DISCLAIMER: The characters herein are used without permission. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To thedatajunkie[at]gmail.com
SERIES: Part 7 of BGC Blues.

By The Datajunkie


Part 2

Priss slipped into the bed beside Fusha where she had been taking a nap and ran her hands over the burgeoning swell of her belly. She kissed the bare shoulder and then her hands slid lower.

Fusha felt the goddess' fingers moving between her legs and closed her eyes. The low growl that rumbled against her back was familiar and telling. She opened herself to her goddess and let her do what she will.

When Ayden reached Ninani's temple, she stopped one of the temple maidens and asked if there was a chess game available. The maiden looked at the goddess, blankly, having never heard of such a game. After reassuring the girl that she had not failed her, Ayden went to find her Mother.

Ninani was in the map room, adding the new buildings that had been constructed over the last year to the huge floor model. She crouched next to the miniature granaries and grinned as she opened and closed the tiny doors.

"Wow! This is amazing." Ayden carefully stepped through the city, twisting her feet to land in the clear areas of the city's streets. "I knew you loved miniatures but this is… wow."

Nene smiled up at her daughter and placed the last granary. "Yeah. A drawn map would have worked, but it wouldn't have been half as much fun." She stood and hugged Ayden. "So what have you been up to this afternoon?"

"Talked with Mom about some stuff. I was wondering though, I asked one of the maidens if there was a chess game around and she'd never heard of it."

Nene grimaced. "Yeah. I'm afraid that my memory was really screwed up when I woke. As much as I loved chess, it just never occurred to me to recreate the game."

Ayden made a noncommittal sound and shrugged. "Ah well. Guess I'll do it myself then."

Nodding, Nene waved her hand at the model surrounding them. "Try Hinagata. She makes all the models for the city map."

Sylia wanted to be angry. She really did. The look in Priss' eyes was telling and she knew that she'd slept with Fusha again. Or perhaps she should say that they'd mated again. She stalked towards Priss' throne, determined to protest this time. Or she would have.

When she got close enough, Priss reached out and gripped her hips, pulling her forward until Sylia was straddling her lap, her knees resting on the throne. "Everyone out now!"

She didn't wait for the room to clear but gripped the edges of Sylia's tunic and ripped the material away. Despite herself, Sylia felt herself respond to the move, blood and heat rushing south. Priss wrapped the torn material around Sylia's wrists, binding them behind her and then cupped her breasts. She licked and sucked the tips, making Sylia twist against her and then began nipping and biting, tormenting and teasing her wife's flesh until Sylia was crying out, thrusting her center against Priss' thighs. Another tearing sound and then Priss' fingers were touching her, stroking and gently pinching the soaked folds until Sylia was sobbing, begging for release. Priss plunged her fingers deep and felt Sylia convulse around her. She continued to kiss her breasts, thrusting her fingers and Sylia was climbing that peak again, falling against Priss as she came.

Priss pushed her until she was sliding off her lap, coming to rest on her knees in front of Priss' throne. Priss stood and yanked her own clothes off before sitting down on the edge of the seat. She grabbed Sylia's hair and pulled her between her legs, pressing her face into her passion-drenched heat. "Do it."

On her knees, with her hands still bound, Sylia had little choice, but as she plunged her tongue into Priss, she realized that she was close to coming again. Priss' used the grip on her hair to move her where she wanted her and then placed her own leg between Sylia's pressing up against her.

Helpless to resist, Sylia began to move against Priss, even as she sucked her clit into her mouth and bit down. Priss' growl echoed through the room and beyond.

Together they climaxed and as Sylia sank fully to the floor to lay there panting, she wondered at the odd twists their relationship had taken over the years. And times like this made her wonder if Priss was trying to punish her in some way for what had happened between them.

Gentle hands untied hers and lifted her from the cold floor. She buried her face in Priss' neck and ignored the fact that her wife was carrying her back to her bedroom. Through the temple. Naked.

Once inside, Priss laid her down on the bed and buried her face between Sylia's thighs, lapping up the proof of her desire.

Sylia gasped and felt Priss laugh.

If this is punishment, I'll take all I can get.

Ayden was relieved to find that Hinagata was not intimidated to be in her presence, making it much easier to explain what she wanted. The model maker was definitely intrigued and she took out a large book of blank paper and began to sketch what the young goddess was describing. Ayden leaned over her shoulder, pointing out details and again was pleasantly surprised when the women didn't shy away. She met Hinagata's eyes and realized that they were familiar. "You're one of Ninani's children."

Hinagata smiled a little. "She's my grandmother."

Ayden had to laugh. "I guess that makes me your great aunt." She chuckled again and pointed at a sketch. "I love this one. You're very talented."

They worked their way through the different pieces until Hinagata had what she needed and Ayden left her to it.

Sabishii told Rihi to keep quiet about her arrival, wanting to surprise her lover. She moved almost silently through the tunnel until she was at the edge of the shadows where Kuraki was working.

A battered troop carrier was standing in the middle of the tunnel and Sabishii had to smile at the sight of Kuraki's shapely ass, covered in thin leather pants, bending over the engine. She slipped closer and leaned against the side of the truck. "I do love a mechanically inclined woman."

Kuraki's head shot up and bounced off the raised hood. She grabbed the back of her head and started to swear but her eyes met Sabishii's and she froze. "Sa…"

Sabishii stumbled back, tumbling to the ground as Kuraki tackled her. Any protest at the move died a quick death as Kuraki seized her lips. Sabishii felt her entire body sigh in happiness and gladly gave herself up to Kuraki's mouth.

A small blonde bounced out of the truck and glared down at them. Sabishii opened one eye and saw her. She closed the eye and went back to kissing her lover.

Tia saw the eye, realized she was being ignored and drew back her boot to kick the intruder. Kuraki came up for air, her eyes never leaving Sabishii's. "Don't event think about it, Tia. Sabishii's got a really nasty temper. Why don't you head back to the alcove? We'll be there in a little while." She caught Sabishii's lips with her own again and the teenager flounced off in a huff.

Clothes were pushed aside and hands made their way across familiar and much missed territory. Kuraki found herself on her back, staring blindly at the ceiling as Sabishii kissed her way down her body. She clutched restlessly at Sabishii's head, coherent thought slipping away. "Sa- oh God, Sabishii!"

Sabishii smiled wickedly and savored the unique flavor of Kuraki as is lay thick and sweet on her tongue. <So long. My God, I've missed you.>

Kuraki arched up, wanting, needing more. <Shut up and fuck me.>

Delighted laughter echoed through the tunnel and Sabishii happily complied.

Priss urged the horse into a canter, not waiting to see if Sylia was following. The sudden urge to hurry didn't surprise her, as she had been reluctant to leave the city in the first place. But Sylia had insisted that they travel to the northern tribes and see if they could get word to Sabishii and Kuraki. That the trip would leave Fusha alone so close to her time of delivery bothered Priss but she had let Sylia convince her that it would be all right. But the spring rains had slowed the horses considerably and added weeks to their journey.

Sylia matched Priss' pace and tried to ignore the twinges of guilt she was feeling. She's worried about Fusha and she has every right to be. What was I thinking? Surprisingly, Sylia felt no ill will towards the young woman that she shared her wife with now. When Priss had shown her what had happened, Sylia had seen the girl's reluctance, seen Priss overwhelm her, seduce her. It wasn't her fault.

Her mind shied away from the other reason she so willingly accepted Fusha into their lives.

No, she didn't hate her, and she was very much aware that Priss loved her and the child she carried. And that thought now had her stomach burning. I should have just gone by myself.

Her horse snorted, calling her attention back to the present. The gates of the city loomed on the horizon and Sylia sighed. I hope she's all right.

Fusha clutched the covers under her, her face sweating profusely. "Agh! Oh Goddess!" The contraction passed and Fusha fell back against the pillows, wishing it wasn't so hot. The midwife wiped her face with a damp cloth and tried to make her more comfortable. "Easy now. A little more time and you'll be able to rest."

The doors to the bedchamber flew open and Prisana strode into the room. She took the scene in at a glance and began barking out orders. "More water. Get my medical bag and somebody open a window. It's like an oven in here."

The servants scrambled to obey and the midwife started to protest the opening of the window but one look from Prisana had her falling silent. Priss knelt next to Fusha and hugged her. "I'm sorry I'm late."

Fusha shook her head and bit her lip as another contraction overtook her.

Priss talked her through it, not letting her hold her breath but instead encouraging her to breathe through the pain. Once it had passed, Priss lifted the bed sheet draped over Fusha and checked her. "Excellent, you're at ten centimeters. The next time the contraction comes I want you to push, okay?"

No one noticed Sylia slip into the room. She watched as Priss took care of her lover, helping her through the next contraction, urging her to push. Sylia briefly considered the children she and Priss could have together and then dismissed the image. Time for that later. A cry from the bed jerked her back to the moment at hand and she watched as Priss carefully eased the baby from its mother. Covered in blood and screaming like a banshee, the little girl announced to the world that she was not happy.

Priss wiped the baby off and then wrapped it in a clean cloth before settling it onto Fusha's chest. Fusha's eyes were fixed on the baby and she was not aware of Priss working between her legs. The after birth came a few moments later and then Priss carefully stitched the slight tear before washing her clean. They moved the new mother only a moment to change the bedding and then she was back in place. Priss washed her hands and then sat down on the bed beside Fusha and the baby.

Sylia watched as Priss fussed over the infant and had to smile at the goofy look that the goddess of war was now sporting. Fusha laid her hand on Priss' arm and thanked her for helping her and glanced shyly at Sylia.

"Sylayla, would you like to see her?"

Nodding, Sylia gingerly perched on the bed opposite of Priss and studied the wrinkled features of the baby. The baby chose that moment to grimace, her expression so familiar that Sylia laughed aloud. "My word Priss! I've seen that exact same look from you!"

"Koneko." Priss stroked the baby's face and repeated the name. "Koneko."

Sylia resisted the urge to laugh at the choice, but she had to admit under the circumstances it was perfect. "Very appropriate."

Fusha smiled and leaned back against Priss, her eyes drifting closed.

Sylia stood and stretched over to kiss Priss lightly. She hesitated and then kissed Fusha's cheek. "I'll go tell the others. You two get some rest. If she's anything like you Priss, then she's going to run the entire pantheon into the ground before she's a year old."

Priss grinned widely and Fusha watched her go, resisting the urge to touch her cheek.

Once Sylia had told the others, she headed for the Temple of Justice. Inside the archive chamber she found the head of the temple and her father. He'd been spending all of his time there, preferring to help the archivers in the privacy of the temple rather than deal with the reactions of the people of Tokio.

Sylia smiled at the tall silver-plated figure, now clad in a toga-like robe. "Father. Tenarai, could I speak with Kasuhito privately?" The scribe bowed and left, leaving them alone. "Fusha had the baby."

Kasuhito studied his daughter's face. "Ah. Does this upset you?"

Shaking her head, Sylia leaned back against a table. "No. Not now. I know that Priss loves me." She sighed. "Jealousy seems a very silly emotion to waste energy on after all we've been through." And I can hardly hold it against Priss for wanting her. Let's face it: So do I.

"That's very true." Kasuhito gestured to the rows of books around them. "There are greater things at stake. I've begun writing down the knowledge from our time. All that was stored in the data cube."

Sylia stiffened. "All? But there are things that they're just not ready to know yet."

"True, and that knowledge will be heavily guarded. But this does bring up a question; what path do you want these people to follow?"

"I'm not sure I understand."

He pointed to the words carved in stone above the door to the archive. "Knowledge is Power. It's true but what do you want them to do with that power?"

Ayden tucked the heavily carved box more securely under her arm and left Hinagata with her profound thanks and a bag of gold.

She stopped in to see Fusha and the new baby and then returned to her mother's temple. The evening meal had long passed and she wandered into the kitchen, looking for something to eat. The servants were shocked of course and she was almost scolded by the head cook. She apologized and sheepishly went to her room to wait for the meal they would send.

A short while later, a knock sounded and Ayden opened the door to find Hirani bearing a tray. "Oh excellent! A meal and somebody to talk to!" She pulled the girl inside and with much cajoling and more pleading, convinced her to stay for a visit.

Priss checked how Fusha was healing and was surprised to see that the tear had healed. She removed the stitches and sent a silent inquiry to Sylia. <Sylia? I'm with Fusha. Her stitches have already healed.>

<I expected as much. It's the nanos you passed to her.>

<I've been meaning to ask you about that. I thought they were programmed to deactivate when they left our bodies?>

<No, they're programmed to deactivate when outside a human body for more than sixty seconds.>

Priss considered the implications of that. <So kissing and oral sex will pass them as well?>

Sylia didn't answer for a moment and Priss grinned. <Yes. That's right.>

=Actually that's not right.= Taisei's correction surprised them both.

<What do you mean?>

=Unless the nanobots are performing a specific function then they are programmed to stay away from the mouth and saliva. The same goes for the surface of the skin. Without a specific task they stay deeper than the current shed layer. It's a preventive program that we instigated before the flares.=

<Nice of you to finally tell us.> Sylia hesitated. <But they are still passed through oral sex?>

=Yes. And heterosexual intercourse. They can also be passed through blood but it has to happen within the sixty second window.>

<Okay, but the one's inside Fusha and I assume Koneko… they won't hurt them, right?>

<On the contrary, they'll probably be even healthier. Most likely they will live much longer than normal, like Nene's children. In fact, I've found that even Nene's great great great grandchildren have nanos.>

Priss watched Fusha nurse Koneko. <But I thought they were programmed not to reproduce?>

<That's the puzzle I'm currently working on. How's Fusha and the baby?>

<Good. Koneko's having lunch. Care to join us?> She felt it. That little tingle of emotion that Sylia fought so hard to hide. She really needed to tell Sylia that she was aware of her attraction to Fusha.

The next day Nene knocked on the door to Ayden's rooms and waited a beat before opening it. And Priss says I can't knock.

She stopped just inside, surprised at what she found.

Ayden and Hirani sat in front of one of the large windows, a chess board between them. "-and the queen can move in any direction," Ayden looked up at her mother and smiled. "Hey Mother. Did you need something?"

Hirani started to rise, but Nene waved her back down. "It's alright. Actually I did need you for something Ayden. Can I tear you away for a bit?"

Ayden nodded and arranged to meet Hirani again later that afternoon. She walked with her mother through the temple, towards the main hall. "What's going on?"

Nene sighed, her exasperation apparent. "I'm fielding a lot of requests about you and I can't keep putting them off indefinitely."

"What kind of requests?"

"Well the people want to know what you're the goddess of and what you require from those that would serve you."

Ayden blinked. "Whoa. That's a hard couple of questions to answer."

"Yes. And the armorers are bugging me to bring you in for a fitting."

"Armor? Cool!"

Smiling at her daughter's enthusiasm, Nene led them out of the temple and across the city square. "Glad you think so. That's our first stop. Any ideas about what you want?"

"One or two."

While the armorers had been satisfied, they were the only ones. Ayden had no idea what she should be the goddess of and Nene was unable to help the girl since she really didn't know her that well. It saddened her and Linna greatly that they had missed so much of their daughter's life.

Finally Ayden had decided that since she was only twenty, they could stand to wait awhile. She had forever to choose, right?

The baby was sleeping soundly and Sylia knew she could leave. But she lingered, helping Fusha pick up the multitude of things that tended to get scattered around when Koneko was awake. Mentally she listed the reasons she should not be feeling this way, why she should leave and why the urge to touch Fusha was growing. She blinked and realized that Fusha had been speaking to her. "I'm sorry? I, my mind wandered. What did you say?"

Fusha couldn't stop a smile from escaping at the startled look the goddess was wearing. "Did it wander far?" She clapped her hand over her mouth, shocked at her audacity.

Sylia laughed in surprise, reaching out to tweak the high priestess' nose. "Not that far, minx." And just like that the mood changed. Fusha blushed deeply, turning away, but Sylia caught her arm even as her subconscious screamed at her. "Fusha."

She looked up at the older woman, easily reading the desire in her eyes. "My Goddess?"

Sylia slipped her arms around her waist and pulled her against the length of her body. Her nerves rejoiced at the contact and she gave herself up to the moment.

Fusha saw Sylayla's face coming closer and met her halfway. Their lips touched and she would have sworn that her entire world shook.

Sylia tasted the incredibly soft lips beneath her own and shuddered under the weight of her need. "Fusha." She deepened the kiss, stroking her tongue into the high priestess' mouth and seeking hers. They dueled playfully as the tension rose and Sylia was unaware that she'd slipped her hand under Fusha's tunic until she felt the hard bud against her palm. They both groaned at the contact and Sylia rained kisses down her neck, slipping the cloth down and away. She cupped Fusha's bottom and lifted her, moaning as the girl wrapped her legs around Sylia's waist. Sylia looked at the now eye-level breasts and moaned again before taking one turgid peak into her mouth. Fusha's head flew back on a ragged cry and Sylia tasted the unusual flavor of breast milk. She pulled back and watched a single, pearly drop form. "Oh God."

Sylia carried her precious burden to the bed and laid her down. She met Fusha's eyes. "Are you sure about this?" Am I sure about this? What am I doing? The mental protests died a quick death when Fusha pushed her skirt off and held her arms up to Sylia.

Sylia slid over her, reveling in the delicious feel of their bodies touching. She let her hand fall between the girl's thighs and bit her lip at the wet heat she found there. I did this. Aroused and more than a little pleased with herself, Sylia kissed the soft flesh of Fusha's belly and slipped lower. Fusha bit her hand to stifle her cries as Sylayla pleasured her.

