something you should save for our foes, or perhaps a stubborn meal.”

            Nightraven dropped her head until her nose rested on his arm and breathed deeply. “You are the most annoying, disobedient and troublesome of all of my students.”

            “I think you feel that way, at least in part, because you decided fairly quickly that I was the one to be your mate and part of you fought that idea as much as it could.”

            Her exhalations were warm and moist on his arm. “What of the rest of that feeling, if that is only part of it? Why else do I feel that about you?”

            “Well, the truth is that I am somewhat annoying, troublesome and disobedient.”

            Her eyes opened as her lips curved up slightly. “Somewhat? Compared to you, Loki is obedient and peaceful.”

            “My otter?”

            Nightraven cocked her head but didn’t stop smiling. “I do not understand.”

            “I have an otter at my base that I named Loki. He chews on everything, shits on everything he can climb and steals anything he can carry off.”

            “Why do you keep this creature?”

            “I didn’t tame him. He’s wild and lives in the water next to my base. I haven’t shot him yet because he reminds me of the last ambassador from Waterdeep who came by to insist you owed him some kind of favor. You remember, the one I pitched over the battlement.”

            Nightraven’s smile grew. “I remember. You should have picked a taller battlement. He survived the fall.”

            “I wasn’t trying to kill him. I was teaching him some manners after he was rude to both of us. Besides, you didn’t kill him either.”

            “I enjoyed watching him be humbled. Hopefully he will pass this humility on the next messenger that the Lords of Waterdeep send to me.” Nightraven lifted her head. “Your scent worked. I no longer wish to tear you to pieces.”

            “Considering how little I’d enjoy that, good.” He stepped back. “Now, if there is nothing else, I need to return to One. I traveled to strange places and need to go through verification and that’s going to take some time.”

            “I will teach you in two days, in the morning,” Caintigern said. “We will go to my castle.”

            “I’ll meet you at your house after breakfast, if that’s acceptable.”

            “It is.”

            “I’ll see you there.” Iain stepped into a shadow and vanished.


            Stephen looked around the digital recreation of the conference room down the hall from the office where he normally worked at the digital recreations of the people looking back at him and bowed in his seat at each of them in turn. “Minister Murphy.”

            Andrew Murphy, the Minister of State of Ireland bowed back. It had become the standard greeting during these biweekly status update meetings on the bombardment. “Your Majesty.”

            “Minister Quin.”

            Bernard Quin, the Minister of the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces, bowed back. “How are you today, Your Majesty?”

            Stephen smiled. Stephen’s accent was almost pure Londoner, and it had made the two men friendly to each other. “We’re currently experiencing torrential rains from the tropical storm that’s passing through. It’s been raining for the last three days straight. I’m soggy.”

            “Certainly you have air conditioning, Your Majesty,” Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense, David Smotrich, smiled at Stephen. “We’ve got it and basic AC units are not that difficult to build and maintain, if you’re willing to cannibalize for some parts.”

            “We have access to it, yes,” Stephen said. “The Presidential Palace has air conditioning, but I can’t air condition the entire island. There are a lot of abandoned plantations on some rather steep hillsides and we’ve had a problem with mudslides we didn’t predict. Some of them swept through a couple of villages we built at the base of these hills. I’ve been helping with rescues and whatnot. As soon as the storms pass, I’ve got plans to have some of my Elves plant all of these plantations with deep rooting bushes and trees so it won’t happen again.”

            “An elegant solution, Your Majesty,” Vice Minister of Defense Banri Ishikawa bowed in his seat at Stephen.

            Stephen shook his head. “It would have been elegant if I’d thought of it before the mudslides buried a hospital and a school. Right now it’s expedient. Later those villages will get sited somewhere else.” He looked at the man to Ishikawa. “Vice President Lyons. Will it be President Lyons the next time we meet?”

            David Lyons shrugged. “Your Majesty, the polls are saying I should win, but the election hasn’t happened yet and I’m not going to jinx it by assuming I’m a shoe in. If I don’t win, Senator Jackson or someone else will be meeting you, not me. He’s not a bad bloke.”

            Stephen raised an eyebrow. “Bloke? You Yanks don’t speak proper English. Stop pretending to be civilized.” There were polite chuckles around the room as he turned to the last person. “Iain.”

            “Hello, Stephen,” Iain twisted slightly in his seat. “Remind me to check when I’m in Haven next to see if the real chairs are as uncomfortable as this one is.”

            “I certainly hope not,” Murphy blurted out. “This thing is dreadful.”

            Stephen laughed. “They’re colonial and were built before Castro took over. I don’t like them either. Someday, say in forty years or so, when my priority list of things to do to drops that far, I’ll have them replaced.”

            “Sir,” Smotrich gave Stephen an apologetic smile. “Could we get down to business?”

            “Sorry,” Stephen straightened in his chair. “Tomorrow will be the last day of the bombardment. Things have been quiet and only three targets were hit in the two weeks since our last meeting. The day after tomorrow, I will, as per Kozakura’s agreement with you, destroy the platforms used. If the weather hasn’t cleared by then, I’ll hold off until it does. The platforms are in polar orbits and, as they come over the horizon here, I will deorbit them in turn and slam them into Pico San Juan, one of Haven’s mountains. I will wait for clear weather because I have contracted Clan Grey to video the destruction as evidence so that there will be no chance that my sister will be foresworn.” He leaned back in his chair. “The initial schedule of the impacts has been sent to your email accounts. If I have to reschedule due to the weather, I’ll update you as soon as I make that decision.”

            “I must protest on behalf of my government,” Quin steepled his fingers together as he leaned forward earnestly. “We might need them again. Once they’re destroyed, how quickly can you replace them?”

            “I don’t intend to,” Stephen said bluntly. “They were purpose built over a few years and that purpose has been achieved. I have no aspirations of conquest, Mr. Quin, and, while I am Haven’s king, there will be no chance anyone can accuse me of any dreams of empire. Haven’s attention will be on its trading partners and dealing with the growing feral problem. Besides, my sister swore an oath and I’m rather fond of her. I don’t want her committing seppuku in front of me because I kept her from keeping that oath.”

            “But,” Quin said

            “My decision on that is final,” Stephen looked around the room. “While I hope to the contrary, we all know that the leagues have not really been destroyed. And the popular rebellions I have been hoping for have been slow to materialize. There’s not a lot I can do about that. In the days to come, I would like to suggest we keep our lines of communication open in case one of us needs help.”