In the corner, Koneko slept soundly. Purring.

The armor had been finally been finished after a month of waiting and Ayden was thrilled when it was finally delivered to the temple.

She grinned as she looked at herself in the long mirror. "Very cool. Almost like my hardsuit."

Nene met her daughter's eyes in the mirror. "Hardsuit?"

"Yeah, this is close, but it was blue instead of black. And had green accents." Ayden sighed. "Man I'm going to miss those thrusters."

Nene held up a hand. "Wait. You were in a hardsuit?"

"Well, yeah, of course." Ayden cocked her head, curious at her mother's tone. "What's wrong, Mother?"

"Why were you in a hardsuit!? We defeated Genom before you were born!" <Priss! I want to talk to you! Right now!>

<Calm down Nene. I'll be there in a minute.>

A few minutes later Priss was holding her hands up to ward off Nene's glare. "It's not what you think. Yes I programmed the fall of Quincy and Genom into the program, but Nene, Boomers still malfunctioned and ADP was still an under-funded joke."

"I don't see what the problem is." Ayden wasn't happy that Aunt Priss was in trouble again because of her.

"I never wanted you to be put in that kind of danger!"

By this time Linna had arrived and she stepped closer to her wife, urging her to remain calm. "Honey, it was a virtual world. She couldn't be hurt."

Ayden shot Priss a disturbed look and Linna saw. "What?" She saw Priss wince and realized that they were hiding something… again. "What else haven't you told us Priss?"

The Goddess of War shrugged. Best to get it over with. "Ayden could be hurt. Not killed but she would feel pain."

Nene was shocked. "B-But why? Why on earth would you do that?!"

Really not wanting to enter the fray but also not wanting to see Priss get chewed out, Ayden cleared her throat. "Um, the whole point of the program was for me to have a normal childhood."

Priss nodded. "Yes. Kids fall down, Nene. They get bruises and scrapes and they feel pain. She would have noticed something was wrong if she hadn't."

Ayden chuckled. "Yeah and pain was a very good teacher. Like the very valuable lesson I learned at age six: Never touch Priss' bike exhaust when she visits." Ayden looked down at her hand and did a double take. "Now that's going to be weird. I've had a scar from that burn in my palm all my life." She rubbed the smooth skin. "Hmm."

Priss threw an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "Don't worry scout, I'm sure we can find something else for you to bang yourself up with. Nice armor by the way."

Ayden grinned and looked down at the dark metal that covered her torso. The piece had been shaped to her form and it left no doubt that she was a woman. Across the chest a large wolf's head had been set, carved in silver. "I like it too. Not as cool as that wicked helmet of yours though." She took a shot and made puppy dog eyes.

Priss tousled her hair. "Not getting my helmet kid. Put those away, you might need them later."

Nene watched the exchange and saw the way Ayden's eyes lit up when she looked at Priss. "I have to keep reminding myself that you're a grown woman now. In my mind I keep seeing the baby we placed in suspension so long ago." Nene rubbed her eyes wearily. "I wish we had been there with you."

Ayden stilled as a thought occurred to her. "Aunt Priss? The mental images you took of everyone are still intact right?"

Priss shrugged, "Yeah, should be. Why?"

"Well, is there anyway to merge them back with you guys? Give you all the memories that the virtual versions of you have?"

Linna straightened, her expression confused. "What are you talking about? What images?"

"Um, remember the last scan we took of everyone's minds, to embed in the cryotube's main systems? Well I copied them into Ayden's cryotube and incorporated them into the virtual realm." Priss was bracing herself for the explosion. "So in a way you guys really did raise her."

Linna glanced at Nene and then they both moved towards Priss who flinched, but bravely held her ground. They're gonna kick my ass now. To her surprise, they embraced her. "What?"

Pulling back a little, Nene kissed her cheek. "Thank you Priss. Part of what was so disturbing to us about Ayden being raised in a virtual world was the thought that she was only surrounded by programs. That outside of the programming no one would actually care about her well being."

Linna thumped Priss' arm. "Yeah. But you made sure that at least part of us was there to love her. Thanks."

Ayden cleared her throat. "Um, so back to my question: Can they be merged?"

Priss considered this and then called Sylia to join their discussion. She explained what was going on as Sylia left her temple and came to Nene's. As Sylia entered a few moments later, Priss couldn't help but smile at the small stain on her shirt. She's been helping with the baby again I see. Her sensitive nose picked up another smell and she shot Sylia a surprised look. Sylia ducked her head and Priss could feel the guilt coming off her in waves.

Only with the greatest of difficulty did Priss manage to rein in her urges. She forced her mind back to the matter at hand.

"Okay, theoretically we should be able to merge the minds within the cryotube with our own. It will be as if we were actually with Ayden as she grew up." Priss looked to Sylia for confirmation. "You pioneered this technology, Love. Will it work?"

Sylia considered the situation and slowly nodded. "Yes, it should, as long as there's been no deterioration to the images."

Linna hugged her daughter. "Now I can see just how much trouble you got into as a child."

Ayden's wide eyes found Sylia's. "Um, can I pick and choose what they remember?"

Laughing, Sylia turned to Priss. "We'll need to secure Ayden's cryotube." <We need to talk.>

Priss nodded. "Yeah. I pushed the wagons into some bushes. They should still be there."

Nene summoned the captain of her personal guard. "Kal. Take a squadron and go to the Inken Pass. There are two wagons hidden in some bushes there. Bring them back here as quickly as you can."

Since Fusha was at Priss' temple they went to Sylia's. The moment they hit the bedroom, Priss grabbed Sylia and spun her around, pressing her back against the closed door. "My God! Do you have any idea what that smell is doing to me?" Her voice was barely human above the growl. "You fucked her. You finally did it." She pulled Sylia's clothes away and just breathed the heady mix of Fusha and Sylia's scents. She took Sylia's hand and brought it to her lips, sucking the fingers into her mouth, groaning. "Beautiful. So beautiful. Priss went to her knees and pushed Sylia's legs apart, lifting one to rest over her shoulder. She pressed her face into the lingering dampness and roared as she came from the smell alone. Sylia's head went back at the sudden penetration of Priss' tongue, striking the hard wood of the door. She didn't feel it.

Priss devoured her, consuming every drop of arousal she found, not stopping until Sylia was writhing, pounding her fists against her shoulders and begging for release. She stood and caught Sylia over her shoulder carrying her to the bed and practically throwing her down. Leaping onto the bed, she drove into her wife and sank her teeth into the curve of her breast. Sylia arched up off the bed, shuddering wildly as her senses exploded.

The squadron returned only two days later with the tubes, an incredibly fast trip that had been made possible by Kuraki and Sabishii.

They had received Sylia's message and had been on their way to Tokio when the sensors of the large troop transport they had salvaged detected the cryotubes. It had taken some fast talking on their parts to convince the soldiers that they were friends of the goddesses and were only trying to help them. In the end, it had been the sight of Sabishii's arm and its distinctive hawk emblem that had convinced them. Drawing the conclusion that Sabishii was in the service to the Goddess Prisana, they had allowed the women to load the tubes into the strange machine and carry them back to the city.

Their other passenger had taken the news of Priss' godhood with a surprising good cheer. Tia had smiled widely and nodded. "I knew it. I knew she was a god." She glanced at Kuraki and mentally added, and so are you.

Since her father had cast her out of the village, Tia was homeless. But Kuraki liked the girl and saw a spark of potential she wanted to encourage. Now if she could get Tia to stop glaring at Sabishii, then everything would be perfect. She hadn't liked Sabishii showing up and interfering with the time she spent with Kuraki. Some days Kuraki swore they were going to come to blows. It didn't help that Tia seemed remarkably unafraid of Sabishii's temper or her impressive armaments.

Sabishii had questioned the soldiers at length, growing more and more upset with what she learned. <Goddesses? What the hell was Nene thinking?>

Kiji explained about Nene's memory loss and how they were trying to prepare the people for self rule. Sabishii scowled. <Why the hell didn't you tell me this before?>

=Because every time I brought Priss up you cut me off. I can't help it if you wouldn't let me tell you. Now do you want to know the rest or not?=

Subsiding, Sabishii settled into the seat beside Kuraki and let Kiji tell her what had happened since they had all went into suspension.

When the armored vehicle pulled up to the gates of the city a few hours later, they were met by the Goddess Sylayla. She ordered the gates to be opened and gave Kuraki instructions on where she could park. The guards were both amazed and terrified by the machine and gave it a wide berth as it passed.

When the side of the beast opened and disgorged their fellow soldiers they were stunned.

Sylia ordered that the tubes be taken to her temple and then turned to greet the clones. "Welcome to Tokio. I see you got my message." She saw the small blonde peering from behind Kuraki and smiled hesitantly. "And who's this?"

Kuraki introduced Tia and Sylia was instantly struck by an odd sense of familiarity. "Welcome, Tia." She looked at Kuraki. <What are your plans for her?>

Kuraki placed a hand on Tia's shoulder and smiled down at the girl. "She's the best assistant I've ever had and shows a real flare for mechanics." The girl blushed furiously and stared up at her idol, her adoration plain.

"I see. Then why don't I give you all the tour?" <You're going to have your hands full with this one.>

<You have no idea. I keep expecting her to challenge Sabishii any moment.> Kuraki's exasperation with the situation came through loud and clear. <But she's a good kid and she was exiled from her village for helping Priss.>

Sylia nodded. <Yes, she told me.>

Sylia showed them around the city, ignoring the stares of the people they passed. <We need to talk about how you'll be presented to everyone.>

Sabishii saw the wide-eyed looks as her arm caught the light. <What do you mean?>

<The people of Tokio may be primitive in technology but they're not stupid. They'll want to know who you are and they'll assume that you're goddesses like the rest of us.>

<No way in Hell!>

Sylia sighed deeply as they mounted the steps to her temple. <There's not much choice, Sabishii. You don't age. They'll put two and two together and get ten. Rumors will fly. Best to take control of the information and make sure that the stories that circulate are the ones we want out there.>

<You can't be serious.>

Sylia threw open her temple doors and strode inside. "I'm perfectly serious." Her High Priestess was coming towards them, her curiosity evident. "Shukan. This is Kuraki, my sister." She gestured to Tia. "And this is Tia, her personal aide." The high priestess blinked and then smiled widely. "My most gracious Goddess! Welcome! And welcome Tia." She looked at Sabishii, her question plain.

Mentally bombarded by Sylia, Kuraki and all three enclaves, Sabishii surrendered. "I'm Sabishii. I'm... Prisana's sister."

Shukan's smile was even wider if possible. "A great pleasure, my Goddess. How can I make you welcome?"

Sabishii felt herself inexplicably blush. <Just freakin great.>

Word of the new goddesses raced through the city like wildfire. Everyone was trying to find out more about them and soon outlandish tales were springing up.

Sylia and the other goddesses were all sequestered in her temple, trying to work out the process by which the mind copies would be rejoined with theirs. Kuraki assigned Tia the task of unloading the truck and drafted two guards to help the girl. Since Ayden had no technical knowledge in that area and Tia seemed very territorial, she was left at loose ends. She wandered through the market the next afternoon and chanced to overhear two merchants talking.

"-are saying that Prisana and the others were banished from paradise. Sabishii and Kuraki have come to take them back."

Ayden scowled and interrupted them. "That's not true!"

They realized who was before them and both fell to their knees apologizing profusely. Ayden looked around at the watching crowd. "You all believe that?" There were a few hesitant nods and more than a few shrugs. She rolled her eyes and then walked over to a stack of crates and sat down on one. "I know what really happened… would you like to hear it?"

So she told them. About the coming firestorm that not even their powers could stop. And how they had created a place of shelter deep within the earth and had taken as many of their followers as they could with them. They had cast a spell on the people and caused them to sleep for thousands of years until it was safe to emerge. But something had gone wrong and the goddesses had overslept. She told them how their sleepchambers had been stolen and scattered across the land.

Someone asked about Sabishii's arm and Ayden didn't hesitate. "Before the flares, the four goddesses, Sylayla, Prisana, Linai and Ninani were engaged in a war with a terrible foe; a many headed beast called Genom. It was this monster that gave birth to the overlords. The goddesses fought for many years, slaying endless legions of overlords until they were finally able to actually attack Genom itself. They hurt the beast and its rage was a terrible thing. It reached out and using humans as its agents, it found the resting place of Prisana, the strongest warrior of the pantheon. She was taken and brought before the beast." Distressed sounds rippled through the listening crowd and Ayden continued.

"Sylayla did not search for her wife because Genom had tricked her. She believed that Prisana was dead and she withdrew from the other goddesses to mourn her wife. Meanwhile Genom had set its most evil minion upon Prisana and bade the terror Kutsuu to compel the goddess into revealing the sanctuaries of the other goddesses. But Prisana was strong and loyal. She would not speak. Days became weeks and endlessly she endured the terror's tortures. But she would not break."

"Sylayla mourned, but could not heal. Prisana's absence was a great wound within her. Finally she was unable to bear the grief any longer and sought to end her pain. She used her powers and magic to create another Prisana. The copy was exactly as Prisana was, with all of her memories and powers. The other goddesses were angry with Sylayla when they found out. They felt that she had dishonored Prisana's memory by this. But the copy really was Prisana in all ways and though they tried, they could not harden their hearts to the new-born goddess. Sylayla began her war with Genom again and was content for a time."

"What she did not know was that Prisana had been trying to escape Kutsuu and had finally managed to slay the terror and get free. Badly wounded and unable to use her powers, Prisana managed to make her way to Sylayla's sanctuary. There she found Sylayla and the others. Sylayla was overjoyed and swept Prisana into her arms. The other Prisana returned and saw what had happened. She realized what she was and she confronted Sylayla with what she had done. But before Sylayla could explain, Prisana summoned her copy to her side, where she lay recovering within Sylayla's chambers. A short time later the copy emerged and kissed Sylayla before leaving the sanctuary."

"Unknown to the other goddesses, she and Prisana had struck a bargain. They would meet in seven days and then they would battle. The winner would become the true Prisana and have Sylayla as their prize. The loser would change their form and become Sabishii, which in the ancient language means 'lonely or desolate."

"Seven days later they met on the Great Bridge to Nowhere. There they battled for the right to be the Goddess of War and for the hand of Sylayla." Ayden paused and smiled at her rapt audience. "No one saw the battle that followed. But a battered and bleeding Prisana returned to Sylayla and the copy had become Sabishii. But Prisana was compassionate. She took Sabishii into her family and called her sister. And thus the Goddess of Sorrows was born." Shugo was giggling wildly. =She's going to kill us!=

"For Sabishii continued to suffer, unable to bear the loss of Sylayla's love. So great was her suffering that Sylayla, who felt guilty for creating her in the first place, decided to give Sabishii what she wanted. Once again using her powers, Sylayla created another copy. Of herself this time. She gave the copy to Sabishii who named her Kuraki. Kuraki eventually became the Goddess of the Sea. But that's another story."

It had been building to this moment and Fusha went into it with her eyes wide open. She'd once dreamed of a dashing soldier with hair the color of ripened wheat. But that dream had faded as time passed. Then Prisana had returned and swept through the temple like a force of nature she'd been helpless to resist and powerless to stop. She'd become used to the fierce goddess and had accepted her fate. Then Sylayla had come, regal and powerful in a different way. Fusha had been frightened of her at first, then fascinated.

When the Mother of the Gods had touched her, kissed her… Fusha had been undone. She had been terrified that Prisana would be angry at what they had done but she hadn't been. She'd smiled and carried Fusha off to bed, keeping her there for hours until she'd collapsed in exhaustion and slept.

She'd woken to find Sylayla beside her, holding Koneko. After she'd nursed the infant, Sylayla had brought her breakfast there in the bed and had watched Koneko while she ate. When the baby had gone to sleep again, Sylayla had looked at her very seriously and asked, "I'd very much like to make love to you. May I?"

It was so different from Prisana's overwhelmingly sexual nature. She felt like an equal with Sylayla. A mutual partner in the pursuit of pleasure. She'd taken Sylayla's hand and pulled her into the bed with her.

After that her life fell into a strange pattern of nights with Prisana and days with Sylayla. She'd given up her position of high priestess temporarily, unable to keep up with her duties and the baby and the goddesses' demands on her time.

But tonight all that had changed. She and Sylayla had fallen asleep and woken to find Prisana standing at the foot of the bed. Her eyes were blazing and the sound of her excited purring filled the room.

Fusha saw Aika carrying the baby out of the room. The handmaiden and temporary high priestess winked at her before closing the door.

Sylayla sat up, ignoring the sheet that fell around her waist. "Priss."

Priss looked at her, then at Fusha. "You're making me crazy."

Sylayla laughed. The sound was unlike anything Fusha had heard form her before and she shivered.

Sylia turned to Fusha and took her hand. "Fusha…" She leaned closer and kissed her temple, her cheek, her ear. She whispered huskily, "Prisana wants to make love with us."

Fusha gasped and shivered again. "Us?" She knew, of course what the goddess was saying but she was too focused on breathing to be coherent.

Prisana sat down on the bed beside Fusha and ran her hand down her bare arm. "Yessss." She moved closer, sniffing along Fusha's neck, her tongue flicking out to taste and making her jump. "So beautiful."

Sylayla caught Fusha's chin and turned her face to look at her. "Is this alright Fusha? If you're not comfortable then we'll stop now."