            “Are you suggesting we formalize our relationship into an alliance,” Smotrich asked curiously.

            “I had seriously considered doing exactly that,” Stephen said. “But I can’t see where it’ll do anything useful. Other than in the case of the UK and Ireland, we are too far apart geographically to be able to offer each other any material support. I do think, however, that we can share intelligence on our enemies in case they start trying to work together.”
            “I think that is an excellent idea,” Ishikawa said.

            “Additionally,” Stephen smiled, “I’ve had a long talk with Iain and my grandfather. It took a great deal of convincing but I have an agreement with them to begin releasing the product information and manufacturing details for the stamina drinks and many of the basic healing items that were in common use where I grew up. Once you start manufacturing your own versions of them, that will help make your tamers and pokegirl forces much more effective in both the short and long term.”

            “What about pokeball technology and weapons,” Quin asked.

            “To be perfectly honest, right now you can’t build the potions and drinks, but it is within your capabilities to do so in the near future,” Iain said. “Even if we were willing to release that information, you don’t have the technology to build the things you’d need to build the production equipment. Not to mention that, right now you’re all having a problem in manufacturing regular weapons and equipment, medical gear and the thousand and one other things you once could. You’ve lost too much of your technological base and manufacturing capability. Hell, you can’t make freon and are having to go back to ammonia based air conditioning. We will give you loans and some basic equipment and training to begin rebuilding what you had. Let’s get that in place before even discussing you trying to bootstrap your way to the point of building anything else. We will continue to supply you with pokeballs, pokedexes and other ancillary items under our current contracts until they expire, but our goal is to have you make what you can instead of continuing to be dependent on us. I want you self-sufficient as much as possible and, considering the feral threat, as quickly as possible. Eventually, hopefully, you’ll be trading with each other and us and whatever replaces the leagues.” He smiled slightly. “No, we’re not beneficent aliens who came to share our technology freely with the rest of the world, but neither are we here to present you with our controlling guidance and a book titled To Serve Man that turns out to be a cookbook.”

            Lyons grinned at the puzzled expressions on the other people in the room. “That’s from an American television science fiction series called The Twilight Zone. It was one of my favorite episodes.”

            “Understand,” Stephen said cheerfully, “that Haven will be, eventually, opening a university where we will be willing to allow each of you to send some of your best people to learn the math and science that will allow you to, one day, begin discovering how to build your own power converters, pokeballs and other things you consider to be highly advanced.”

            “What about you, Mr. Grey,” Ishikawa asked. “Will you be opening such a teaching facility for advanced science and technology?”

            “I already have one,” Iain replied blandly. “It’s more of a trade school than a university and it’s quite small, but it’s been in operation for several months.”

            “Can anyone attend this school,” Murphy asked curiously.

            “Anyone can attend my school,” Iain replied. “All they have to do is become clan first.”

            “That’s hardly fair,” Murphy sputtered.

            “Mr. Murphy,” Iain said, “I don’t think you know what fair means. It certainly doesn’t mean you get everything you want at the expense of others. I set up a school, I completely fund it and I staff it. I get to decide who attends. If you want something that’s fairer for you and Eire, in your opinion, talk to His Majesty over there.”

            “Perhaps,” Murphy said stiffly, “if Haven is being more accommodating than your clan, Ireland should give all of its trade to Haven.”

            “That is your choice,” Iain replied.

            “You can’t do that,” Stephen said. “I am not expanding the manufacturing in Haven and right now I’m at capacity supplying my people and the sales I have going to Florida, which has recently risen up in rebellion against Indigo. When I open my university, citizens of Eire are free to apply to attend. I want to warn you that we haven’t even allocated the land for it.”

            “What about the Wolf Academy,” Quin asked.

            Stephen looked surprised. “You want to send people to learn magic?”

            “Magic is real,” Quin replied. “Having mages of our own would be to our benefit. There is a private magical school in Shield, but right now it’s only taking Texans and clan.”

            “That’s not completely true,” Lyons said. “The school you’re talking about is private and I’m sure it is willing to take anyone with magical talent and the means to pay for their school. I’ve visited it. It’s very competitive and the Sorceress who is the headmistress is determined to have the best school anywhere.”

            “They said they had no openings when we inquired,” Quin said.

            “That’s because their classes are currently booked up three years in advance,” Lyons said. “Another school under the same family will be opening its doors in Austin next year. I’ll send you their website, but I think between Texans and Mr. Ishikawa’s embassy, it’s already full of students for the near future.”

            “Mr. Quin?” Quin looked curiously at Iain. “Another school will be opening up in Shield in about six months. It’s another private enterprise and I’ll send you their contact information if you’d like. I will warn you that this school is going to be run by some Megami and they will take only people that they feel are good people, in addition to having some magical aptitude. They are likely to be very choosy and unwilling to compromise on their principles, no matter how much money someone offers them.”

            “I would like that very much.”

            “I want that too,” Murphy interjected.

            “And sent.” Iain smiled. “So, Stephen, you never did answer the question: Is the Wolf Academy taking outlanders?”

            “I will have to talk with the headmaster,” Stephen said thoughtfully. “I have been hands off in the Academy’s operation, if only because it’s been running without issue and I have too many things I have no choice but to deal with to want to meddle elsewhere.” He shrugged. “So right now I guess the answer is a conditional no.”

            “What about you, David,” Quin asked Smotrich.

            Smotrich shrugged. “I have not been instructed, at this time, to open any discussions with either Clan Grey or the Kingdom of Haven regarding magic.” He glanced at Iain. “I hope that doesn’t disappoint you.”

            “Nope.” Iain knew that Israel had been listening to some people in Prometheus. They had magical pokegirl breeds who had most of the required knowledge already. What they had done, through Prometheus, was to quietly approach a surprised Kasumi about commissioning her to train some of their best ones as instructors so they could begin developing their own Hebrew tradition of magical instruction and one that was entirely under their control.

            Kasumi loved to teach and had been easily convinced to take a small number of students for that purpose. She’d added a handful of people from the clan, including Rosemary from the harem, and was using her already trained cadre in her private harem to act as teaching assistants for an extremely focused and intensive one year program to turn out instructors, for Israel, but more for the clan itself and Orb Weaver.

            Mariko, pretending to be seventeen, was one of the students in her first class.

            “I think we’ve gone way beyond the original purpose of this meeting and I have an appointment to get my butt kicked by one of my instructors,” Iain announced. “Is there anything else about the ending of the bombardment tomorrow?” Stephen shot him a grateful look.

            “Which one,” Quin asked curiously.


            Quin smiled. “The Countess?”

            Iain glared. “Yes.”

            “I wish I could watch that.”

            “I could ask her to beat you up too.”

            Quin blinked. “No,” he said hastily. “I meant watching her train with you.”

            “That’s what I thought,” Iain smirked. “I will reach out to all of you regarding the sharing of information that Stephen suggested and to set up how and when you’ll get the formulas and manufacturing techniques for the potions and whatnot that Kerrik and I have agreed to release. Gentlemen, I wish you a good day.”

            People vanished as Iain turned to Stephen. “Sorry about taking over, but you were getting derailed.”

            “I appreciate the help,” Stephen said. “This on the job training is hellish.”

            “It can be. We’re having a barbecue Saturday. You can come and hobnob with your mother and everyone else. Bring Faelan and Jamie if you can. I’m sure you can all use the break. Oh, and Tanika if she’s still around.”

            “I will be there,” Stephen said. “I make no promises about anyone else, but I’ll give them your invitation. “Thanks.”

            “I’ll see you.” They broke connection and Selene ended the simulation.


            Ninhursag looked down and suddenly relaxed her death grip on Iain’s hand. “Sorry. I didn’t realize that I was holding so tightly.”

            Iain smiled at her as they headed deeper into the medical facility on the Theodora. “You weren’t crushing my hand. I’m good. If it helps, I’m nervous too.”

            Ninhursag raised an eyebrow. “You are? Why are you nervous?”

            “I know the procedure is completely safe. I’ve done the math, I’ve checked the equipment and I have examined the software, with Theodora and Daya’s help. I’ve even used this procedure for several projects while I was gone. I’ve used it on several women of various races. There has never been a serious issue and,” he frowned and thought, “only three minor issues, none of which needed outside involvement.” His frown faded as he tapped his temple with his free hand. “So the head knows that nothing bad is going to happen, especially not with Candace, Theodora and Daya monitoring everything.” He tapped his chest with his free hand. “But the heart is worried. It thinks the head and all of its ‘knowing’ is bullshit.” He grinned. “No, it knows that the head is full of crap, this is somehow a terrible mistake and some kind of horrible disaster, completely theoretical, is going to happen.”

            Ninhursag looked slightly worried. “What were the minor issues you mentioned?”

            Iain smiled. “Those? They all involved hair, believe it or not.”

            The door in front of them opened and they stepped into a chamber. The walls were lined with grow beds filled with flowers and small fruit trees, all of which were in various stages from flowering to hanging fruit. The plants made the room feel smaller and cozier than it really was, and the scents tickled the nose. In the center of the room was a comfortable looking bed with stirrups at the foot. Placed strategically close at the sides of the head of the bed were a couple of overstuffed chairs.

            Ninhursag released his hand and began to strip. “This is very nice, Theodora. You didn’t have to do this for me, though.”

            “I’m glad you like it,” Theodora appeared next to the doorway. “It is, however, a traditional setup, and not done specifically for you. The flowers aren’t traditional, since I don’t have access to the species that grow on Tirsul, but I improvised with these species to try and achieve the same theme.”

            “Can we get them,” Iain asked. “If Cassiopeia doesn’t have them, I can talk to Tanika and Magdalene about purchasing the seeds, or even Kerrik if I need to.”

            “Cassiopeia says that she does not have them,” Theodora replied. “You would have to speak to one of the Wolf family about them.”

            The door opened and Candace came in. “Good morning,” she said cheerfully.

            Ninhursag settled down in the bed and stretched out. “You’re very chipper this morning.” Iain sat down in one of the chairs and the Elfqueen grabbed his hand.

            Candace smiled. “Whether it’s part of my DNA as a Nurse Joy or it’s just me, I love medicine. I love helping people, doing new things and today I get to do a medical procedure that I’ve never done before to help my maharani. I get the best of both worlds.” She smiled. “Once this is done and everyone sees the results, I suspect I’ll be doing this for several more of the harem.” She leaned down and kissed Ninhursag on the cheek. “Thank you for doing this for us.” She winked. “If you’re ready, I’ll go get the trolley.” She slipped out of the room and returned with a trolley. It had a large assortment of medical gear on it and a small tank that was built into the trolley. The tank was about three quarters full of a light amber fluid that moved sluggishly as she pulled the trolley to a halt. Bubbles slowly rose in the fluid in an unending stream from the bottom of the tank. She pulled on a pair of blue medical gloves.

            “Do you really need those, considering Theodora and her rules on sterility,” Ninhursag asked. “We’re in a sterile field.”

            Candace laughed. “And so we are. The problem is that I trained with rubber gloves and I’ve worn gloves for almost everything I’ve ever done, except for some emergency battlefield healing when I was Shikarou’s noncombatant in his harem. Even then, if I had a chance, I’d put on some gloves.” She held up her hands and wriggled her fingers. “It’s all psychological, but I don’t feel right if I’m not wearing them.” She placed a sensor pad on Ninhursag’s forehead and another on her stomach. “Are you ready?”

            Ninhursag nodded. “I am.”

            Candace headed for the trolley. “The shot I gave you last night has ripened your cervix like I wanted, so I’m going to induce now. If we need them, I have some drugs to speed the process along, but I’d rather let your body do this as much as possible.”

            Ninhursag looked at Iain. “Tell me about these hair issues.”

            “When they’re in the tanks, babies develop like they’re supposed to, including hair growth, usually starting around the sixth month equivalency of pregnancy.” Iain said.

            “What does that mean?”

            “Dwarves, elves and some other races that have gestational periods that take more time for the baby to grow to full term than a human pregnancy does. Some races have shorter pregnancies than humans. But I still think like a human and reference the development of babies based on the human nine month cycle. I use the phrase month equivalency which is based on a human pregnancy to compare development when I’m teaching without having to reference each specific time for each development stage.”

            “I like it,” Candace said. “I’ve been reading some of the medical literature that Iain brought back and it helps me to visualize what’s happening at various stages.”