Prisana's growl of protest was shushed by the older goddess and Fusha felt herself respond to the display of power. Prisana was a strong god but Sylayla was the Creator. She would always be safe with her. Fusha kissed her, trying to tell her without words what she was feeling. Sylayla's hands dropped to her breasts as Prisana tore the sheet away and moved between her legs.

Fusha sank back onto the bed and surrendered her will to them.

Linna sat the plane down in the clearing and shut the engines off. She saw Mackie waiting for her and waved at him before leaving the cockpit and exiting from the rear of the plane.

"Mackie!" Linna hugged him, surprised when she felt herself lifted from the ground. "Whoa! You've gotten a hell of a lot stronger!"

Mackie set her back down and grinned. "Just a bit. Where are the others?"

Linna explained why they weren't with her as they walked towards the small village. "So I volunteered to come get you and Kyouki so we could all share in her childhood."

"Well I definitely want to do that for Ayden, but this god thing… I don't like it."

"Not much choice, I'm afraid. The city's people are very advanced by this world's standards, but they've been ruled by the Goddess Ninani for over a thousand years. It's going to take time to move them to ruling themselves."

"Hmm." Mackie greeted some of the villagers that had come running at the sound of the plane. "It's okay. This is a friend of mine, her name is Linna."

One of the people gasped and suddenly bowed low. "The Goddess Linai."

Linna blushed and glanced at Mackie. She was surprised to see him frowning. "It's okay Mackie. The stories have spread a lot further than we thought though." She looked at the man who had recognized her. "How do you know of me?"

He blushed and refused to meet her eyes. "My apologies my Goddess. I recently came here from a village to the west that had been destroyed by overlords. A few days before we were attacked, a wandering storyteller visited and told us of the Goddesses of Tokio." He blushed again. "His description of your beauty was very accurate."

Fighting her own blush, Linna nodded. "I see." <Mackie, he's going to suspect what you are when we leave in the plane.>

Scowling, Mackie turned on his heel and entered one of the huts. <Tell him what you want. We won't be coming back here.>

Hesitantly, Linna explained that Mackie was the younger brother of the Goddess Sylayla. The villagers were surprised but not as much as she would have expected. When Mackie returned a few minutes later, Kyouki was with him. She was carrying a blanket wrapped bundle and Linna's grin was huge. "Oooo! Let me see!" She carefully took the baby and cooed at the squirming bundle. "Oh how beautiful you are! You're going to be a handsome one aren't you? Just like your daddy. Yes you are!"

The baby twisted and giggled at the silly woman.

Linna looked up and gave Kyouki a one-armed hug. "Hey stranger. I'd ask what you've been up to but that's obvious. What's his name?" <Is Mackie as pissed as I think he is?>

"Ichidou." Kyouki returned the hug and took her son back. <More.>

Wincing, Linna went to help Mackie with their things. But Mackie was unwilling to let her help and he carried their travel packs to the plane without speaking.

Linna rubbed her forehead and then turned to Kyouki. "He's got to get over this. They will expect things from him in Tokio."

"I think that's what he's afraid of."

Sylia closed the heavy book and got up, carrying it out of her office and back to the main library within the Temple of Justice. She nodded in greeting to several of the blue-clad scribes and marveled again at what Nene had accomplished with their creation. The records were so detailed that every aspect of the city's history had been recorded. Births and deaths. Crops and weather. And to a certain extent, gossip. If the captain of the city guard had an affair with the head of the healer's a hundred years ago then it was recorded somewhere.

They divided the history into three sections. Before the Fire, BF. After the Fire, AF. After Ninani, AN. They were now in the year 988, AN. She placed the book back on the shelf and drew another. As she returned to her office she heard low voices in the next row of shelves.

"But we can't report this!"

"We must, Ronshou! It is our sacred charge."

"But Tadashii, what if they are angry?"

Sylia's eyebrow rose and she stepped closer to peek around the corner.

A young, black-haired girl was holding a sheet of parchment and frowning at a taller, brown-haired young man. They were both wearing the uniform of Scribes. The girl touched the white symbol on her chest. "We swore, Ronshou. We swore to tell the truth or die before the wrath of Sylayla. Knowledge is Power," She recited. "Seek all Knowledge. All, not just the parts we think they want to hear."

Ronshou shook his head. "I won't do it. I will not hand in that report to the Master Scribe. It's not any of our business who Sylayla takes into her bed."

Sylia froze, appalled. This is about me?

Tadashii was glaring now. "Oh really? And what if Fusha is God-Touched? What if she doesn't age like everyone else and a hundred years from now they ask why?"

Understanding the situation now, Sylia decided to shake up Ronshou. And reward Tadashii. She moved out of the shadows and spoke. "A very good point, Tadashii."

The scribes started in surprise at her voice and their eyes widened when they realized who was before them. They hastily knelt, bowing their heads respectfully.

Sylia reached down and lifted Tadashii's chin. "Go and wait for me in my office. Take your reports with you." The girl nodded and quickly fled. Sylia turned to the other scribe. "Ronshou. Perhaps you should return to your quarters and read the Scribe Rules of Conduct again." She left him there and went back to her office.

She found Tadashii standing alertly in front of her desk, a sheaf of paper in her hands. Sylia sat down behind her desk and held out her hand for the reports. Tadashii gave them to her and snapped back to attention. Sylia stared at her for a few minutes, letting the scribe's anxiety build. She wanted to know how this girl handled pressure.

But Tadashii stayed cool under the goddess' stare and she silently chanted the Oath to herself. Seek All Knowledge. The Power Lies in Knowledge.

Sylia smiled suddenly and Tadashii flinched. "Have a seat, Tadashii. Give me a moment to read through these." Sylia skimmed the reports, impressed with the orderly presentation of data. Apparently Tadashii had been in the city to the west and had found out a lot about the people that had tried to attack Tokio with Ayden and Sabishii's cryotubes. They were suffering from some kind of illness and rather than asking for help, they had decided to try and take it. They had planned on seizing Ninani and forcing her to heal their people. She laid the thick report aside and picked up the single sheet of parchment.

On it was the basic piece of information. Sylayla had taken Fusha to her bed and was now doing so regularly. It also noted that Prisana was also sleeping with the high priestess. There were a list of witnesses to substantiate the information and though embarrassed, Sylia had to admit she was impressed. She picked up her quill and added her own name to the list of witnesses and then added a note at the bottom. "Very good, Tadashii. See the Master Scribe tomorrow for you next assignment and turn these in to the archivers." She handed the papers back and smiled up at the scribe. "Thank you for staying true to your vow."

Tadashii blushed and practically floated out of the room. Once outside she found a quiet corner and looked at the paper, expecting to see that the information had been discounted or blocked. She stared at the new name under the witness list in amazement.

But when she read the new information at the bottom of the page she was staggered.

Fusha has become God-Touched.

Fusha and Prisana's daughter, Koneko is a Goddess.

Fusha, Sylayla and Prisana have begun a relationship together. In the ancient times this was referred to as a threesome. The definition of which is as follows.

Three people that share a sexual relationship and engage in simultaneous sexual acts with each other.

Also known as a Ménage a Trois, meaning 'Marriage of Three"

Tadashii clutched the paper to her chest and ran a hand through her black cap of hair. One word ran through her head. She'd heard Ninani use it at times and she'd never understood until now.


It had not gone well. Mackie and Kyouki had had the new memories added to their own and were thrilled to see Ayden. But Mackie couldn't get over them being revered as gods. "It's just wrong Sylia! How can you sit back and let this continue?"

Sylia had tried to be patient but Mackie was much more unreasonable than he used to be. "Mackie we don't have a choice. If we just leave, with no stable government in place, then there will be chaos. People will be hurt. Everything they've accomplished will be endangered."

Mackie knew that they were right but he just couldn't do it. "I can't be a part of this. I won't be a part of this."

They'd packed up and left, Linna taking them south and east, to the island that had once been Greece. Mackie had wanted the barrier of the ocean between his family and the 'Goddesses of Tokio." He agreed to let them visit… when they were no longer gods.

Everyone's nerves were on edge now and Ayden was beginning to wish she'd never suggested the merging in the first place.

Hirani watched Ayden pace the length of the atrium, easily seeing the young goddess was troubled. "Can I help you?"

Ayden stopped and looked at her in surprise. "What?"

Hirani stood and bravely moved to stand in front of the goddess. "You're troubled. Is there anything I can do to help?"

Ayden stared at her for a full minute. Then she began to smile. "No, but thank you very much for asking." She reached out and tugged a strand of Hirani's dark hair. "Nice to see you're not so afraid of me anymore."

The blush that flooded Hirani's cheeks made Ayden smile again. But what the handmaiden did next floored her. Hirani stepped even closer and stood on tiptoe, until she could touch her lips to Ayden's. She sank back down and stepped back. "I'm not afraid of you." She smiled and turned, leaving the room and a startled goddess behind.

Ayden touched her lips and thought. A slow smile spread across those lips and then she was leaping into the air. "YES!!"

Outside the atrium, Hirani leaned back against the door and touched her own lips, shocked at her own boldness. She stiffened when she heard the shout and then blushed. Hirani straightened when she saw Ninani approaching and bowed respectfully before hurrying away. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what Ayden's mother would think about her actions.

Nene stepped into the atrium and paused, surprised to see her daughter dancing. Since there was no music she was assuming it was dancing. The wild wiggles and occasional joyful leaps seemed happy enough and she reluctantly cleared her throat.

Ayden stopped in mid hipthrust and sighed. "All my life. Every single time I cut loose, she's there." Ayden turned and was not surprised to see her mother. "Aunt Priss is right. You really don't know how to knock."

Nene leaned on the door frame and grinned. "Ah, but I learn so much more this way." She studied her daughter's face; saw the happy light in her eyes. "What's going on?"

Ayden shook her head. "Just a little pet project of mine. It's starting to come to fruition."

Realizing that Ayden wasn't going to say more, Nene got down to business. "Sabishii is a little reluctant to go through with the memory merge."

"Not a problem. I know how to get her to do it."

Nene blinked. "Really? How?"

Ayden's face went still and then softened, her eyes went wide and glassy. Her lower lip began to tremble. Just a little.

Nene began to cackle. "My God! It's too perfect!"

Ayden grinned and headed out of the atrium. "Yeah. I know. She'll cave in five seconds. Flat."

Priss and Sabishii were snipping at each other again and Ayden could feel a headache building between her eyes. <I wish they'd just stop already! Its making my head hurt.>

Shugo eased the pain and reminded her that the two women in question had a lot of history, most of it bad.

Sabishii finally let Priss hook her up to the cryotube, and even managed to lie quietly as the procedure progressed.

<She's the last one. They all remember me now.> Shugo chuckled darkly. =Yes, she's the last one. And the last one I thought you'd want to remember you.=

Ayden froze. <What?>

=Don't you remember the summer you turned sixteen?=

Pale as a ghost, Ayden watched in horror as Sabishii sat up and looked at her. She stepped back a pace and wondered if she started running now could she reach China by nightfall.

Sabishii watched the young woman, saw her pale face and the half terrified look she was giving her. What's up with that? Ayden and I never had any problems getting along…. Except… Sabishii blinked as images filled her mind... Oh shit. No wonder she's freaked. Sabishii smiled reassuringly. <No worries, kid. We'll keep that just between us.>

Slumping in relief, Ayden smiled widely. "Hey Aunt Sab."

Priss had seen the entire exchange and was not willing to let it go. "What's wrong? Ayden? You were afraid of Sabishii. I could smell it."

Sabishii rolled her eyes. "God, give it a rest Catgirl. There's nothing wrong."

Priss advanced on Sabishii, her hands flexing, claws out. She gripped Sabishii's throat and lifter her from the floor. "What did you do to her?"

Ayden threw her arms around Priss and pulled backwards, until she released Sabishii. "Aunt Priss, no! It's not like that!" Oh god! I'm going to have to tell her.

Sabishii rubbed her throat and glared at Priss. "You idiot. It's not what you think. Ayden I have to tell her, she won't let it go and it's not like you can be grounded now. It happened over six years ago your time."

Ayden nodded reluctantly. <I really wish you'd figured out how to make me disappear, Shugo.>

=Disappearing was easy. It was the reappearing that I couldn't crack.=

"I'm the only one who knows this, Priss. When Ayden turned twelve she swiped your bike and went for a joyride. She wrecked it and tore herself up. Broke her arm and some ribs. She hauled the bike across town to the bike shop and begged me to fix it. I did. That's all, end of story."

Priss studied Ayden's face, seeing the truth written there but also the shadow of something hidden. She could feel the waves of embarrassment coming off the girl and she decided to leave the matter for now. "Okay. Don't freak me out like that again."

Ayden nodded in gratitude and then hugged her. "Thanks Aunt Priss. I'm sorry about not telling you."

Priss shrugged. "Since I don't remember ever even noticing there's no harm done."

Ayden hugged Sabishii and slipped out.

Priss waited until she could no longer hear the girl's heartbeat and then turned on Sabishii. "Out with it."

"Can't you let this go?"

Priss eyed her clone. "No. I can't. I don't know you. I don't know what paths you would have taken over the years. Tell me what she's hiding. I swear it will not leave this room unless I need to kill you."

Sabishii rolled her eyes. "You ass. Fine, but if this gets out and she's upset, then I will kill you, understand?"


"When she brought the bike in I was tempted to chew her out, but she was banged up pretty bad and terrified of what you'd do when you found out. I patched her up and then fixed the bike. I promised her that I wouldn't say anything on two conditions."

Priss' eyes narrowed. "I'm afraid to ask."

"Get your mind out of the gutter. I made her promise that she would never do anything like that again and then I made her take a motorcycle safety course. I even went with her. That summer I also taught her how to ride a bike and not get killed while doing it."

"So what's so embarrassing?"

Sabishii sighed. "She started hanging around the shop, I began teaching her how to work on bikes. Even gave her a part-time job. Everything was cool until the summer she turned sixteen. She had kinda developed a little… crush."

The snort escaped before Priss could even think about stopping it.

Glaring, Sabishii continued. "Ayden cornered me one day in the shop and kissed me."

Wincing, Priss could only imagine the scene. "Ouch. What did you do?"

"I decked her."

Priss face faulted and Sabishii howled, "You sap! I can't believe you fell for that!"

Priss punched her in the arm. "Asshole."

Sabishii wiped her eyes and shrugged. "I let her down as gently as I could, reminded her that I was married to Kuraki and-." It was Sabishii's turn to blanch. "Oh my god! I married Kuraki!!"

Realizing the problem, Priss smirked. "Well, well, well, look who's in the dog house now."

"I… oh my god. What am I going to do?!"

Shrugging, Priss began packing up the equipment she had been using. "Just a guess, but I'd say marry her again."

Ayden sat in the tavern, drinking her ale and listening to the people around her. She'd taken a seat in the darkest corner and no one had realized who she was yet. That suited her just fine. She loved the people, but they could be wearing at times. So times like this, when she could be part of the crowd were special to her. Her attention was caught by a conversation across the room.

"I don't understand how the goddesses can allow it. It's too dangerous to have that thing in the city. What if it starts killing people?

The man was working himself up into a full rage and his friends tried to calm him. "Take it easy, I trust Sylayla. She said that he wasn't a threat and I believe her."

"But he's an overlord!"

Ayden sighed heavily and stood. She couldn't let this go on. "Excuse me." She stepped into the light and there were several gasps of surprise. "You're talking about Kasuhito?"

The man had paled, but he stubbornly repeated, "He's an overlord, my Goddess. He's a threat to us all."

Ayden crossed her arms over her chest. "He's my godfather and he raised me."

Stunned the man fell back into his chair. Ayden smirked and looked at the crowd. "He's the smartest, kindest and most honorable person I've ever known and he taught me everything I know."

Since the young goddess was considered more approachable than the elder gods, a voice in the back asked, "But Ninani and Linai?"

"I was born at the time of the Flares and placed into a god stone as an infant. Since my mothers couldn't be with me, Kasuhito's soul was placed inside the stone. He and Prisana created a world inside the stone, one that was exactly like the real world. It was there that I was raised. Kasuhito isn't an overlord. At one time he was a god."

Disbelieving mutters circled through the crowd and Ayden held up her hands for quiet. "I swear to you."

"It's a soulless machine!"

"No, that's all that remains of Sylayla's father, Kasuhito."

Her listeners stared at her in shock. And Ayden launched into her tale with gusto.

"The first gods were Kasuhito, and his children, Sylayla and Mackie. He then created the first boomer. It was supposed to be a gift to mankind, but his assistant, Genom saw the potential for great power with the boomer. He took it and used it to steal Kasuhito's power and trap his soul inside a boomer body. Then he destroyed Kasuhito's body so that he would be imprisoned forever."

"Sylia and Mackie were just children when this happened. Because they were so young, Genom didn't see them as a threat and left them alone. But while Sylayla was young, she was also incredibly smart. She began planning her revenge. When she came of age and gained her full powers, Sylayla went out and searched the land for three exceptional women."

"Drawn by Linai's grace and amazing athletic ability, she asked her to join her. Next she created a puzzle and invited those that would to solve it. When Ninani came forward, Sylayla almost turned her away, for Ninani was a teenager. But the love and goodness she held was so strong that Sylayla knew she had to give her the opportunity. Ninani easily solved the puzzle and Sylayla welcomed her." Ayden retrieved her ale as she spoke, her throat dry from speaking.

"Sylayla went to the darkest and most dangerous region to find her next recruit. To the part of humanity that dwelled in the shadows. Those that lived there survived by their wits and sheer brute strength. There she heard tales of a woman warrior that was hunting the agents of Genom. Her friends had been slain by the boomers and she sought revenge. Sylayla tracked this warrior down and cornered her. Prisana turned on the goddess, drawing her blade and attacking. But Sylayla deflected the knife and sent Prisana to her knees. Before the warrior could rise to strike again, she offered her the chance to achieve true vengeance against the beast she hunted. Suspicious, Prisana was resistant, but Sylayla was persuasive and finally the warrior agreed. Sylayla took her and the others to her sanctuary, The Lady's Tower. There she taught them many secrets and began to form them into the goddesses they are today. After the final battle with Genom, they found Kasuhito and freed him from Genom's control. But the curse remained and he can never assume human form again."

Everyone was quiet, which was unusual after one of her stories, but Ayden figured that she'd given them a lot to think about.

Tia hurried through the door to the library and collided with someone coming out. She felt herself falling and then she wasn't. She looked up into eyes that were so dark they were almost black. "I, I'm sorry. I didn't see you."

Tadashii smiled down at the girl in her arms and winked. "Anytime." She steadied her and let her go reluctantly. "Are you alright?"

Tia's face was flushed in embarrassment. She looked at the taller girl and saw the distinctive tunic. "You're one of Sylayla's Scribes."

It wasn't a question but Tadashii answered anyway. "I am. I'm Tadashii, Senior Scribe to the Goddess Sylayla." She bowed, surprising a giggle from Tia. Tadashii rose and looked the blonde over. A cap of white-blonde hair, cut short like her own. An open face that held the look of good humor, even when it wasn't smiling and blue eyes that seemed to sparkle, even in the dim light of the library. She was dressed in a light shirt and britches, which were tucked into sturdy boots. A leather apron covered her chest and upper thighs. "And you're Tia, Aide to the Goddess Kuraki and formerly of the White Cat tribe in the north."

"How did you..." She flushed. "Right. Scribe. Sorry."

Tadashii shrugged. "So where were you off to in such a hurry?"

Remembering her mission, Tia straightened. "Books. I'm getting some books for Kuraki and Sylayla." She stepped past the scribe and entered the library. Tia looked back over her shoulder and saw the scribe was still standing there, watching her.

She felt herself blush and ducked into the nearest row of shelves.

Ayden reluctantly broke the kiss and began to kiss Hirani's cheek and forehead. The passion had flared hot and intense between them, but Ayden refused to rush the handmaiden into anything.

Hirani slowly calmed down, realizing that the goddess was pulling back… again. Frustration curled through her in an unsettling tangle and she bit her tongue to stop the words of protest from leaving her lips. But then she recalled Ayden's admonishment that she was not going to enter into a relationship with Hirani unless they did it as equals. She hadn't been sure what that had actually meant at the time, but now she was beginning to wonder. Hirani reached up and gently grasped Ayden's face, pulling her down to meet her lips again. She boldly swiped her tongue across the goddess' lips, demanding entrance. Ayden felt her heart thud painfully and complied, letting the smaller girl take control. Emboldened by Ayden's compliance, Hirani pushed the goddess back until she was lying beneath her on the low couch.

Ayden felt a slim leg slip between hers and press upwards, making her head swim even more. She broke the kiss long enough to gasp, "Hirani! Are you sure about this?"

Hirani sat up and looked down at the beautiful girl beneath her. She traced the swollen lips, let her fingers glide down and tugged the laces of the goddess's shirt loose. Hirani bent and Ayden gasped in astonished pleasure and surprise as warm lips captured her breast. "Hirani!"

Outside Ayden's chambers, Linna halted her fist before it could complete the knocking motion. She heard the low cry and blinked. Hesitantly she pressed her ear to the door and strained to hear.

"Don't stop! Please Hirani!"

Linna felt her face flush and then bit back a scream as a hand clamped down on her shoulder. She found Nene standing behind her grinning. "You'll never find anything out that way." She reached for the door handle, only to have her hand caught by Linna's. Her wife began pulling her down the hallway and Nene began protesting. "But I wanted to talk to Ayden. Why can't I? Why are you laughing? Linna!"

Sabishii watched Priss play with the baby, surprised at the gentleness she saw. "So the kid's really yours?"

Priss sighed at Sabishii's tone. "Yes, she is."


"I'm not doing this with you right now, Sabishii."

"Doing what?"

Rolling her eyes, Priss called Shikima to her. "Here, Shikima. Take her to Fusha. She'll be hungry soon." The temple maiden nodded and carried Koneko from the great hall, leaving the goddesses alone. Priss stood and stretched. Sabishii scowled at the rumbling purr that escaped her double. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

Priss shrugged. "What's wrong with you? Ever since you got here you've been attacking me. Attacking my choices, my actions… why?"

"Because you're not acting normal! For god's sake you're letting yourself be worshipped as a goddess! Cheating on Sylia! We're not like that!"

Priss stilled as everything snapped into place. "So that's it. You think we should be acting and thinking the same?"

Confused, irritated and more than a little uneasy, Sabishii began to pace. "I'm your clone, damn it. We're the same."

Priss chuckled darkly. "No. We're not." She watched the woman, her eyes narrowing. "Sabishii. You won't become like me."

Sabishii stumbled and whirled to face Priss. "What?"

Reaching out, Priss clasped Sabishii's shoulder. "I thought you understood. The things I went through… they changed me. They're the direct reason that I am the way I am now." She smirked. "So unless you get kidnapped, tortured, abused and somebody tries to fuck with your head then there's no way you can become like me. So don't worry. You're still Priss. Hell, you're more Priss than I am."

Sabishii felt the hard knot of tension that she had been carrying inside of her ease. "I realized that awhile ago, but…" She looked sheepish. "I just couldn't figure out how you were living with what you were doing."

"I just have to. So much had happened since I awoke. Maybe I would have made different choices if I hadn't been alone. Who knows? But right here, right now… I stand by the actions that I've taken."

Ayden left her mother's temple and headed for Prisana's determined to get an answer to a question that had been bothering her for some time.

The handmaiden that met her at the doors took her through the temple and to the small office behind Priss' throne. Ayden thanked her and knocked on the doorframe. "Hi."

Priss looked up from the book she was writing in and smiled. "Hey there. Come on in." She waited until Ayden had sat down before speaking again. "So what brings our young goddess to the Temple of Prisana?"

Ayden laughed at her aunt's teasing. "Oh I come seeking knowledge."

"Sounds serious. What's on your mind, Scout?"

The childhood nickname made her more determined to find the truth. "I was wondering… about you. My memories of you are… different than you are now. Mom said that you'd shown feline-like, behavior before the flares and I wondered if that was true then why you didn't in the virtual world?"

Priss sat back in her chair and smiled a little. "Figured it out, huh? Well the truth is Ayden that I was like this in the virtual world. I just promised Nene that I would never do anything to frighten or upset you. I knew she was talking about the feral things that I had started to do and I understood why she wanted it that way. I had… let's say Linna and I had an incident. Nene felt she had a right to worry. Looking back, I guess she did."

Ayden's mind was frantically recalling several incidents from her past. "So that's why you seemed to tense up whenever I was around. I thought you didn't like me."

Priss looked shocked. "Not like you?! Ayden, I delivered you! I held you in my arms and fell in love with you right then and there. I'm sorry if I ever gave you that impression. Sometimes the cat was very close to the surface and I was afraid of letting something slip." She got up and came around the desk, sinking to her knee beside Ayden's chair and taking her hand. "I love you, Ayden. You hold an amazing place in my heart." She leaned close and hugged her, feeling the purr begin to vibrate her chest.

Ayden laughed and pulled back a little. "No wonder you kept your distance!"

It had been a relatively quiet summer and fall. The harvest had been excellent. They had renewed the peace treaty with their neighbors to the west after Priss and Sabishii had gone to their city and helped them create a cure for the illness running rampant through their people. Once they'd done that, the city of Ban'Yuu had fallen over themselves in their eagerness for peace.

Everyone had been thrilled that Sabishii and Priss had stopped trying to kill each other. Nene was sad that it was going to end.

She asked Sabishii and Kuraki to come to her temple, and paced the length of her private office as she waited for them. When they arrived, Nene offered refreshments and Sabishii stared at her in suspicion. "What's wrong?"

Nene handed the parchment to Sabishii and bit the inside of her lip. "Um, the people want to build you a temple."

Sabishii read the proposal and her eyes locked on one line. "The Goddess of Sorrows?! Where the hell did they come up with that?"

Kuraki held up a similar paper. "They're calling me the Goddess of the Sea. Which makes me suspect where they got their information from."

Nene shot her a puzzled look. "Goddess of the Sea? How come?"

"I now seem to recall having a huge aquarium in our apartment, one that a certain mischievous little girl kept trying to go swimming in."

The artificial memories slowly came to them and Nene blushed. "Uh oh. Ayden used to call you the Sea Goddess because you saved her pet goldfish that time."

A sound of exasperation escaped Kuraki. "I didn't save it! I got her another one. She never knew the difference."

Sabishii flapped the paper in front of them. "Hello! Big problem here. How do we handle this?"

Nene shrugged. "Let them build the temples. They will anyway. And we figure it will be at least two generations before they're ready for self-rule."

"I don't want to be a god, Nene!"

The door opened and Ayden walked in, humming a familiar tune. She saw her mother and aunts staring at her and stopped her rendition of Kon'ya wa Hurricane. "Um, hi. What's up?"

Sabishii crossed her arms and glared at the young goddess. "I know what you're the goddess of now."

Ayden smiled. "Really? What is it?"

"Mischief!" She crumpled the parchment and tossed it at Ayden's head. "Somehow I just know that you're the one behind this."

Smoothing out the paper, Ayden read the proposal. She shrugged and looked at Sabishii. "So what's the problem?"

Incoherent, Sabishii started forward only to be halted by Kuraki's arms around her. "Calm down, let her explain."

"Look, I know you didn't want this to happen but the people were making stuff up. And trust me. You would have hated those stories a lot more. I just set them straight."

Nene's brow rose at that and she stared at her daughter until Ayden blushed and ducked her head.

"Okay maybe I adlibbed a little. But it sounded better that way."

"The Goddess of Sorrows?!" Sabishii was outraged. "It makes it sound like I'm some kind of depressed whiner!"

Kuraki giggled at her indignant expression. "I'm sure that's not what Ayden was trying to tell people about you, Honey. Was it?"

Ayden shook her head quickly. "No, no, of course not. I… well… you're such a good listener Aunt Sab. You've been through so much and I just thought that…. Well. I used to come to you when I was upset about something I didn't want to talk to my moms about. And you always cut right to the heart of the matter. No bullshit. Just truth. I figured if someone else needed that kind of thing then they'd now know where to go, you see?"

Sabishii subsided, grumbling under her breath. "I guess."

Tia sipped from her mug and watched them. She could see the attraction between them and could see that they had yet to act on it. What were they waiting for? They weren't going to live forever. She ruthlessly pushed her own desires down and stared moodily into her cup.

Across the table, Tadashii watched her new friend out of the corner of her eye. She seems so sad. I wonder if Tebiki could get her to talk about what's bothering her. She's so good at getting people to open up. The scribe looked at her best friend and felt the stirring in the pit of her stomach again. Tebiki had worked part of her hair into several braids that fell around her face. The style was becoming more common throughout the city, inspired by the Goddess of War.

But where Prisana wore black battle feathers in her braids, Tebiki had woven colorful strips of ribbon.

Tadashii thought she looked beautiful. She quickly averted her gaze before the handmaiden could notice and met Tia's knowing eyes. Blushing slightly, she lifted her own mug.

Tebiki resisted the urge to sigh and wondered who they thought they were kidding. The tension at the small table was so thick she could almost reach out and touch it. She'd been surprised the first time Tadi had invited the blonde along, but had quickly seen the sparks between them. Tebiki had been hurt, feeling that her friend was trying to replace her. But then she realized that she was still getting those looks from Tadashii. The ones that made her blood heat. Gradually she realized that Tadashii was being torn in two directions and didn't know what to do. Neither did she. It had been made worse when she realized that she really liked Tia and had grown to care about her as well. Tebiki leaned back and raised her mug to the others. They met her silent toast and the three drank, bound together by unspoken desires.

The Goddess of Love and Harmony got the surprise of her life when she walked into her daughter's bedroom the next day. Curled up beside her was a familiar face. Nene blinked and then rubbed her eyes, looking again. Yep. She was still there.

<Ayden Irina Romanova! What are you doing?!>

Ayden jolted awake at the mental shout and looked around sleepily. "Huh? What? Mother?" She saw the fury on her mother's face and winced. A quick glance to her left told her that she had forgotten to wake Hirani and send her back to her quarters last night. <Can we do this somewhere else?> She tucked the blanket around Hirani and then wound the sheet around herself before rising. Ayden slipped into the small side room she used as a closet and dropped the sheet. She began pulling clothes from drawers, practically climbing the dresser when Nene spoke behind her.

"What do you think you're doing, Ayden?"

Ayden turned, clutching a purple tunic to her chest. "God Mother! You're gonna give me a heart attack."

Nene studied the collection of bruises and bite marks that was strung across Ayden's neck and shoulders. "Hmm. Wouldn't have figured her for a biter."

Ayden blushed and shushed her mother as she pulled her tunic on. "Shush! You'll wake her."

"It's not like I haven't seen her naked before."

Ayden scowled. "Don't say that."

Seeing her daughter's distress, Nene hastened to reassure her. "I meant at the initiation ceremony. Ritual bath, remember?"

Ayden exhaled and then ran a hand through the tangled mass of her hair. "I know. I just… she… I don't want her hurt. And that's a really touchy subject with her."

Nene thought about the last time she'd seen the girl naked and nodded. "I bet."

They were barricaded in Priss' private office, ducking the various people looking for them by declaring that they were in a meeting. Three empty wine bottles littered the desk between them and Sabishii was cheerfully uncorking another. "So how are things between you and Tia?" Priss controlled her grin with difficulty as she asked.

Sabishii rolled her eyes. "I have no idea. One second she's sending me death glares and the next she's being polite, like it never happened. You think it could be a split personality?"

Priss' brow rose. "Seriously doubt that. But I may know why she's eased up on you."

"Really? Out with it, Stingray."

Priss smiled at the name. She'd forgotten that she'd added Sylia's last name to her own when they married. "A certain aide has been seen entering a certain scribe's quarters in the Temple of Sylayla."

Sabishii blinked. "Tia's seeing someone? That's fantastic! Who is it? I'll need to reward them for their bravery."

Priss snickered and shook her head. "Only one scribe has quarters at the temple. Tadashii."

Alarmed, Sabishii took a drink of her wine and thought about that. "Sylia's pet scribe. And Kuraki's aide. Could this possibly be a coincidence?"

"I honestly don't know. I'd like to think so." Priss sighed. "Either way we'll find out soon enough." She smiled at Sabishii suddenly, startling the clone. "Got a surprise for you, by the way."

Warily, Sabishii eyed the large, cloth wrapped bundle Priss was pulling out from behind her desk. "I am afraid to ask."

Priss shook her head and handed the object to her sister. "Here ya go, Sis. Happy Birthday."

Sabishii took the gift automatically. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Priss shrugged. "Its winter. You were created in the winter."

Sabishii considered this and then shrugged. "What the hell." She pulled the cloth away and stared at the instrument in disbelief. "Damn! Where did you get this?" Sabishii fingered the frets and played a few chords. "It really works!"

Priss playfully punched her in the arm. "Of course it works! You think it's just for looks?" She took a similar instrument from its case on the floor. "I'm kind of jealous. That's the second one that Takumi made and she added a few more details." There was a light carving along the face of the guitar, a beautifully detailed hawk in flight. "I told her about you and she kinda ran with the idea." Other carvings along the sides illustrated the two goddesses hunting overlords.

Sabishii was beyond words. She looked up at Priss and realized that there was no need for words. Priss was the one person in the entire world, hell the entire universe, that understood her need for music and the need to express herself through it. Sabishii grinned and began playing a familiar tune.

Priss laughed and joined her, letting her imagination go, improvising a bit here and adding a little more there.

They played together for hours, playful duels fought with notes and chords. They replayed old favorites and made up new ones. Eventually their wives wondered where they'd gotten to and came looking for them.

In the doorway, Sylia and Kuraki watched their wives and just enjoyed the fact that they weren't trying to kill each other.

Priss had been studying Sabishii, had seen her joy, seen the way she played and heard the difference between them. I really did die in that cell. I'm not Priss. She is. Priss changed the rhythm of her playing and Sabishii paused, watching her.

Sister I know there've been times when you didn't think

I was a very good friend

Sister you must think I'm out of my mind

It's a struggle sometimes to pretend.

Priss' eyes met Sabishii's and she stressed the words of the next line.

But I know what I'm know what I'm doing

I know who I am

I know how it works and I'll see where it ends."

"Sister I need you more now than I ever did

I've been thinking again

I've been thinking again

Sabishii began to play along, but her eyes were locked with Priss'. She really means it. Sister.

Life can be tricky and sneak up on you like a tiger looking for prey

And we've had our share of surprises,

There must be a good one coming our way

Because we're really all looking, we're really all lost

The less we expect, the smaller the costs.

She felt her throat close at the truth of that. They did expect less, not wanting to risk disappointment. At least that was still something she shared with this woman.