            Iain nodded. “Exactly. Anyway, over the years, we’ve had a slow but steady stream of dwarves from the dwarven kingdoms joining the clan. Dwarves have always had an issue with fertility. They get pregnant almost as easily as humans do, but they have a large problem with carrying to term. It turns out that a lot of the issue is from metal poisoning, especially in women who were miners, smelters or smiths. While they are the most exposed, due to circumstances of dwarven construction everyone is exposed to metals, particularly in the form of metal dust. They breathe or ingest a lot of metal dust or vapor and their bodies can’t excrete it all. It causes miscarriages, sometimes pretty nasty ones.” He shrugged. “They also tend to suffer from pneumoconiosis, which is scar tissue formation in the lungs from the dust.”

            “What does that have to do with hair in a growth tank,” Ninhursag asked.

            “When we get a new clanswoman or man, they go through medical like normal. However, once in a while, we get a clanswoman who is pregnant when she joins. Cleaning up her body can cause miscarriages as her body tries to expel everything it doesn’t recognize as good for it. Tubing the babies is standard procedure in these cases.”

            He smiled. “A small percentage of those babies have metal poisoning too and chromosomal damage because of it, with some huge developmental issues that are usually the reason for the miscarriage that would have normally happened. Some have other genetic abnormalities that can occur in any race. That has to be repaired and it can’t be done quickly, so the babies spend roughly twice the normal time in the tanks. Tanks only support the being inside them. They keep it clean and safe. They don’t trim nails or cut hair. So, when these children are decanted, they’ve got excessive nail and hair growth. With active babies, they can wind the hair around their bodies. In the most severe case I saw, the little girl looked like a ball of hair with hands and feet sticking out.”

            Ninhursag laughed. “What did you do?”

            “I kept her asleep while her mother and I took some scissors and cut her out of the hairball,” Iain said. “It’s even worse when a body is speed grown. Hair grows much faster in those conditions. According to Theodora, Mizuho’s double had hair that was nine meters long before she was decanted.”

            “And I’m done,” Candace announced as she closed the small tank and pulled a fitted cover over it. “You have two babies and I’ll get them set up so each has her own tank right next to her sister. You’ve both been recording your voices reading and telling stories to them and I’ll make sure Theodora starts that up as soon as they’re settled.”

            Ninhursag stared at her in shock. “I didn’t feel anything.” She blinked and groaned. “Now my abdomen hurts like I’ve been doing calisthenics.”

            “With modern technology, I took your nervous system out of the loop entirely. It just gets in the way, according to Iain.” Candace stripped off her gloves, dropped them in a bin on the trolley and pulled on a fresh pair. “I’ll get the sensor pads off you now. A medic is waiting outside, and you will spend an hour in it while it convinces your body that you’re not pregnant anymore and cleans you up. When the time comes for decanting, we’ll get you some milk from one of Lorena’s girls and you can feed them normally.” She removed the pads. “Iain, once Ninhursag is in the medic, I’ll meet you in the gestating room so you can watch as I perform the transfer. I’ve done it for livestock while you supervised, but I’d like you around when I do our first children in case I have any questions.”

            “No problem.”

            Iain leaned down and picked Ninhursag up in his arms. Her eyes went wide. “You’ve gotten stronger.” She snuggled against him. “I like this.” She twisted in his arms. “Something in my abdomen hurts even more now.”

            Iain nodded as he carried her outside. “The pads kept you from feeling anything and apparently Candace didn’t feel you needed any supplementary pain moderation for this little trip.”

            The medic was already open and Iain carefully laid Ninhursag in it. The Elfqueen winced. “That hurt. I think Candace has been spending too much time around Irena.”

            Iain leaned down and kissed her gently. “I told Candace that you should be fine without any drugs. She took my recommendation. If you’re going to be pissed at someone, it’s me you should be aiming your ire at.”

            “You should have told her I wanted drugs,” Ninhursag said grumpily.

            “For being carried about five meters? I’ve seen you take spears in the chest that you shrugged off. How was I to know you’d pick now to want your pain treated?”

            Ninhursag stuck out her tongue at him. “Those muscles aren’t as well developed as my combat ones are.”

            Iain grinned and kissed her on the forehead. “When you wake up, my kiss will have made everything better.”

            “Your kiss is going to create world peace?” Ninhursag returned his grin. “You’d have to kiss a lot of people April and I won’t like you kissing.”

            Iain snorted. “You don’t want world peace. You decided to have this procedure so you could have babies with me and still go out to kick ass and take names without having to worry about what a bullet in the belly might mean.”

            “It also means I get to go dinosaur hunting with you on Ragnarok and, later, you take me adventuring.”

            “True. We’ll do the Ragnarok thing next week, if you’d like.” Iain hit the close override on the side of the medic. “Now heal.”

            Ninhursag nodded as it closed. Love you, came over her bond with him.

            Love you more, he sent back. When there was no response, he headed for where Candace was waiting for him.


            Caintigern opened the door at his knock and looked at Iain curiously. “It is not time for your next lesson.”

            Iain smiled. “The greeting is hello, Iain. My response is hello, Caintigern. I’m sorry to drop by unexpectedly, but I need to talk to you and your niece together and I need to do it now if is at all possible.”

            “I will remember that greeting,” Caintigern said. She stepped out of the way. “Come in.”

            “Thank you and that was done very well,” Iain said as he stepped into her house.

            Caintigern looked around quickly outside before shutting the door. “Is something wrong?”

            “Yes. It’s wrong enough that we’re going to Nightraven’s castle next, even though I know it means that afterwards I’ll be her student for as long as she wants.” He shrugged. “The news isn’t really time critical but if I delay either or both of you will probably be upset with me for waiting.”

            Caintigern took his hand. “I am ready.”

            “No gate?”

            “I wish to experience shadow walking. Like Nightraven, I know that learning how to do this could prove invaluable.”

            “If you’re ready, then step.” The universe rotated around them and they were standing in a copse of trees. A village of some kind was in front of them and, as they watched, some men wearing chainmail and conical helmets were holding a screaming woman spreadeagled against a door while two others were busy nailing her ankles and wrists to a door. Nearby, a man in expensive robes and holding an ornate scroll watched impassively. “Step.”

            The forest edge at Nighrraven’s castle was dappled with the morning sun and blessedly quiet. Caintigern looked curiously at Iain. “What was going on?”