Sister I miss you more now than I ever did

I've been thinking again

I've been thinking again

Things that aren't funny, are funny with you

So I'm better when you are around

And I might say that I don't need any advice

But I wear the clothes that I found

In the back of your closet, wherever you hide

Secrets that nobody ever will find

They shared a knowing smile. Sabishii had begun to accept that she and Priss were very different now, but she had never expected Priss to offer her this kind of relationship. She had thought that Priss wanted her gone…

Sister I love you more now then I ever did

I've been thinking again

I've been thinking again

Sister I love you more now then I ever did

I've been thinking again

I've been thinking again

Sabishii studied Priss for several long minutes after the song ended. Finally she nodded once and then smiled slightly.

Priss shrugged and grinned. "Come on. The army's drilling today. We can go scare the crap out of them."

Sabishii chuckled darkly. "Ooo. I like that idea." They left the temple and headed for the training grounds.

Sylia had tugged a stunned Kuraki away from the door, but had warned Arashi and Kiji that she wanted a full report later. She took Kuraki back to her temple, thinking about the words of Priss' song.

Once there, she faced Kuraki and smiled.

Kuraki blinked. "Uh oh. I recognize that look. You've made a decision about something."

Sylia laughed. "Yes. I think Priss is right." She reached out and took Kuraki's hands in hers. "We've told everyone that you're my sister… but I haven't been acting like it. I want to change that."

Smiling a little, Kuraki shrugged. "Sure. But you do realize that neither one of us knows what that actually means?"

Slipping an arm around her waist, Sylia walked with her sister to her 'lab'. "We're very smart women, Kuraki. I'm sure we can figure it out."

The sword sliced the air with a sinister whistling noise but Sabishii was no longer there. Priss watched in amazement as her sister flipped her body into the air, the backwards somersault moving her out of range. "You sanctimonious bitch!"

Sabishii grinned cheekily. "What?"

Priss glared and advanced, her sword probing Sabishii's defenses for an opening. As they sparred she complained, "You give me down the road for what I've done to my body every chance you get." The swords met and clanged harshly, sparks flying. The soldiers watching the match stepped back as the goddess' weapons began to move faster than they could see.

"Yeah well. I ran into a freakin huge leopard while I was going north." Sabishii deflected a blow that would have taken her leg off at the knee and then countered with a strike at Priss' seemingly unprotected head.

Priss parried easily and smiled. "Yeah those are a bitch."

<No shit. Took Kiji a week to get me mobile after that. Damn thing sliced me to ribbons. I still have scars.>

Concerned, Priss held up a hand and lowered her sword. "Still?" <Just how bad are we talking here?>

Shrugging, Sabishii shared what had happened.

The night was fast approaching and Sabishii was gathering wood for a fire when the scanners in her arm detected a large heat reading coming towards her. She turned to face the direction of the reading and activated the saber in her arm. Only the blade didn't descend. Stunned, she tried again, bitching silently to Kiji and that was when the leopard had attacked. The beast had pounced on her, its mammoth weight breaking bones as razor claws tore into her shoulders. Sabishii had looked up into a dark cavern filled with fangs and had reacted, shoving her cybernetic arm up and into the beast's chest. But the arm was barely functioning now so while she had the heart within her grasp, she could not crush it as she intended. The leopard had reared back, taking Sabishii with it. It struck out again, slashing across the woman's chest and again, opening up her belly. Ignoring the agony, ignoring the fact that her right arm was broken, Sabishii reached up and jabbed her thumb into the cat's eye.

The animal staggered and fell, jarring Sabishii's arm loose from its place within its chest. Both combatants had crawled away, though Sabishii didn't get far. With Kiji's help she was able to stay conscious long enough to set the bones that needed it and get most of her guts back where they were supposed to go. Then she'd passed out and according to Kiji, had been in a coma for five days. Sabishii had wasted no time ordering her enclave to begin upgrades once she woke up.

She was surprised to see Priss pale. "Hey, I survived."

I fucked up. And she almost died because of it. Priss threw the sword she was holding and watched it sink deeply into the side of the barracks with grim satisfaction. "I… I'm sorry. It's not enough for what I did but… I'm sorry. I should have made sure you were okay before letting you go. And I never should have let you go by yourself." Instead I drove her away on purpose. I'm beginning to wish that I'd never woken up. Might have been better for everyone.

Surprised and more than a little uncomfortable, Sabishii cajoled, "Don't worry about it. You didn't know it would happen and it's not your job to baby-sit me. I have the same medical knowledge you do, remember?"

"Yeah. But damn it, I knew those monsters were out there. I let my anger put you in danger." And perhaps some of that anger had sprung from her guilt about the decisions she had made about Ayden. Sabishii had called her on those choices and Priss had reacted.

Sabishii tossed her blade to a soldier and then surprised Priss by throwing an arm around her shoulders. "Come on Oneesan, you can buy me a drink."

"Oneesan? We're the same… well shit." Technically Sabishii was younger than her. "Fine. The first round's on me."

Ayden smiled cheerfully at the crowd and held her hands up for quiet. "So what would you like to hear tonight?

Some one called out. "Prisana's arm!"

Ayden hesitated only a moment "I will tell you but that tale is not… a happy one."

"Long after Sylayla had formed the others into gods and longer still before the final battle, word was brought to the goddesses that a horrible overlord unlike any that had ever been seen before was terrorizing the land. They went out to meet this foe, knowing that the people stood no chance against it. Sylayla perceived that their weapons would have little effect and they had no choice but to use a terribly dangerous device that she'd created and had hoped to never have to use. It was a small block of metal that would stick fast to the metal covering the overlords and rend it into pieces with a powerful explosion of energy. They were very dangerous though, and to work, someone would have to get as close as a lover to the monster and place it."

"They found the creature killing the city's soldiers with an inhuman glee and they attacked. As Sylayla had expected, their weapons were not damaging it. Sylayla gave a grenade to Prisana and one to Linai, as Prisana was the best fighter and Linai was the most agile. They approached the creature, weaving their way through the bolts of energy that it unleashed on them as if stepping around people in a crowded market."

"Sylayla began her attack, drawing the overlord's fire and trying to give the others the opportunity to use the weapons. Ninani used her powers to find weaknesses within the overlord and to watch for other overlords that might be drawn to the battle."

"Linai arrowed past and planted her grenade on its back. The weapon fired and tore a great hole in the beast, but it did not fall. Instead the blast shoved it forward so that it was able to catch Sylayla."

"It wrapped its mighty hand around her throat and began to choke her. Outraged at this, Prisana threw caution to the wind and attacked. She fired a blast of energy into the monster's wound and it dropped Sylayla."

"Prisana ran to the Mother and tried to get her to safety. But the overlord grabbed her from behind and Prisana grew enraged. Ninani carried Sylayla away and Prisana reached behind her to place the last grenade. The overlord caught her hand in his and the device activated, locking them together. Prisana tried to free herself, but the metal of her gauntlet was stuck fast."

"The explosion destroyed the overlord, but exacted a terrible price."

Ayden's audience was spellbound and she continued, knowing that they'd never heard what was coming.

"Prisana survived her injuries but sank into a deep depression. Sylayla was terribly worried about the war goddess and the shock of seeing her injured had forced her to face the truth. She was in love with Prisana."

Stunned by this, the crowd began to murmur.

"She could not return Prisana's arm but she could build her another. She labored over it tirelessly and took her creation to Prisana. But the war goddess saw the metal arm and could only see that which she hated most…. Overlord. She shunned Sylayla's gift and the Mother grew angry. She held Prisana down and merged Prisana with the metal, hoping to shock her out of her state of sadness. But it had the opposite effect. Prisana withdrew to her sanctuary and would not leave."

"Weeks went by and the goddess would not be budged. Sylayla sent her a gift of a magnificent steed, knowing Prisana's weakness and that she would need to accept and use the arm ride it. But Prisana was stubborn and wouldn't give.

"Finally Linai, the war goddess's best friend in all the world went to Prisana's sanctuary and berated her for what she was doing. They argued and the war goddess raised her hand to strike Linai down… but it was not her flesh and blood hand that she lifted. Appalled at what she had almost done, Prisana realized that she'd been letting the overlords win. She mounted the steed that Sylayla had gifted her with and went out to reclaim that which she had let slip away."

"Sylayla was waiting for her, astride her own beast and they rode together through the land, unspeaking. As they came to the Great Bridge to Nowhere, Prisana halted and faced Sylayla."

"I don't know what was said that night. Nowhere is it recorded, but the next morning when Ninani went to Prisana's sanctuary, she found the war goddess was absent. She hurried to Sylayla's to tell her and searched through the sanctuary for her. She threw open the door to Sylayla's bedchamber and was stunned to find the missing Goddess of War, tenderly holding Sylayla."

Someone in the crowd giggled and soon the entire room was laughing.

Ayden was nodding as she laughed, pitching her voice higher. "To this day, Prisana swears that it's impossible for my mother to knock… so remember that….and lock your doors."

The tavern fell into an uneasy silence and Ayden just smiled. And winked.

Solstice night. The winter holiday was a joyful time in Tokio and Ayden surprised Hirani when she asked her to join her at the pantheon's banquet that night. "Please come. I really want you to be there." She kissed Hirani's palm and placed it over her heart. "I want my family to meet the girl who has my heart."

Unable to resist the young goddess' charm, she had reluctantly agreed. And now here she was, about to enter the lion's den.

Hirani held Ayden's hand, nervously looking around as if something was going to jump out at her. Ayden rubbed her cold hand between hers. "It's okay. They're not going to hurt you."

Hirani nodded and let Ayden lead her into the dining room. She paled when she saw Prisana seated at the far end of the huge table, her high priestess on one side, her wife, the goddess Sylayla on the other. A small bundle was snuggled against her shoulder and Hirani saw a tiny fist wave in the air.

Priss' head lifted and she sniffed. A familiar scent was in the air and her eyes narrowed as she spotted Hirani. She handed the baby back to Fusha and then leaped over the table, moving with a feral agility. Hirani saw her move, saw that she was heading for her and she buried her face in Ayden's shoulder.

Ayden met Priss' eyes and pushed Hirani behind her. "Good evening, Aunt Priss."

Priss stopped at the underlying steel in the words and cocked her head. "Good evening, Ayden. Who do you have there?"

Ayden's gaze narrowed. "My mate."

The feline eyes flared at this challenge and Ayden kept her eyes pinned on them. "Rrrreally." The drawn out word echoed through the room, making Hirani whimper.

Ayden glared at Priss. "Back off, Priss. I don't want to have to hurt you."

Priss laughed and shook her head. "Don't be stupid. I won't hurt her. I just want to speak to her."

"Maybe later."

Priss frowned. "Maybe now." She reached out to move Ayden aside and was surprised to find herself flying through the air. The solid blow to her chest had propelled her up and back so that she actually landed on top of the table. Priss sat up and stared at Ayden in shock. "How the hell did you do that?!"

Ayden escorted Hirani to the table and got her settled before answering Priss' question. "I have an enclave remember?"

"But she wasn't supposed to do anything to you!"

Ayden smirked. "Yeah well. You left her personality more or less unfinished so that it would change to match mine. And when I was a kid the one thing I wanted above all else was to be a superhero. Shugo gave me what I wanted."

Priss cringed before the blow ever landed. "I'm sorry, Linna."

Linna bit back a curse as her hand began to throb where she had struck the back of Priss' head. You'd think I'd learn by now. "Ayden, just how much change are we talking about here?"

Ayden shrugged and accepted a glass of wine from Nene. "The changes were made as I grew, so they're ingrained. Shugo was able to encourage my muscles and bones to grow to be stronger without having to add a lot of foreign materials. It's almost impossible for me to break a bone now. But instead of metal reinforcements, Shugo caused them to just grow denser than normal. The same with my muscles, vision, hearing and reflexes."

To Ayden's surprise, Nene smiled at her. "That makes me feel a lot better. I don't have to worry so much about your safety."

Linna wanted to protest, but after her wife's pointed look she subsided. Nene was right. In this world it paid to be stronger and faster. Survival of the fittest was the name of the game in this time.

Sabishii was glaring at Priss. "Looks like she's following in your… damn. Our footsteps."

Ayden rolled her eyes. "Come on, Aunt Sab. You're the one who told me all that stuff about bone density when I broke my arm that time."

Nene and Linna locked eyes on Sabishii's cringing form. "Broken arm? When was this? I don't remember you ever breaking a bone."

Sabishii shrugged. "We didn't tell you. I fixed the arm and the ribs so there was no reason to tell you."

Very vocal protests began and Priss smiled devilishly as she settled back in her chair to watch the show. And to enjoy the fact that for once, she wasn't the one in the hot seat.

Afterwards Priss would reflect that she had tempted the fates with that thought.

A handmaiden announced that there was a soldier wishing an audience with Prisana and High Priestess Fusha. Priss told Tereya to send them in and looked at Fusha in question. "Anything going on I should know about?"

Fusha had a strange look on her face. "I… I'm not sure."

The table fell silent as a young woman entered and strode up to the gods without fear. Her armor was well worn and her skin was the deep brown that constant exposure to the sun could bring. Her light brown hair was bound in a single braid down her back and Priss could see several black feathers worked into its length. They represented won battles and Priss felt the hairs of her neck rise. She glanced at Fusha and saw that her mate had gone as pale as death. "Fusha?"

The soldier bowed to the goddesses. "My pardon for interrupting-." She stopped as her eyes fell on the baby Fusha was holding. "No."

Fusha gave the baby to a handmaiden and rose, coming around the table quickly. "Kishin …"

Kishin threw a bag at Fusha's feet, causing it to spill its contents across the floor. Multicolored jewels and gold coins winked merrily in the candlelight. "I have the dower, but I guess I was just a little too slow." She stared at her beloved, her eyes lit with fury. "How you could betray me like this? I loved you!" Kishin was shouting now, fists clenched, she moved towards the high priestess.

A deadly growl filled room and she turned to find the goddess of war bearing down on her. Priss' shove sent the soldier flying into the wall with a sickening crunch. Fusha cried out and rushed forward, putting herself between Priss and Kishin. "No! Please, don't hurt her!"

Priss met her mate's eyes and froze when she saw the truth. Why didn't she say something? "Why did you keep this from me?"

Fusha blushed and dropped her gaze. "I… you… My Goddess."

Priss flinched and stepped back. "That was the only reason you stayed with me. With us. Because you were afraid of me." She scowled. "I would never force you to stay. You know that!"

Tears spilled as she nodded. "Now I do. But I didn't… then." Fusha looked at Kishin, begging her to understand. "I was too afraid."

As if blinders had suddenly been lifted from her eyes, Priss truly saw her relationship with Fusha for the first time. What have I done? Nauseated, she realized that she had forced herself on this woman time after time. She had offered her handmaidens a choice, but not Fusha… Priss began backing away, shaking her head. Sylia was standing, coming towards her but she held up a hand. "No! Just… give me a minute." Priss slid her hands into her hair and clenched them, fighting the urge to yank it all out. "You want to leave with her." She heard Fusha's murmured assent and threw her head back, feeling the bile lodge at the back of her throat. I can't keep her against her will. She looked at the soldier who was now getting gingerly to her feet. But will she take care of Fusha? Priss moved forward and grabbed the soldier, lifting her high. "You. Come with me."

She dragged Kishin from the room, as Fusha struggled against Sylia's hold. "Let me go! Please!"

Sylia didn't. "It will be alright. Priss won't hurt her. She just wants to make sure she can trust this woman." I hope that's all she's doing. Oh Fusha, why didn't you tell me?

Fusha realized that she would not be able to follow them and stopped struggling. "You can let go now. I will wait for them to return." She stepped away from Sylia and looked down at the glittering fortune. "I can't believe she did it."

Sylia studied the blanket of wealth that the soldier had discarded. "That's quite a fortune. What did she mean by your dower?"

Fusha shrugged slightly. "I was a ward of the temple of Prisana. Raised by the temple and trained to be a high priestess since I was a child. The only way I could leave was if someone offered my bride price."

"Where were your parents?" And why in all the times we talked, didn't you say anything? She scolded herself. Why didn't I ask?

Fusha knelt and began gathering the treasure. "My mother died in childbirth and my father was killed a year later in one of Malcor's attacks. Since he was a soldier in Prisana's army, the temple took me in to raise." Her voice was calm and even; Fusha was very good at hiding the turmoil she was feeling.

Sylia watched the young woman carefully. Being a master of masks herself, Sylia saw right through Fusha's. "You should have told her. You should have told me… Why didn't you, Fusha?" She couldn't help it. "Were you afraid of me as well?"

"Not of you." She reached out to touch Sylia and then dropped her hand. "Never of you."

Across the room, the others watched this play out in stunned surprise. Sylia…and Fusha?!

"Then why didn't you tell me?"

Fusha shrugged again. "I was afraid at first. And then Prisana told me I was carrying her baby and I knew she'd never let me leave." She rose and set the bag of jewels on the table before meeting Sylia's eyes. "After a while I just… gave up… gave up on Kishin. It had been so long since anyone had seen her that I was afraid she… that she had been killed." Shaking her head, Fusha clasped her hands in front of her to hide the tremor in them. "Then you and I… it was easier to forget then."

"But you still love her." It wasn't a question. Sylia ruthlessly shoved the pain deep, so deep that it could no longer hurt her.

"Will Prisana…" Fusha's stared at Sylia, eyes pleading. "Is Kishin still alive?"

Once in Priss' private chambers, the Goddess of War shoved her captive into a chair. "I need to know that you won't hurt her or blame her because of what happened." She held her metal hand up and Kishin saw a blue flame begin to burn in the center. Priss brought the flame close enough to the soldier's face for her to feel her skin begin to heat uncomfortably. "I am Prisana, the Goddess of War. What I want, I take. Do you think a mere mortal can resist me?"