            “No idea. Places are, for the most part, random.”

            “Some are not?”

            “Some are places that I have imagined or read about that I didn’t know were real until I ended up there, fortunately briefly.”

            “Have any of them been useful?”

            “Yes. The Arks, of course, and other places for other things. Some are obviously dangerous and some are dangerous to the unwary.” They headed for the castle. Iain patted the door and it opened for them. “Thanks. I do appreciate that.” He sighed as it closed behind them. “Lady, I am here with Caintigern. I need to deliver news to both of you and I need to do it as soon as possible. You will want me to.”

            Nightraven appeared. “What is this news?”

            “I want to take both of you to a Ragnarok that you have never been to first. I’ve checked and it doesn’t have humans on it and it has no value to us, so if something bad happens to it, we will feel no loss over it.”

            Nightraven wrapped her fingers up in his. “Take us there.”

            Caintigern grabbed his other hand. “Step.”

            Huge ice floes bobbed in the waves in front of them and, behind them, a glacier stretched thirty meters above them. The air was frigid and wet. “Step.”

            They emerged on a strip of rock in Pirate Bay. “What is the news,” Nightraven asked as she tugged her hand free.

            Iain released Caintigern’s hand. “It’s from when I had to rescue Caintigern.” He looked at her. “You were trying to make either a harder to detect gate or one that was completely hidden, right?”

            “You are very observant,” Caintigern said. “That makes you a better mate. I wanted my gate’s exit to be undetected, as well as anything that passed through in the direction from where I started.”

            “Next time, you could come to me or Nightraven and we could test it before you use it. It was as easily visible from both ends as any other gate.”

            “Then why did you realize what I was trying to do?”

            “The rim of the gate was where you tied the symbolism of nonsense to try and make anyone detecting it think that what they felt didn’t make any sense and wasn’t important enough to investigate. Where were you trying to go?”

            “Fourth World. It is the least colonized of the worlds inhabited by the People. My coordinates were somehow incorrect. I wished to perform reconnaissance.”

            Iain winced. “That’s what I was afraid of. When I rescued you, I thought I saw a tree of some kind. It made me curious and I went back with some equipment and surveyed the system. It has a blue-green sun and ten planets. Six of them are in what’s called the habitable zone, although one of them was right on the outer edge of it and was probably a frigid hellscape. The other four planets are gas giants with rather small, rocky moons. That matches the solar system that the People inhabit with their four colonized worlds, at least at the time Nightraven was last there.”

            “It cannot have been Fourth World. It was nothing.”

            Iain pulled out his phone and put up a hologram of the system. “The four gas giants were undisturbed, but the six other worlds had all been destroyed, broken into fragments of varying sizes but not scattered. And the coordinates match those that were in the dead Nightraven’s notes.” Iain changed the hologram to a set of coordinates in the format used by the People.

            Nightraven looked closely. “Yes, those are the coordinates for somewhere on Fourth World. I traveled all four of the People’s worlds for my studies.”

            “I scanned the entire system,” Iain said slowly. “I am exploring the destroyed planets, but I have already found lots of dead People on them, in both dragon and human forms. What I didn’t find was anyone alive. You may not be able to get revenge anymore. The People are not widely traveled and it is likely that you two and me, a created drake, may just be the last of the People, anywhere.” He nodded as Nightraven went still, her attention completely on him. “I am focusing my search on First World, to see if I can locate the Queen’s palace.”

            “NO!” Energy exploded outwards from Nightraven at her scream, scouring everything in its path. Iain grabbed Caintigern up in his arms. He hovered in place and his forcefield protected them as the stone, metal and everything else around them vaporized in the energy release.

            The Green Obelisk, the closest one, began to glow. Nightraven hissed and pointed at it. The structure exploded into fragments that went crashing in all directions. “I WILL NOT BE DENIED!”

            Iain shot backwards as she began to glow. “We must stop her before she destroys this place,” Caintigern said.

            “I picked this Ark because we won’t miss it,” Iain replied. “She can trash it until she feels better. She’s not suicidal and if she breaks through into space, she’ll leave.”

            “You said that the Overseer would destroy the Ark if it could not stop someone using large amounts of magic,” Caintigern protested. “Or is this a gambit to be able to rescue Nightraven from space too?” In front of them, the two remaining Obelisks were hurling streams of plasma at Nightraven, who was destroying them as they approached while lashing out with her magic, firing beams of energy that vaporized anything they touched. Her wordless scream of fury made the air vibrate, even as they moved farther and farther from her. Large fissures in the stone radiated outwards from her and spread as her rage grew.

            “I didn’t even consider that idea,” Iain replied. “I hacked the Overseer here. It can’t engage the self destruct, but it can still try everything else in its repertoire to kick her ass.”

            “What makes you believe she won’t shatter this place,” Caintigern asked. “She looks to have lost all control of her power along with her emotions.”

            “She’s shooting those beams everywhere,” Iain replied. “But none of them have come close to us. She hasn’t completely lost it yet if she’s still avoiding actively targeting us or even trying not to fire in our direction.” A gate opened in front of them. “Still, staying here is kind of stupid unless you want to get in on the destruction.”

            “I have told Nightraven that we will be on our Ragnarok and in the redwoods.”

            The gate flickered. “Coordinates changed. We’ll come out near the river south of the redwoods.”

            “Good,” Caintigern said. They passed through the gate and Iain landed. “Don’t put me down,” she said.


            “My mate rescued me again.” She snuggled closer in his arms. “I did not need rescued this time, but your intentions stand you in good stead.”

            “As much as I’d like to have sex with you right now,” Iain said, “it might not be a good idea in case Nightraven arrives in the middle of it, especially considering she’s already upset.”

            Caintigern looked up at him. “She would attack me in such a situation and you know this. Once again you seek to protect me, do you not?”

            “I do. I would before and, now that we know you two are the last of your civilization, if it’s going to continue, both of you need to survive.”

            “You are one of the People too.”

            “I am not from your civilization, though, since I wasn’t born in your society.”

            “Our civilization cannot survive as it was,” Caintigern said. “Put me down.”

            Iain lowered her to her feet. “Why not?”

            “We swore to let you help with our children and to raise the drakes and dragonesses together. That is not the way of the People as they were.” She nodded. ‘But it will be the way of the People as they will be. But what shall we do for mates for our children?”

            “I can gather DNA from the dead People and use that to clone children of the People. We’ll have to raise them too if you want to keep the bloodlines pure.”

            “It is too early to worry about that,” Caintigern shifted to her draconic form. “Let us hunt and kill everything we encounter. I am not as recklessly angry as my niece is, but I am very unhappy right now.”

            Iain shifted and spread his wings. “Lead the way.”


            Captain Minerva checked their position with her twee. “Bring ship to three five zero degrees and make our speed fifteen knots.”

            “Bring ship to three five zero degrees and fifteen knots, aye,” the helmswoman said and adjusted the throttle before she spun the ship’s wheel to port. A minute later she began turning the ship’s wheel to starboard as the ship came onto her course.  “Course is three five zero, ma’am.” The Iain Grey had been moving at twenty five knots and it took a little while for its speed to drop. “Speed is fifteen knots, ma’am.”

            Minerva looked out the windows at the B turret and then at the A turret in front of it. The triple guns in each turret were already trained to port. She glanced at the holographic display showing satellite observation of the target, twenty four kilometers away. “Hovercraft status?”

            “Hovercraft are three minutes from feet dry,” the XO called.

            The Megami Sama turned to Lucifer. “We’re ready, Eldest Sister.”

            Lucifer nodded. “You are weapons free, captain.”

            Minerva spun to face her tactical officer. “Execute Firing Plan Alpha.” The Iain Grey shuddered as all three eight inch triple turrets fired as one.

            “Shifting targets,” the Weapons Officer called as the turrets indexed slightly.

            The XO was watching the tactical board. “Five seconds to impact. Telemetry is good.”

            Three seconds later the main guns fired again at their maximum sustained rate of twelve rounds a minute.

            Truro was Blue’s administrative headquarters for Cornwall. For that reason, the Blues had built their Cornwall military base there too. It supplied the troops for the garrisons in the townships and provided the military might that gave those garrisons their authority. It was early morning, an hour before dawn, and only the sentries were awake. Things had been quiet for some time since any troublemakers were dealt with quickly and permanently. The dispersed forces were in the process of being pulled together after the bombardments had ended and normality was retuning to Blue military life.

            Each turret of the Iain Grey had been aimed at a different barracks.  Each was essentially a single room with bunks for a hundred enlisted soldiers. The bathrooms were separate and each one serviced three barracks. Tamers and their pokegirls lived off base.

            All nine rounds were on target and three barracks exploded as the HE rounds penetrated the roofs and detonated. Seconds later, three more barracks exploded as the next salvo hit. The Iain Grey was firing guided artillery shells that used GPS from the satellite constellation to impact within a meter of the intended target.

            The rounds systematically destroyed the barracks, killing and wounding the soldiers inside as well as setting the buildings on fire. Then the turrets shifted their fire to mortar emplacements and pounded them into rubble before moving on down the target list that had been compiled by Daya. The only group to not be targeted were the tamers. There weren’t that many of them and they had all moved into local houses and, in most cases, had kept the original owners on site as servants. Lucifer wanted to avoid killing the civilians and she knew that the tamers would eventually expose themselves or run away to be chased down and eliminated or captured.

            Tom Weaver was doing some early morning crabbing in the surf to help feed his family. Crabbing was good along the shores of Gyllyngvase Beach. He was looking for signs of crabs in the predawn light when he saw a large boat rushing, almost silently, towards the beach. He watched in shock as it raced up the beach and onto the sand, only a few dozen meters from him. Only when the wind spilling from beneath the skirts buffeted him almost off his feet did he realize it was a hovercraft. His shock only grew when he saw it flew the White Ensign, or the Royal Navy flag alongside another flag in black and silver with some kind of winged beast on it.

            A woman with long green hair spilling out from under her helmet waved cheerfully at him and he desultorily waved back as the hovercraft angled to the left to turn onto Cliff Road. Tom watched, numbly, as nine more hovercraft followed the first ashore.

            The lead hovercraft went west and turned north on Fenwick Road. It took Fenwick to the A39, where it turned left and accelerated to its top speed of a hundred and fifty kph. The Blue garrison, in a building newly occupied since the end of the bombardment, lay on the A39, just inside Falmouth. As each hovercraft raced by, Gunvalkyrie members of the Sisterhood strike team raked the building with their weapons, leaving it a collapsing, flaming wreck. Then they were gone, their destination the Blue administrative headquarters in Truro. Each hovercraft carried a hundred troops and their gear, all Sisterhood tamers and pokegirls.

            A dozen kilometers off Falmouth, the Alpha, lead shuttle of the Comito, hovered just above the waves.  The pilot sat, her head slumped forward and her eyes closed as she used her twee to monitor the hovercraft strike group. She raised her head suddenly. “Mary, the hovercraft are feet dry and report no contact. Proceed with phase two?”

            A Seraph in clan battledress nodded. “Shift us northwest and we’ll launch on Plymouth. Be ready with that fire support if we need it.” She chuckled as the Alpha turned and headed northwest.

            “What’s so amusing?”

            “Beth, I’ve been with the Sisterhood for over a century. I’ve never had much fire support before, since the Gunvalkyrie are so rare and we’ve never had a lot of artillery or missiles, but I have apparently gotten used to it very quickly.”

            Beth grinned. “I like the toys that Eldest Sister has given us to play with.”

            “What were you before you became a pilot?”

            “Logistics.” She grinned again. “Now I do the deliveries instead of arranging them.”

            “Then deliver us to our launch point and we’ll secure the city so you can land and begin offloading the rest of the troops.”

            “On it!”


            Minister Bernard Quinn looked out of Iain’s phone. “Lord Grey, it is a pleasure and a surprise to hear from you. How may I assist you?”

            “Sorry to disturb you, Minister,” Iain said, “but I had some news for you and for you to pass along to Her Majesty when the opportunity presents itself.”

            “What news, Lord Grey?”

            “As we are both aware, when Her Majesty awarded Lucifer the title of Countess of Cornwall that she wanted and expected that Lucifer would use the Sisterhood to open another front against Blue by invading and securing Cornwall and then aid the war effort by getting the copper mines at Pool into production again.”

            “I remember.” He gave Iain a curious expression. “Why is that important?”