Ever so slightly, Kishin shook her head. "Wh-why are you telling me this?"

Priss shut the plasma cutter down and leaned over the woman. "Because I won't let you blame her for what I've done." She moved away, throwing herself into the chair beside the fireplace. "Fusha had no choice. She didn't willingly betray you." Priss felt her stomach roil again. "I forced her." Raped her. God. "I won't make excuses about what happened. Let's just say I wasn't thinking clearly."

Kishin's fists were clenching and unclenching on her thighs. She raped… she hurt her… Impotent rage was blurring her vision.

Reading the signs easily, Priss sighed. "You'd be wasting your energy attacking me. You can't hurt me." Priss leaned forward and held her hands palm up. "You won't believe me, but right now I wish you could kill me. I had myself convinced that she wanted me. Wanted to be with me." Priss made a sound of disgust. "Yeah. I really wish you could kill me."

"How could you do that to her!?"

Priss' eyes slid closed. "My only defense is that I was out of my head with grief. I thought my wife was dead." Opening her eyes again she studied Kishin, trying to judge her character. "The baby is mine."

Kishin blinked and shook her head. "I…she…" She slumped in the chair. "You won't let her go."

Priss growled, making Kishin jump. "You idiot! Are you not hearing me? Didn't you hear what she said in there? She loves you. She wants to be with you. I would never stand in the way of that. The only question is will you be able to forgive her for something that wasn't her fault. I need to know if you still love her. If you love her enough…."

Glaring at the goddess, Kishin shot to her feet. "Of course I love her! Haven't I spent over a year gathering the money for her dower?! I worked every task I could find, hired my blade out as a bodyguard and as a mercenary. I fought other people's wars and shed blood for causes not my own, just to free her from you!"

Priss shook her head. "Yeah, the dower was one of the first laws I changed when I got here. You owe me nothing. But under the new law I get to take your head if you hurt her."

Kishin was nonplused. So much work… and for what? She scowled as she realized what the goddess was suggesting. "I would die before harming a hair on her head." Unlike Priss, her tone implied.

Priss sighed and rose, kneeling in front of the fireplace. She used the plasma cutter to start the fire that had been prepared, both for the expediency and to show the young woman once again that she was more than she appeared to be. She felt more than saw Kishin's jump as the plasma burst from her hand and instantly ignite the logs. "So you love her and I care too much about her to hurt her anymore. There's only one thing left to discuss then." Priss stood and faced Kishin. "My daughter."

Priss strode into the room, Kishin close behind. Sylia had managed to get Fusha to sit down but now the high priestess sprang up and ran to Kishin. "Are you alright?" She searched her love's face and body, looking for any signs of injury.

Sylia saw the pain in Priss' features and knew. <She's leaving isn't she?>


Priss went to the handmaiden that was holding Koneko and took the baby. She held the infant close, inhaling her scent, marking it in her memory. She kissed the baby's cheek and then placed her daughter into Fusha's arms. "You… are free to go."

Fusha blinked at the goddess's words. "My Goddess?"

Priss nodded. "Go. With my blessing." She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "When Koneko comes of age you will tell her about me. Let her choose if she wants to meet me, agreed?"

Bewildered, Fusha looked from Kishin to Priss and then back again. "But... I don't understand." Kishin put her arm around Fusha's shoulders and led her out of the room.

Sylia laid her hand on Priss' shoulder. "Priss?"

Pulling free, Priss walked away, heading for the other exit. <Not here.> Sylia looked at the others. She saw their worried expressions and smiled reassuringly. "I'll take care of her."

In a corner of the dining room, Tadashii sat, writing furiously. Her hand ached as she filled page after page with what had transpired that night.

She'd been shocked by the Master Scribe's announcement of her next assignment. And then he'd told her to present herself to Sylayla's temple immediately.

When she got there she'd been shown into the great hall and had approached the Mother and the Creator, who was currently seated upon her throne. Tadashii had knelt at her feet and Sylayla had smiled, telling her to rise.

A temple maiden brought a small box and Sylayla thanked her before taking the heavy silver medallion out. She stood and stepped down the two stairs of her throne until she was level with Tadashii. "For exemplary service as a Scribe of Sylayla, I raise you up to the rank of Senior Scribe." She draped the chain over her head and smiled. "You will begin your new duties now. I hope you brought a lot of paper."

Tadashii remembered her comment now, as she dropped the full book and opened another. Technically the Solstice banquet was still going on but everyone was talking about what had just happened.

An argument broke out between Linai and Sabishii and Tadashii wrote faster. It was going to be a long night.

Once in her chambers, Priss sent the handmaidens away and stripped out of her clothes. She sank into the hot bath they had prepared and leaned back, letting her head rest on the edge of the pool.

She heard the door open and smelled Sylia's distinctive scent. "Why didn't she tell me? Tell you?"

Sylia paused in the act of undressing and studied the deceptively languid pose. "If I had to guess I'd say she was too loyal, both to her duty as a high priestess and to us." And the thought made Sylia want to weep. She finished undressing and slid into the water. "I think she did come to care for us Priss. In her own way." I hope she did. God don't let us have so blindly hurt her.

Priss snorted. "Yeah, the way long time prisoners come to care for their jailers."

Stockholm Syndrome. Captives begin to identify with their captors initially as a defensive mechanism, out of fear of violence. Small acts of kindness by the captor are magnified, since finding perspective in a hostage situation is by definition impossible.

Her guts clenched as she recalled her own experiences. And I turned right around and did the same thing to Fusha… God help me… I've become a monster.

Sylia frowned and moved closer, rubbing a cloth with soap and then running over Priss' shoulder. "Priss you weren't yourself when you.. took her."

"That's not an excuse, Sylia!" Priss' eyes flew open and she glared at her wife.

Sylia dropped the cloth and didn't bother to pick it back up. Her eyes were bright with pain and she started to climb out, only to be halted by Priss' hand on her arm.

"Oh God. I'm sorry Sylia." Priss pulled her into her arms and kissed the soft skin at the base of Sylia's neck. "I didn't mean it like that."

Sylia didn't struggle, but she didn't yield either. "What happened wasn't your fault, Priss. If anyone is to blame it's the cat. You weren't in control." But I was. Sylia refused to cry. Absolutely refused.

"But sometimes I was… and I'm asking myself if I just didn't see the signs, or if I didn't even bother to look."

"Priss I didn't see it either. And I'm an expert at hiding things. I really think she felt she couldn't refuse because we're… gods."

Priss made a sound of disgust that Sylia silently echoed. "Some gods. Can't see what's right in front of us." She rested her forehead against Sylia's shoulder. "It's too damn easy to not pay attention to how these people feel, Sylia. We're smarter than they are, we know more. God help me... I think we consider ourselves above them."

"We are in a way. But you're right. In a lot of ways we're using them." Sylia held Priss' arms tighter against her. "But now I'm wondering… is it what you did that's upsetting you so much or that she and Koneko are gone?"

The reality she had been avoiding was now staring her in the face. Priss' chest jerked as she fought a sob. "Sylia." She began to cry and Sylia turned in her embrace. She held her wife tightly as she cried, knowing the source of her grief. "Shh. It'll be alright." Priss shook her head against Sylia's shoulder. "No it won't! Koneko!" Sylia felt her own tears fall as she thought of the child she had grown to love... and the woman. "I know, love. I know."

The knock on her door made Tadashii groan. She'd just gotten back to her room after the banquet had finally broken up and she wanted to sleep and rest her hand before she had to transcribe her notes into a formal report the next day. The knock came again and she rolled out of bed with a tired sigh.

The door opened to reveal Tia. The blonde smiled at her friend's tired eyes in sympathy. "I know you're exhausted, but I saw how fast you were writing tonight and I knew your hand had to be killing you." She held up a heavy pot of steaming water. "Maybe if you soaked it?"

Tadashii stepped back and let her enter. "Thanks. That's a great idea." She sank onto the bed as Tia sat the pot on the table beside it. Tadashii winced as she submerged her hand into the heat and then sighed in relief. "Thank you, thank you, and thank you! I may actually be able to write tomorrow."

Tia climbed onto the bed behind her and began rubbing her shoulders, feeling her own tighten in sympathy when she felt how stiff they were. "Rough night."

There was another knock and they looked at each other in surprise. Tia went to the door and opened it.

Tebiki hurried in and looked at them both in question. "What on earth is going on?"

They both blushed furiously and Tebiki realized that they'd misunderstood her question. She filed their reactions away for later study and clarified. "Everyone is talking about what happened at the banquet. Is it true? Did Fusha really break her vows and leave Prisana?"

Tadashii shook her head, relieved. "No. Not at all. Prisana released her from them.

Tebiki sat down on the foot of the bed and frowned. "But why?"

Tia hesitated for a second and then shrugged, climbing back onto the bed to resume her back rub. "Fusha's first love appeared to claim her."

Tadashii nodded, her head falling forward in relief as Tia worked her magic. "Yes. Fusha had thought that Kishin had died. When she'd really been out raising the money for Fusha's dower."

Tebiki watched them, saw the desire between them. "That's so sad. But… what about the baby?"

Tia winced. "Prisana allowed Fusha to take her. She'll tell Koneko about Prisana when she comes of age."

"How awful for Fusha to have to make that choice."

Tia nodded, but added, "Prisana has lost a mate and a child."

Tadashii shook her head. "Yes. I feel badly for Sylayla as well. She's also lost a mate and a child."

Tebiki stared at her blankly. "What do you mean?" As Tia asked, "Sylayla? I don't understand."

Tadashii hesitated. While it was recorded in the archives, she didn't feel it was okay to idly gossip about what the scribes learned. But this was Tia and Tebiki. They each knew one part of it already. "She and Fusha had become lovers."

Tia froze. "B-but… did Prisana know?"

"Oh yes. She encouraged it." Tadashii thought about Sylayla's addition to her report. "The three of them were lovers. Together."

"Three of them? I don't understand." Tia's hands stopped moving.

Tadashii turned around and looked at Tia's face as she recited the definition that Sylayla had written. "Three people that share a sexual relationship and engage in simultaneous sexual acts with each other." Her voice had grown husky as she spoke, changing the words into more than a simple definition. She turned to look at Tebiki and found her staring at her. "Sylayla told me herself. She called it a threesome, a ménage á trois, which apparently means 'marriage of three."

Tia shivered, her eyes wide. "Is, is that even possible?"

Tadashii shrugged. "It must be."

Tebiki swallowed hard and dropped her gaze to her lap, where her hands were twisting together nervously.

The silence filled the room, almost oppressive in its weight. They didn't look at each other, but sat. Thinking about this new possibility.

Priss dragged around the temple for days, her mood dark. Her temper was quick to flare and all of the handmaidens were reluctant to be anywhere near her. It got so bad that Aika, the new High Priestess, sought out Sylayla and begged her to intervene.

Sylia had assured the young woman that she'd handle it and then set about doing so.

Later that night, as they lay in bed together, Sylia slid on top of Priss and began to kiss her, deeply, passionately. Deliberate hands moved down her body, lighting eager fires of sensation and fueling them into an inferno. She was relentless, using her mouth and hands to arouse Priss, not stopping until she was writhing under her, desperate for release.

Sylia sent a specific set of instructions to Arashi and Taisei. Arashi needed no convincing as she knew what she wanted. What Priss wanted.

Priss struggled to flip Sylia over and have her way, but the taller woman was having none of it. She had a specific goal in mind and she wasn't giving up till she reached it. Priss growled up at her wife, frustrated, aroused and impatient.

Sylia looked into the feral gaze below her and saw the edge of desperation that she'd been searching for. She slipped between Priss' legs and pressed her throbbing heat to her wife's. Priss' eyes widened and she gasped as Sylia began to thrust against her. "Sylia!"

Leaning close, Sylia panted into Priss' ear. "I want your baby, Priss. Our baby. Make me pregnant."

The words exploded through Priss' brain like a tsunami and she could not stop the startled roar that escaped her throat. Priss surged up and finally managed to push Sylia onto her back. She pushed herself against her wife, felt the slick wetness as their bodies slid against each other. "Mine! God Sylia. My Sylia!"

Sylia gripped Priss' shoulders, pulling her tightly against her and urging her on. "Yes! Harder Priss. Yes. Don't stop. Don't you dare stop!"

Priss bent her head and nipped the side of Sylia's throat. "Never. Never!" She felt it coming over her again. That same feeling of something building within her. Priss sank her teeth into Sylia's neck and held on as the sensations burst over her in a flood. Over them. Sylia felt the sharp pinch and the pain sent her soaring into a new level of sensation. And then Priss was shuddering above her and they were bathed in fire.

A long time later, Priss managed to open her eyes with great difficulty. She felt totally washed out and her mind replayed what had just happened again. A tiny frown creased her brow. Priss rolled over and propped herself up on her arm, staring down at Sylia with a look of consternation on her face. "Why did you do that?"

Sylia reached up and traced the line of Priss' chin. "Because it's something we both wanted."

Hesitantly, Priss ventured, "She won't replace Koneko." Or Fusha.

"Of course not." Wanting to reassure her, Sylia took Priss' hand and pressed it against her belly. "This is not a replacement, Priss. But… maybe… it will ease the pain of her absence."

Sabishii drew deeply on the pipe and then exhaled a series of smoke rings. "You have got to be kidding me."

Priss shrugged and tapped tobacco into the bowl of her own pipe. "Nope. She's at two weeks."

Sabishii stared at her sister. "You know this need to impregnate women is probably the most disturbing thing I've discovered about you."

Priss chuckled darkly. "Not me this time. This was all Sylia's idea."

Choking on the lungful of smoke, Sabishii straightened in her chair, glaring at Priss. "Oh please tell me you're lying."

"You wish." Priss' smile was wicked. "And to think. Kuraki is exactly like Sylia…"

Sabishii was pale now. She took another hit from her pipe and forced herself to calm down. "Well, yeah, but Kuraki's not interested in having kids." I think. I hope. She frowned. Do I hope that? Sabishii had never really given it any thought. She shoved the whole thing aside for later study. "So what's happening with Fusha?"

Priss' face darkened. "She and Kishin have decided to stay in Tokio, which is good, but they want to keep their distance from me and Sylia."

"Damn. That's rough." Sabishii felt badly for Priss, realizing that it would be very difficult to watch your child grow up and not be able to have contact with her. "So were Sylia and Fusha really…" She cleared her throat.

Priss closed her eyes and nodded. "Yeah." And they were still recovering from that loss. "It was different between them. More mutual. I should have seen what I was, what we were doing to her. Too damn happy with the situation, I guess."

Sabishii said nothing as she realized what Priss meant. Damn. Both of them? I bet she was happy.

Shaking off her somber countenance, Priss forced a smile and stood. "Come on. I had an idea I want your input on."

Sabishii tapped the contents of her pipe into a glass bowl as Priss did the same. "Where are we going?"

"The blacksmith's."

"It… it's an interesting idea."

Tebiki's quietly offered comment made Tadashii nod. "Yes. I… I'm so… confused!" Tadi buried her face in her hands and groaned. "I've always loved you. And watching you devote yourself to the Goddess Ninani was the happiest moment of my life…. And the worst."

Tebiki scooted closer and put her arm around her friend's waist. "It was the same for me. I felt so torn…"

They were in the scribe's room, the one place they could talk without interruption. "I was so shocked when the goddesses revoked the rules about chastity and relationships. And so nervous. I wanted to approach you but didn't know where to begin. I was terrified that if I said something and you didn't feel the same then it would destroy the relationship we did have."

Tebiki rested her head on Tadashii's shoulder and sighed. "And then Tia came." She didn't have to say more. The blonde whirlwind had taken them both by surprise and confused the situation even more.

"A marriage of three."

There it was. They'd been tiptoeing around it for weeks. The three of them had continued to meet at the tavern, the library and here, in Tadashii' quarters. But when they were here, the conversation tended to be more… careful.

"I love you Tadi. And I believe that I'm falling in love with Tia, not that that's difficult to do. She's so fierce and protective of her goddess."

"Yes. She left her village and went in search of someone to help them defeat a band of boomers that was terrorizing them. She found Prisana and talked her into coming back with her. Then stood with Prisana against them."

Tebiki smiled. "Like I said, fierce."

Tadashii looked at Tebiki, her expression serious. "Do you think it would work between us?"

"I think that it can work….but only for those who are strong enough to take such a risk." She didn't give herself time to think, to doubt. Tebiki pressed her lips to Tadashii's.

Tadashii automatically put her arms around her, her mind totally focused on the soft lips beneath her own. When she lifted her head to see Tebiki's response, the brunette simply reached up and cupped the back of her head, pulling her back down.

Priss and Sabishii spent the day at the blacksmith's, fashioning rudimentary surgical instruments. Once they'd shown the smithy what they wanted, he'd said he would take over and then kicked them out. They were still laughing as they took the set they'd finished to the hospital.

Once inside, Priss introduced Sabishii to the head healer and told them that she'd be helping out with the classes.

Sabishii froze and then glared at her sister. "I'm going to what?"

"Teach some medical classes here. I do as much as I can but it would be great to have another teacher." Priss clapped Sabishii on the back. "And we're just in time for class."

Sabishii was beyond reluctant and when Priss casually announced to the class that they'd be studying stitches she groaned. "My stitches are lousy!"

Priss nodded and led Sabishii to a low table at the front of the class room. "I know. Which is why we're going to be practicing on you."

"Oh." Sabishii let Priss sit her down on the table and had actually rolled up the sleeve of her human arm before what her sister said sank in. "You're going to what?!" She stood up, only to be shoved down again. "You can't be serious!"