            “I was calling to tell you and, through you, Her Majesty that Cornwall is under our control. It’s not secure yet, because the Blues had scattered penny packets of troops and tamers all over the place, probably because of the bombardment, but we’re chasing them down as quickly as we can. It’s helping that they had done a lot of consolidating in the three weeks since it ended. Hopefully, by the end of next week we’ll have most or all of them in our custody or they’ll have otherwise been dealt with.”

            Quin stared at him for several seconds, his face working through several emotions before it settled on incredulity. “Are you saying, Lord Grey, that you have invaded Cornwall?”

            “No, I am not.” Quin started to visibly relax. “I’m saying that we have captured Cornwall and are busy securing the county while keeping an eye on activity in Devon.”

            “Lord Grey,” Quin said slowly, anger building in his voice. “I am the Minister of Her Majesty’s armed forces. Why wasn’t I told about this operation beforehand?

            “You are loyal,” Iain said simply. “But there is evidence your office and the upper echelons of your military have been penetrated by Blue spies. Your people are hunting for them, but you’ve decided not to use psychic or magic pokegirls for the job, mainly because of political issues. Our operation depended on speed and surprise, both of which we achieved. Instead of facing whatever the Blues could throw in front of us or walls of hostages, which is what Lucifer was really worried about, we destroyed the garrison in Falmouth, destroyed the military presence in Truro, captured the Blue administration there and destroyed the military forces in Plymouth almost before they even knew we were on top of them.” Iain shrugged. “I am not going to apologize for not keeping you appraised of clan military activities, especially since you can’t trust your own people.”          

            Quin glared at him. “What were the civilian casualties?”

            “Six people. Three of them were in the garrison buildings in Truro. Three others were shot by the Blues, we think from panic fire. Another couple of dozen were wounded. They’ve been treated and are resting comfortably.”

            “That’s it?”

            “Minister, we apply our overwhelming firepower as precisely as possible. It’s one of the hallmarks of the Sisterhood is that they try very hard to only hurt the bad people. Overall, the clan tries to do the same thing, but sometimes collateral damage can only be minimized if you’re going to succeed in the mission.”

            “You’ve served,” he said, watching Iain’s eyes.

            “US Navy, but it wasn’t a combat post. It was ballistic missile submarines and nuclear power. Since the war, I’ve gotten a lot of training and practice with infantry tactics.” He grinned. “I’ve tried my hand at artillery. I discovered, to my chagrin that apparently as an artilleryman I’m a good bricklayer.”

            Quinn chuckled. “Somehow, the idea that you were one of those lunatics that volunteered for a ship that deliberately sank is not surprising, Lord Grey.” His smile faded. “So, tell me, Lord Grey, could your forces take Devon if I ordered you to?”

            “Take it? Maybe. Hold it? Not until our flanks are secure and, even then, we’d be spread very thin, Minister. It’s a lot thinner than I think is safe in a world filled with pokegirls and tamers. A singleton or small group can cause in incredible amount of damage if they get into the rear and decide it’s a suicide mission.” Iain decided not to object to the use of the word order that Quin had uttered or point out that Quin had no authority over him or the Sisterhood.

            “We’ve discovered that the hard way,” Quin admitted.

            “However,” Iain held up a finger. “We are already a nut that the Blues will probably decide they have to crack, especially since we do not have plans to fort up here in Cornwall.”

            “You don’t?”

            “We have tamers and pokegirls too, and we have plans for small unit and larger unit raids on military and legitimate civilian targets.”

            “What kind of plans?”

            “Minister, I am not going to tell you because you’re going to tell your staff and Her Majesty and her staff will hear it. Our evaluation is that there is at least one highly placed operative somewhere in your chain of command. My spymistress insists you have one, based on some things she’s observed. I trust her. It’s why she’s my spymistress. More importantly, I trust her judgement.” Iain smiled a hunter’s smile. “But pay attention. The Blues are going to get some lessons in how properly trained and motivated tamers and pokegirls can be utilized. They are not going to appreciate these lessons in the slightest, but you can learn from them too.”

            “Can I ask for after action reports?”

            “You can and, if you do, you’ll get them.” Iain sniffed the air. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, my nose tells me that breakfast is ready and my stomach demands I get some of it. Good day, sir.”

            “I want those reports, starting with the ones from the conquest, I mean liberation of Cornwall. Good day, Lord. Grey.” The screen blanked when Iain cut the connection.

            “Did you just hang up on the Minister,” Lucifer asked as she peered into the room.

            “I did. Breakfast is important.” He took her hand. “Come on.”


            “My parole allows me to wage war against those who are not clan,” Anust said irritably. “Why wasn’t I told you were going to be fighting? I want to fight.”

            Iain turned and looked at her and was suddenly trying very hard not to smile or laugh at the obvious pout on her face. “Once again I will point out that your parole ends when you fully become clan in a few weeks. As for this little adventure, it was primarily a Sisterhood operation and, according to Lucifer and April, you’re still a little too indiscriminate in your aim to work with them. The civilians there are Lucifer’s future subjects and, dead, they pay no taxes or provide any other use.”

            “They’re humans,” Anust said. “Animate them as zombies and they’re just as useful as they were when they were alive.” She gave him a triumphant smile. “And they don’t eat anymore, making them more valuable.”

            “Let me guess, you used your human auxiliaries as shields to try and dull Sidhe swords while your warriors engaged them.”

            “Auxiliaries? They were slaves. They are slow, weak and easily killed. They are no match for even the Sidhe, much less the Fomorian armies. And they breed as fast as rats do. Finally, they have no appreciation for tradition and change their society in an eyeblink.”

            “She looks like a Sidhe,” Arianrhod said sourly. “She smells like a Sidhe. She even complains like a Sidhe. Are you sure she isn’t Sidhe?”

            Iain kept his face still. He’d had tests run on Anust when she’d gone through medical. Her genetics were well within the normal variation for the Sidhe, when compared to all the Sidhe bones that the two Danu had provided for cloning. “Anust is our guest, Arianrhod. She is joining the outer clan, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

            The goblin nodded. “Oh. My mistake.” She turned and bowed to a surprised Anust. “I apologize for any insult that I may have given to you. As our guest, my manners towards you should be much better than that. Please accept my apology.”

            Anust gaped at her for a moment. “Are you saying that you treat guests nicer than you treat your clansmen?”

            Arianrhod glanced at Iain, who shrugged. “I treat my clanswomen as equals. I expect the same treatment from them.” The goblin shifted her sword on its belt. “Guests are exactly that and are to be coddled.”

            Once again, Iain kept his face still as Anust’s face paled and then reddened. Energy flared visibly around the Fomorian and Iain acted instantly. “Anust!” She jumped, having apparently forgotten his presence. “Control!”

            Anust closed her eyes and the light slowly faded. “I want to hurt her,” Anust growled as her eyes opened.

            Iain looked at Arianrhod. “You do have that effect on people,” he said cheerfully.

            The goblin queen nodded. “I do. And still, you, a human, hasn’t yet obliterated me. Are you suggesting a Fomorian High Queen can’t do what you, a former human, can do and control her power?”

            “I can do anything Iain can do,” Anust said in a calm tone.

            Iain got up. “Come with me, Anust. Arianrhod, I’ll see you later, during training.”

            “She is right about something,” Arianrhod noted.

            He paused. “What’s that?”

            “We fey are almost all warriors of one type or another. My goblins wanted to be in on the fighting in Plymouth.”

            Iain grinned. “You’ll get your share next week. We’re going on a raid. And by we, I mean not me, but you are.”

            “We goblins expect a very large share of the battle,” Arianrhod said.

            “You’ll raiding Pirbright Camp in Surrey. It’s where they train new Blues to oppress the civilians and it has the headquarters of the punishment squads who torture people to death for crimes against Blue. It’s also where the reaction forces for Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire are based, so there will be a lot of tamers and their girls there to fight.” He smiled. “Destroying Pirbright will significantly slow the flow of new recruits into the Blue army and throw the region into an uproar. It’s also close enough to London to scare everyone there, which is the other goal.”

            “Who will we be paired with,” Arianrhod asked. “We’ve been training with the 1st company of Ninhursag’s elves.”

            “That’s who you’ll be paired with.”

            “Then I need to talk with Liriope. We need to plan this out.”

            “You’ll be officially briefed tomorrow and start planning then,” Iain cautioned her.

            “Understood, Iain,” Arianrhod smiled happily.

            He shook his head. “Anust, come with me.”

            She followed him into the woods and away from the house. Once they were some distance away, Iain stopped. “I’ve been giving you exercises to do,” he began.

            “I’ve been doing them diligently,” Anust interrupted.

            Iain held up a hand. “May I continue? You may find out that your excuses aren’t needed if I can.”

            Anust took a deep breath and nodded. “Forgive my interruption, Clan Leader. Please speak.”

            “I’ve been watching you and you have been more than diligent in doing the exercises I’ve given you,” Iain continued. “In fact, you’ve been continuing to practice them a lot more than was required. I realized that you want better control of your power but the breaks between sessions are important too.”

            “I have seen a truewizard accidentally will herself out of existence,” Anust’s voice was solemn. “She realized what she’d done right after she did and tried to prevent her death, but she’d already invoked the magics and they were not to be denied after that, no matter how much she tried to prevent it. Even when she was gone, the magic she’d created tried to kill everything around her, including me.” Her eyes searched his. “I don’t want to die. The exercises you have given me to do have helped me.” Her lips twitched. “And you are right. Arianrhod was being just like goblins are. They poke at perceived weakness and I was complaining about not being able to fight as I want to.”

            “It’s good you realized that.” Iain touched his temple and pulled a blue ball of light from it. “Here are some of my memories of exercises I was given when I was starting out. I don’t think I’m ready to take a student and Nightraven, my instructor, has refused to take you on, but what I can do is give you the lessons she gave me. Hopefully they can help us keep you alive while you learn how to better control your power.” He cocked his head. “I tend to think of my magic as a living child.”

            “I don’t understand.”

            “If I do not control my power, it’ll run free. Just like a small child, it doesn’t understand consequences, it doesn’t understand restraint and it doesn’t comprehend just how much it can harm others when all it wants to do is something. Good and bad are concepts it doesn’t understand. It’ll even harm itself and could easily accidentally kill itself by killing me. Control, for me, is all about making sure my magic only does what I intend for it to do.” He held up the finger with the ball attached to it. “These exercises and ideas were particularly useful in that regard.”

            “I accept your gift, Iain.” Anust took the sphere and pressed it into her temple. She frowned and then nodded. “Several of those approaches are novel to me. Some of them are quite lengthy.”

            “There’s a list of the order and how long I think you should spend on each in the beginning,” Iain folded his hands behind his back. “Something to remember is that some of these exercises are rather challenging. You’re not expected to fight through them all in one go. Bad things can happen if you do.”

            “What kind of bad things?”

            “Like when a frightened dragon chewed his way through your armor and body bad things.”

            Her eyes widened. “You were frightened? I sensed no fear from you.”

            “You are older, arguably more powerful than I am and I’d just accepted a battle to the death with you. Yes, I was frightened.”

            She raised an eyebrow and then smiled amusedly. “A teeny tiny whole lot frightened?”

            “More like a cubic fuck ton frightened,” Iain grinned when she looked confused. “What? Did you think I was out of goofy sayings already?”

            “Sometimes I wonder if you’ll ever run out of them,” she said darkly.

            “Stay close to me long enough and you can find out.”

            She smirked. “As close as Ygerna wants me to stay?”

            “Is that what you want?”

            Anust’s blue eyes burned into his. “I am starting to think that perhaps that is what I want. I have decided that I do want to finish joining the clan. You were willing to wait and I have put it off for too long.”

            “We’ll do it tonight.”

            “Will I finish learning the clan’s secrets then?”

            Iain laughed. “I really don’t think there is an end to our secrets.” He sobered. “But you get to learn more of them. Ygerna has pokegirls. Will you want some of your own?”

            “I have not decided. I do wish to return to my world, with you.”

            “I thought you were traveling and had no set home.”

            She chuckled. “The world I created when I came here following the scent of the Sidhe in your clan.” Iain reflected that she hadn’t used the word stench this time. “It’s currently orbiting the fourth world of this sphere.”

            “That planet’s name is Mars. If you’re interested, I can show you something really neat there that happened when I opened up a ley line.”

            “Ley lines can be opened and closed?”

            “I’ll explain it during the visit.”

            “Good. I intend to stay very close to you as long as you have new things to teach me.”


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)