Priss smiled at the students and growled at Sabishii. "Yes. I am. Now sit." <Kiji suspend the automatic healing within her right arm please.>

Sabishii glared up at Priss. <No Kiji. Don't stop it. Priss is insane. Call Sylia. She deserves to be the one to put this lunatic out of our misery.>

Priss just smiled and lifted one of the new scalpels into the air for the class to see. "This is called a scalpel. It's a very sharp blade and the small blade length makes it easy to get into small places. The smith is creating more and they should be ready by next week. Today we're going to talk about stitches: How and When to use them."

She reached down and sliced a line up Sabishii's arm, making her swear. "This is a serious cut. Note the amount of blood and the visible muscles underneath."

Sabishii had and she closed her eyes as Priss continued in a cheerful voice that had her plotting painful, violent retribution.

The door swung open and Tia froze as she realized what she'd walked in on. Tadashii and Tebiki were sitting on the bed, in each other's arms. Tebiki's tunic was loose and was falling off her shoulders as Tadashii kissed the smooth flesh of the temple maiden's neck.

She must have made some sound because Tadashii looked up and froze. Tebiki opened her eyes and, seeing her would-be-lover's expression, looked over her naked shoulder. "Oh! Tia…" She started tugging at her clothes and Tadashii stood, crossing the room quickly as Tia tried to close the door. The scribe caught her hand and pulled her inside, shutting the door behind her. "Wait Tia, please don't go."

Tia twisted her arm, trying to break the taller girl's grip. But Tadashii was having none of it. "Please," she whispered, hugging Tia close. "Don't leave."

Tia stopped fighting and exhaled raggedly. "I… I didn't mean to… interrupt."

"You didn't." Tebiki's voice came from behind her and she jolted when she felt the brunette's hands slide over her shoulders and down her back. Tebiki pressed her body against Tia's and kissed the back of her neck. "We got a little carried away. You see, we were talking about you… and me… and Tadashii."

Tadashii kissed her cheek, the side of her jaw, whispering, "About all of us… together."

Tia shuddered and felt her knees give. But pinned between the two women, she stayed on her feet. Tebiki slipped her hands under the hem of Tia's tunic and up, lightly scratching her naked sides. Tia bit her lip and reached out to grip Tadashii's shoulders. "I-." She cried out and arched against Tadashii as Tebiki's eager hands found her small breasts.

Tadashii ducked her head and kissed her neck, lightly biting at the base of her throat. "Please Tia. Stay with us."

Tebiki drew Tia's ear into her mouth and sucked the lobe for a moment before releasing it. "Be with us." She met Tadashii's mouth and they kissed, tongue's exploring each other's mouths while their hands explored Tia.

She wasn't sure how she came to be sitting on the bed naked. Things had gotten a little fuzzy for a few moments. But as she pushed Tadashii's shirt off, she became very focused indeed.

Shinobi's cough turned into a ragged moan as the action jarred the wound in her side. She slumped against a tree and tried to gather enough strength to continue. The left side of her shirt was dark and wet with blood and she thought back to the strange weapon that the soldier had been carrying. A roar like thunder and a cloud of black smoke had erupted around him. She hadn't had time to notice anything more because a white-hot agony had blossomed in her chest and she'd passed out. When she had woken she'd had no idea how much time had passed but the battalion of soldiers had disappeared.

She coughed again and tasted blood. I have to get home. Ninani must be told of this. Shinobi straightened and limped toward Tokio once more.

Sabishii pulled the carrier to a halt and shut the motor off before turning to jostle her passenger awake. "Hey. Rise and shine sleeping beauty. We're here."

Priss rubbed her eyes and looked around. "Great. Let's get this over with."

They gathered the sturdy sacks they had brought and left the carrier to begin their climb down to the mine's opening. The jagged slash appeared like an open wound in an otherwise beautiful landscape.

As they entered the darkness, Sabishii grumbled, "Sylia and her damned science."

Priss protested, a low rumble vibrating the damp air around them. "Not just her, Sis. Kuraki wanted the crystals just as badly. They're twice as much trouble together."

"No shit." Sabishii laughed. "Of course they say the same thing about us." They didn't have to go far to find what they were looking for. Part of the main tunnel had caved in, and the ground gleamed with dull sheen of Pyrite crystals.

It didn't take long to fill their sacks and then they were dragging them back up to the truck.

Sabishii was panting lightly as they reached the summit and she glared at the bags. "What the hell do they want this shit for?"

Priss opened her mouth to explain and Sabishii cut her off. "I know, I know. Sulfuric acid. But what are they going to do with the acid?"

Shrugging, Priss slung her bags into the rear of the troop carrier and dusted her hands off. "There's a lot of uses for it actually. Fertilizer and oil refinement to name two, but I think they want it to use in chemical synthesis."

Sabishii rolled her eyes. "And that should scare us silly."

Priss grinned. "Well whatever the reason, I guarantee it won't be boring." She paused and sniffed the air. "Hmm. The wind's shifted. Storm coming."

"Thanks for the weather bulletin, Catgirl." Sabishii ducked the punch Priss had aimed at her arm. "Cut that out! You're always beating on me lately. What the hell is up with that?!"

She tossed her own bags inside and looked at Priss. "No defense huh? You…" Sabishii trailed off when she realized that Priss wasn't listening.

Feral eyes were locked on a spot in the distance and Sabishii could hear her sister's deliberate inhalations. "What?"

"Blood." Priss pulled her axe from the back of the truck and handed Sabishii her sword. "A lot of it. And I'm afraid I know who it is."

Sabishii stared at her. "How could you know that? We're in the middle of nowhere and no one knows where we were going except for our wives."

"I've smelled her scent before."

Priss began to run, leaving Sabishii to try and catch up. <I thought you upgraded me?> She was really having to push it just to keep Priss in sight.

=I did! But I didn't think you wanted that much of an upgrade.=

<I should at least be able to keep up with Priss!>

=Look, you said upgrade, and I did that. Priss' body isn't an upgrade, it's a whole new operating system!=

Sabishii saw Priss stop and kneel to look at something on the ground. She cast a wary eye at forest around them but could see nothing out of the ordinary. A quick check of her scanners confirmed that there was no one else in the area besides the goddesses and the woman on the ground. Sabishii crouched beside Priss. "How is she?"

Priss had pulled the shirt away from the wound and stared at it for a long moment before laying her cybernetic hand over it. The scanners confirmed what her sense of smell was telling her. "She's been shot."

Frowning, Sabishii moved Priss' hand away and looked at the wound. "Shot? With an arrow you mean?"

Priss met her sister's eyes. "No. With a bullet."

Sabishii let her own hand hover over the wound and the scanners confirmed the presence of metal fragments and a faint chemical trace that Kiji speculated was primitive gunpowder. "Boomers?"

Scooping Shinobi up into her arms, Priss headed back towards the truck. "I don't know. I hope so."

Incredulous, Sabishii followed. "You hope so? Why on earth would you want boomers to be packing guns?"

"Because the alternative is too nasty to contemplate."

Once back at the truck, Priss laid the wounded spy in the back and retrieved her medical pack from under the front seat. "She's lost a lot of blood." Priss took the long, thin tweezers she had crafted and probed the wound, wincing in sympathy as Shinobi moaned. She felt more than heard the metallic click when the metal touched the bullet. "I think I can get this out without opening the wound anymore."

Sabishii watched her pull the projectile from the gaping hole and then leaned closer, pouring water from a jug into it. "We still need to make sure that there's nothing else in there that needs attention."

They worked together with an efficiency that was surprising and soon the wound was bandaged and Shinobi was resting comfortably.

Sabishii washed the blood from her hands and then handed the jug to Priss. "Sometimes I'm glad that medical shit got dumped into my, I mean our, heads, you know?"

"Yeah." Priss set the empty jug back into the truck and picked up the bullet. "We need to tell the others about this. Let's get out of here."

Sabishii nodded and then scowled as Priss got behind the wheel. "Hey! Who the hell said you could drive?"

Sylia looked at the sun's rays slanting across the room and realized that her scribe was late. A fact that alarmed Sylia since she could set her watch by the young woman's promptness. If she had a watch that is.

She left the great hall and went in search of Tadashii.

Tebiki burrowed under the covers and smiled sleepily as she felt Tia's arms close around her from behind. She snuggled closer even as she pulled Tadashii's sleeping form closer to her front. Tadashii mumbled something unintelligible and buried her face in Tebiki's shoulder.

Sylia shut the door with a solid click and leaned against it, her arms crossed over her chest.

The sound made Tebiki jerk up and she stared at Sylayla in shocked horror. Tia grumbled in protest and sat up, looking at Tebiki. "What's wrong?"

Tebiki shook Tadashii's shoulder. The scribe mumbled again and wrapped her arms around Tebiki's waist. The temple maiden reached down and pinched Tadi's side, making her yelp and bolt upright. "Wha- what? Ow! Tebiki! Why'd you…" She noticed the other person in the room and froze. "Oh Goddess…"

Sylia's eyebrow rose. "You know, when I gave you the definition of a threesome, it wasn't a suggestion that you try it yourself."

Tadashii flushed scarlet. "I, I'm sorry, my Goddess. I meant no offense."

Tebiki spoke up. "We meant no offense, my Goddess." She looked at Tia and then back at Tadashii.

Sylia smothered a grin and marshaled a stern expression. "This is a very serious thing that you three have done. I caution you to be extremely careful. While the joys of such a relationship are many, so are the perils. If you continue with this then you'll have to take great care with each other's feelings. There can be no dishonesty between you, do you understand?"

Three bed-tangled heads nodded gravely and Sylia had to exercise an incredible amount of willpower to maintain her composure. "Tadashii, since you seem to be too… tired to begin your duties on time, I'll excuse you today." She looked at Tia and Tebiki. "I'll even be nice and let your goddesses know that you'll be unable to attend them today." She slipped out and practically ran back to her office. Once there she gave in and laughed until she was in tears.

Tadashii clutched her head and groaned. "I can't believe that just happened!"

Tebiki patted her shoulder absently and watched Tia lay back down and pull the covers over herself. "What are you doing?"

Tia yawned and snuggled into the pillow. "You heard her. We have the day off. Since I got no sleep last night I thought I'd take a nap now." She smiled up at Tebiki and pulled her down next to her. "Then I'll be well rested later for… other things."

Not sure she agreed, Tebiki looked up at Tadashii. She was still clutching her head and muttering. "I can't believe that just happened!"

Kuraki stared at her sister in shock. "I'm sorry?"

"The three of them have become lovers. I walked in on them earlier." Sylia was amused at her reaction. They'd been subtly steering Tia and Tadashii together for some time, but Tebiki had truly caught her by surprise.

"But how did this happen? Tebiki doesn't even work in our temples. How did she enter into this?"

Shrugging, Sylia checked the small metal box in front of her, recording the progression of circuitry in her journal. "Apparently Tadashii and Tebiki are childhood friends. There was some speculation that Tebiki almost didn't take her vows to Ninani because of their feelings for each other."

Kuraki shook her head and checked her own box. "Already at seventy-five percent. The nanobots are working faster than expected." She looked at Sylia, her expression thoughtful. "I wasn't aware that that kind of relationship was so prevalent in Tokio that even those three straight arrows would know about it."

Sylia turned back to her notes, but not before Kuraki had seen the blush.

Kuraki's eyes widened. "You didn't tell them…

"Of course not!" Sylia snapped. "I didn't tell them. Tadashii found out about my and Priss' relationship with Fusha."

"You mean you three really were…. Oh my." Kuraki shook her head. "I never would have thought that you'd willingly go into that kind of thing again."

Sylia scowled at her. "I didn't! What happened between us was…" She closed her eyes and her voice dropped. "It was the way it should be." The sadness of her tone was obvious.

"Oh. I'm sorry. I'm afraid that my experience with the arrangement has only been… well, I don't have to tell you."

Sylia nodded. "Yes. But when I saw Tadashii' report I added some things to it that might have… placed the idea in her mind."

"I am afraid to ask."

"It wasn't that bad! I just explained that the relationship was called a threesome and gave the definition."

Kuraki laughed merrily. "In essence, you handed Tadashii the solution to her problem."

She hadn't thought about it like that. At the time she'd been very impressed with Tadashii' desire to not break her vow and the methodical information she had collected. But Kuraki's summation was a little too accurate. Sylia pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed, making Kuraki laugh.

Shinobi opened her eyes and focused fuzzily on her surroundings. The dark wood of the ceiling beams above her didn't tell her much, so she turned her lightly and looked around. Not the hospital. An elegantly carved wardrobe dominated the wall beside her and pale light streamed in from an ornately wrought window. Jewel-colored pieces of glass created a picture of a blue sky and grass covered hills. She had only ever seen glass pictures such as this in the temples. Shinobi blinked and then slowly turned to look at the other side of the incredibly soft bed she was laying in.

Ninani was sitting in a richly carved chair, scribbling industriously in a large book. She was wearing a deep green tunic that made the fiery color of her hair seem to glow. Shinobi must have made some sound because the goddess looked up from her task and smiled. "Ah! Awake at last." She closed the book and set it aside before leaning close and taking Shinobi's hand. "How are you feeling?"

Shinobi thought about that for a moment. Her heart was trying its best to come out of her chest, her mouth had gone dry the instant she realized who was beside her and it was taking all her will to stop a deep blush from climbing into her cheeks. And her shoulder ached. "I am fine, my Goddess."

Ninani made a tsking sound. "Another stoic warrior type. I seem to be surrounded by them." She took a cup from the table beside her and slipped her arm around Shinobi's back, carefully raising her a little. "Here, sip this. It will help with the pain."

The blush won and the spy's face went rosy. "T-thank you, Ninani." Shinobi settled back onto the pillows with a tired sigh. "I am unsure how I came to be here… I am at your temple?"

Ninani shook her head. "Nope. Actually you're at Prisana's. She and Sabishii found you and took care of your wound. They wanted to keep you close so they could make sure that it healed properly." Nene frowned slightly. "Shinobi, what happened? Who shot you?"

The spy took a moment to organize her thoughts. "I was traveling south, past the boomer city. I had not found any live overlords and was about to turn back when I saw a large troop of soldiers in the valley below me. Since I didn't recognize their colors or armor, I snuck closer. There were 30 of them and each carried a long stick. I didn't realize it was a weapon until I was spotted and one was pointed in my direction. There was a loud boom, like thunder and then… well that's all I remember."

"What did this stick look like? Can you describe it?"

"It was about five feet long and seemed to be made of wood and metal. The end of the stick was flared outwards like the bell of a trumpet. It was that end that the soldier pointed in my direction. Oh! I saw a spark near the back a second before the thunder."

Nene shook her head and patted Shinobi's uninjured shoulder. "That's what I was afraid of. Thank you or bringing us this news Shinobi. We're in your debt once again. I must go and tell the other goddesses of this. I will be back to check on you later."

Shinobi watched the goddess leave and wondered what could be putting the worried look into her beautiful green eyes.

"There's nothing to argue about. Sabishii and I will go."

Sylia was scowling. "And so will I."

Priss shook her head vehemently. "Like hell. I'm not risking you and the baby. Forget it."

Nene rolled her eyes and held up her hands. "Can we calm down please? This isn't getting us anywhere."

Ayden cleared her throat. "I'll go."

Every head in the room but Ayden's shook in a quick, decisive negative motion. She sighed and slumped back in her chair. "Why am I surprised?"

Priss stood up and Sabishii mirrored her move. "Sabishii and I are the best candidates for this job. We're the best fighters and we're armed with weapons that can't be taken from us." Simultaneously they both held up their left arms and the hidden blades extended, gleaming with deadly intent in the pale candlelight.

Sylia narrowed her eyes and glared at them. "I'm beginning to wish you two were still at each other's throats."

The arguments continued for over an hour but in the end, they all knew that Priss and Sabishii were right. They had the best chance of finding out who had created the guns and who had the weapons now.

Tadashii had trouble meeting Sylayla's eyes and she focused instead on recording the discussion going on around her. She was still trying to recover from what had happened the other morning. Tebiki and Tia seemed to have gotten over it, but then, it wasn't their goddess that had walked in on them.

Linna held the plane steady, fighting the controls when the plane lurched suddenly. She bit a curse back and glared over her shoulder at Priss, who smiled sheepishly. <Warn me next time.>

Sabishii was feeding cable out the now open cargo door. "How far up are we?" she shouted at Linna.

Linna smirked. <Why are you yelling?> Sabishii blinked and shrugged as Linna answered. <About a thousand feet. There's fifteen hundred feet of cable.>

Priss pulled her backpack on and tightened the straps. She slung her axe over her shoulder and took over feeding the cable so Sabishii could get herself ready. <We'll signal you once we're on the ground. If we don't show up with in three months then assume we're in trouble.>

Unhappy with the time table, Linna nodded nevertheless. <I still think we should have just sent a squad down here to check this out. It's too dangerous.>

Priss didn't respond, knowing that Linna was only concerned for their safety. They'd been over all this before. She glanced up at Sabishii. <You ready?>

Sabishii slid her sword into its shoulder harness and grinned. <Hell yeah! Let get this party started!> She gripped the cable and stepped out of the plane as if she were stepping off a sidewalk. Priss met Linna's eyes. <Take care of everybody. We'll be back soon.>

Linna nodded seriously, aware of the trust Priss was placing in her. <Just come back in one piece. Sylia's going to need you.>

Priss smiled and slipped out of the plane, feeling the strands of cable rub against the leather of her gloves as she slowed her descent. She watched the ground rapidly approach, though the wind was making the fall more interesting than she liked. Priss felt the scrape of branches against her as she hit tree level and thrust her body to one side, trying to avoid landing in a tree. <Coming down!>

Sabishii appreciated the warning even though it was unnecessary. She'd had Kiji adjust her eyes after the leopard attack and now could see almost as well as Priss. She watched her older sister touch down and unhook herself from the cable. Priss held her arm aloft and the quick flash of plasma signaled Linna to retract the line.

Once the cable was up, the plane began to fly north, back to Tokio. They watched it go, stiffening when a strange but familiar sound ripped through the night. They were horrified to see what appeared to be a laser blast strike the plane. The vehicle wobbled, began to lose altitude. Another blast streaked across the sky and the light armor couldn't stand against it. The fireball that erupted as the plane blew turned the night sky to day for several seconds.

"Linna!" Priss and Sabishii screamed the name and began to run. They crashed through the forest, the desire to remain unseen forgotten. As the approached the crash site, gunfire erupted around them, and they dived for cover as bullets tore up the bushes around them. Sabishii cursed as she felt flares of pain in her leg and shoulder, but then ignored them when she realized they were only scrapes. She followed Priss into the cover of several large rocks. "Sonofabitch! What now?"

Priss held her artificial arm out and fired a short bust in the direction of their attackers. There was an explosion of fire and several cries of fear. Priss smiled grimly. "We kick their goddamned asses."

Her planned course of action was curtailed when laser fire began streaking around them. "Crap! We can't stand against that kind of fire power. We need to fall back."

"But Linna…"

"Is still alive. But we won't be if we stay here much longer." Inji was a reassuring presence in her mind. <Hang tight. We'll get to you as soon as we can.>

Hating it, but knowing Priss was right, Sabishii followed Priss into the forest.

"Have a seat Tadashii. And please, calm down. I'm not angry with you." Sylia sighed as the scribe perched on the edge of her seat as if she were going to run. "I'm sorry if you thought I was. I shouldn't have teased you."

Tadashii blinked. Sylayla had been… Her mind struggled to grasp that as her goddess continued. "How are things? Do you have any questions?"

Tadashii shook her head so quickly that Sylia thought her neck would snap. "No, my Goddess. I, we… we are fine. Thank you for asking."

Realizing that she'd get nothing more from the embarrassed girl, Sylia changed the subject. "I've begun a new project with Kuraki. You will record what we do but this will not be turned into the archivers until after the project is finished and off the ground, so to speak. Do you understand?"

Tadashii nodded and opened her book. "I am ready whenever you are, my goddess."

Sylayla nodded. "Very well. As you know I recently sent Prisana and Sabishii on a mission to the south to secure a supply of special crystals. Those crystals are necessary to produce something called Sulfuric acid."

Tadashii wrote quickly, sensing that the goddess' explanation was going to be a long one.

The patrol returned to the city just before dawn. A tall, grizzled man stood waiting for them in the torch-lit courtyard of the palace. "Report." He snapped as he silently counted them, relived to find they were all there.

They explained about the plane and the weapon that had been fired at them in the forest. "We brought the pilot back with us." He motioned two of the soldiers forward. They were carrying a hastily made stretcher.

The captain of the Queen's guard grimaced at the charred body the patrol had brought back. "What the hell did you bring that back for? Bury it."

The squad leader shook his head and pointed at the woman. "She's still alive. I don't know how but she is."

Hideous burns covered most of the woman's body, but in an odd quirk of fate her face had been left almost untouched. He looked down at the pretty features and felt pity for the pain she would suffer if she ever woke again. "Better to end it. Spare her the pain."

A voice from behind him made him freeze. "Bring her to us."

Every soldier in the courtyard snapped to attention at the Queen's voice. The two men carrying the stretcher brought the prisoner to the Queen, fear induced sweat running down both their backs. The woman stepped closer and peered at the face of the woman. "More light," she snapped.

A slave brought a torch and the queen smiled darkly. "Well well well. What a small world." She shoved the torch bearer aside and glared at the soldiers. "Take her inside." They hurried to obey; knowing that to incite the queen's

displeasure was to ask for their own deaths.

Ayden helped the builders lift the running stone in place and secure it. She shouted out the door at the man waiting. "Cut the line!" As an after thought she added, "And stand back!"

Outside, the wind caught the canvas sheets and began to turn the huge blades. As it picked up speed, the gears inside moved faster and faster until the running wheel was turning smoothly on top of the bed. Ayden waved a hand at the worker on the upper level and he began to pour sacks of grain into the bin. He then opened the hopper and the grain slid down the gently sloping trough and into the hole at the center of the running wheel. Within a few moments, the finely ground powder began to emerge from the grooves in the runner stone. Another worker started to push the flour down another trough, to the level below them where others were waiting to collect it into clay jars for storage.

As the first of the flour reached the bottom level, a cheer went out and several brave souls clapped Ayden on the back in congratulations. She blushed a little and shook her head. "Hey, you guys did all the work. I just stood around and looked pretty."

She laughed along with them, feeling a sense of satisfaction that she'd done something to help her people. And they were her people. While her memories of MegaTokyo were very real to her, that time in the human race's history didn't encourage this sense of community. Now that she had proven her idea to them, they could begin converting the other oxen-drawn mills to wind power. Ayden conferred briefly with the newly appointed 'miller' and then left them to work on her other 'pet' project.

Reika poured through the ancient book, knowing she'd seen the woman's face before. She felt her heart leap when she found it. "I knew it. The Sire." She read the passage quickly and as she did her smile widened. "It's her. It has to be."

And the Sire lay grievously wounded and Reika the First carried her away from her enemies and hide her. She cared for the Sire's wounds and it was then that she discovered the Sire's power. For the wounds healed before the queen's eyes and within hours Linna, the Sire of the royal blood line was completely healed. In thanks for Reika's aid, she gifted the queen with her blood, granting her long life and the ability to heal all wounds. And thus the First Queen was born.

Queen Reika the 16th snapped the book closed and cackled. "She has returned to save the blood line."

She left the inner sanctum of the queens of Daraku and locked the door behind her. The four guards stationed outside the room would kill anyone who dared entered. Or each other if one should become curious.

They watched the aging queen depart and breathed a sigh of relief. They'd survived another day.

Priss and Sabishii had begun to work their way towards the city when they had stumbled across a guarded wagon heading north. They had followed the small group, their scanners telling them that the load consisted of gunpowder. <They must be stockpiling it.>

Sabishii nodded as she watched the men carry the kegs into a cave. <Makes sense. Wouldn't want to keep that much around the city.>

Priss grinned. <Would have been nice though. We could have solved two of our problems anyway.>

<Yeah. But that third one is a bitch.> She glanced at Priss. <You still hear Inji?> Priss' scanners had a longer range than Sabishii's.

<Yes. She's been broadcasting general updates about Linna's condition but she can't pick up my signals. Too far.>

<How is she?>

<Most of the burns have been healed. But she can't tell where they are until Linna opens her eyes.>

The queen swept into the room and ordered everyone out but the healer. "Has she healed completely yet?"

The healer blinked. "Ah, yes. I was about to come to you."

The queen's pleased grin made him shift nervously. A bead of sweat began to roll down his forehead. "Bring me a blade."

He nearly fell over himself complying and as he gave the small knife to her he wondered if she was going to kill him. To his relief, she turned to the prisoner and yanked the thin blanket away. "Hmmm, what a beautiful body." And it's all mine! She took the woman's wrist and made a quick cut. Blood began to flow and the healer had to force himself to stand still. But the blood gradually stopped and the queen wiped the blood away, revealing a closed wound. "Excellent! Take her to my chambers and have her chained hand and foot to the bed. The strongest chains we have!" She sailed out and left the terrified man staring after her in confusion. He looked at the still unconscious woman and felt pity for what she would endure upon waking.

The sharp point of the quill scratched against the parchment as Ayden worked. Hirani sat beside her, watching in silent awe as the detailed design took shape. So detailed that she could actually picture the finished mechanism in her mind. "This will stop the drains from overflowing in the fall rains?"

"Yes. This will let us control how much water enters the sluice. Right now it's just wide open. So when the river rises, the drains flood."

Hirani wrinkled her nose at the thought. The smell tended to hang in the air for days after that happened.

Ayden smiled at her expression. "Yeah. I was reading through the annual reports at the Temple of Justice and found that illnesses increase around that time too. Hopefully that won't happen this year."

Twinges of pain finally pushed Linna towards consciousness and though she fought it, she couldn't ignore the voice in her ear. "Okay, I'm up already. Quit bugging me." She forced her eyes open and was surprised at what she saw.

"Hello Linna. Welcome to my city."

Linna stared at the woman, shocked at her appearance. Dark hair was liberally streaked with gray and lines of age were radiating out from familiar eyes. "R-Reika? But… how?"

The Queen of Daraku leaned back in her chair and smiled. But something about the gesture was cold and Linna felt a chill sweep over her. She shifted and felt cool metal wrapped around her wrists. Linna looked down at herself and forced the panic bubbling in her throat back. A thin blanket was thrown over her for modesty's sake, but she could see the lengths of chain running beneath it, could feel the weight of the shackles around her ankles. "What's going on?"

Reika leaned forward and stroked Linna's shorter hair. "Your aircraft crashed. My soldiers brought you here to recover."

Linna's eyes went wide. That was not how she remembered it. "Like hell." She jerked at the chains and glared. "Why am I chained?"

The Queen's smiled faded. "Because I can't risk you escaping." She ran her hand across Linna's cheek and sighed. "So perfect. Just as young and beautiful as you were in the beginning." Reika met Linna's eyes. "I used to be young as well. But my life is failing and I have not produced a child. You are going to help me fix that."

"A child? But… me?"

"Oh don't pretend, Sire. Your gift to the first queen is recorded in the royal history. Along with your image." She recited, "And the Sire gifted Reika with her blood, giving her long life and the ability to heal all wounds. Thus the first queen was born."

Linna stared into her eyes and realized that this was not the Reika she had known. She swallowed hard. "My blood? I never gave her my blood. If she had it then it was because she stole it."

Reika's eyes narrowed. "She saved you. You owed her that much!"

"But…how did she survive the flares?"

"Cryogenics of course. She built a huge underground facility and provisioned it with what they thought they'd need to survive. She froze thousands of our people. Thousands of animals." Reika's voice tightened, her frustration evident. "But only a handful survived." She seemed to shake the mood off and smiled at Linna again. It was a calculating smile and it made Linna shift uneasily. "So you and the others mentioned in the records survived as well?"

Linna nodded slowly. "Yes. Let me go, Reika. We can talk."

"Not yet. I'm curious. How many of your people did you lose?"

Without thinking, Linna blurted, "None."

Anger darkened the aging woman's face and Linna flinched. "Really. And where are they now?"

"Around. Why am I chained, Reika?"

"Don't be difficult, Sire. Where are the others?" There was a steely tone in her voice that made Linna hesitate.

"I'm afraid that if I tell you, you'll try and hurt them."

Reika laughed and shook her head. "Don't be silly. I won't hurt them. I just want to talk to them. Is Sylia still alive? I've read that she was very skilled in creating weapons. We could really use her assistance in a few pet projects of mine."

"I don't think so. She's too busy co-ruling the city of Tokio."

"Really." The word was a long purr. "So you and the others are the Gods of Tokio. I had heard stories but I never dreamed that… hmm. How arrogant of you. And not at all what I would have expected considering what I read in the records. Setting yourselves up as gods? Not exactly following the Knight Saber creed are you?"

Linna blushed faintly. "It was an accident, but we're trying to prepare them to rule themselves."

"Don't be silly. Why on earth would you want to give up that kind of power?" She studied Linna, her expression going hard. "So how many weapons and advancements have you given them?"

Linna shook her head. "None. We have no intention of giving them the tools of their own destruction."

"Still the righteous avenger? I thought that part of the tale was an exaggeration." Reika shrugged. "Oh well. It will make conquering you all the more simple."

"Conquer? But… why?"

Reika's eyes glittered and Linna realized that she was looking into the eyes of a madwoman. "Because I am the Queen. And I will allow no force to stand against me." The words were more hissed than spoken and the level of malevolence made Linna cringe.

Reika forced herself to calm. "But that's in the future." She swept the blanket from Linna's body and laughed softly. "Amazing. You should be dead now. Your body was badly burned." Reika trailed a hand from Linna's shoulder down the center of her body and across her thigh.

Linna jerked away and glared. "Let me go Reika. You can't keep me here. The others will come for me."

"I am the Queen. I will do as I wish." She picked up a small dagger from the table beside the bed and laid it against the soft skin of Linna's breast. "And you will stay here. With me." She made a quick move and Linna hissed at the flare of pain. "You're going to help me regain what I've lost and give me that which I must have. An heir." Reika ducked her head and her mouth closed over the small cut.

Linna felt the pull of her lips as she sucked at the wound, consuming the blood. "You're crazy!" She bucked and struggled, twisting away from Reika, straining against the chains. Reika merely smiled, staring at Linna's breast, watching the flesh close with satisfaction.

"You will make me young again." She reached out and grabbed the chains holding Linna's wrists and pulled them hard, until Linna's arms were outstretched above her head. Reika slid a bolt through the links, securing each chain tighter around the tall bedposts. She moved to the foot of the wide bed and did the same with the ankle restraints. Linna was now spread-eagle, her body pulled taut and unable to move without causing the shackles to cut into her flesh.

"Reika please. This is wrong. This won't get you what you want."

Reika slipped the robe off her shoulders, leaving her naked. She slid onto the bed and pressed herself against Linna's naked form. "Oh Linna. You have no idea what all I want from you." She kissed the soft flesh between her breasts and then began to lick her way up to the tip of Linna's breast. "You're blood is just the start." Her teeth tugged at the nipple and Linna gasped at the pleasure/pain.

The tip of the blade sank into Linna's abdomen, making her cry out. Reika's mouth covered the wound and Linna felt the hot burn of tears. <Help! Anybody! Priss! Sabishii! Oh God!>

Reika looked up at Linna and smiled, her tongue sweeping out to catch a stray drop of blood. "I'll be reborn from your blood. And so will my daughter."

"No you won't! It doesn't work like that!"

Reika shot her a chiding look. "Nonsense! Look at me! My hair was completely white a mere day ago." She licked the blade of her knife and moved down Linna's body. "But don't worry. It won't be all pain."

The blade flashed and Linna felt the bite of it below her belly button. Reika's mouth followed, but then Linna jolted, twisting against the chains, feeling them cut into her wrists and ankles. "Stop it! I don't want that! STOP IT!!!"

Reika ignored her and continued to stroke her fingers into Linna's body. "So beautiful. So wet. I wonder how you taste?" She spread the lips of Linna's sex open and slid the blade over the skin above her clit. Blood welled and Reika began to suck.

Linna threw her head back and screamed. "NNOOOOOO!!"

Priss' nerve endings stood on end and she grabbed Sabishii's tunic to stop her. "Wait. Something's wrong." The echoes of Linna's cries for help seared her mind and she swayed. "Linna… she's." Priss froze as something else caught her attention. A tiny click. Undetectable to normal hearing. But she wasn't normal. She inhaled deeply as she saw Sabishii hold her arm out to scan. "I heard something." She tilted her head and let her eyes slit. It wasn't just a sound though. She could feel something. Priss' eyes went wide and she threw herself at Sabishii, knocking her sister down and covering her body with her own.

Sabishii felt the weight crash into her and yelled but then she was on the ground and Priss seemed to be trying to pin her down. "What the fuckin' hell-."

The explosion roared around them, heat and flames filled the cavern and rolled over them in a wave of destruction. Even as the sound of the initial blast faded another loud rumble began. Everything was shaking and the sound of rocks crashing into rocks filled the air. Priss ignored the pain and hauled Sabishii to her feet, dragging her towards the entrance. "Cave in! Hurry!"

They almost made it.

As they neared the mouth of the cavern, a large slab of rock shifted and fell, blocking the opening and plunging them into darkness. Priss began to curse, only vaguely aware of Sabishii doing the same. "We have to get out." She extended the blade from her artificial arm and for the first time since awakening, powered the energy blade the way it was supposed to be used. The pale blue light was almost obscured by the dust-filled air but Sabishii saw it and realized what Priss was going to try. "Be careful!"

Priss slashed at the slab, felt the metal bite into the rock, drag slightly and then it was through, cutting the barrier in half. The pieces tumbled towards Priss and she swore, shoving Sabishii out of the way. The movement cost her dearly. The large rock pieces fell on top of her, driving her to the ground and smashing against her. Pain exploded through her and she had a brief moment to realize that she was passing out before she did so.

Reika slid from the bed and smiled down at her captive. Linna wouldn't look at her, wouldn't look at anything but the crack in the ceiling she had chosen to focus on. Reika grinned. "You'll come around. You can't fight me forever Linna." She bent down and raked her teeth over Linna's throat. "And we have forever." Reika looked at the naked body before her thoughtfully. "Get some rest. I'll bring some toys when I come back. We can… play."

Linna shuddered and Reika laughed. Her laughter followed her out and once the door clicked shut, Linna let the tears fall.

The level of damage was immense and Arashi was tapping every resource at her command. =Okay this is bad. Really bad.= Reinforced bones had not broken but the surrounding tissue and organs had suffered greatly. Ruptures of tissue had released chemicals into the body, creating a dangerous mix. Air embolisms had formed throughout Priss' body and isolating those was critical. God. Even if I manage to bring Priss around, her muscles are too damaged to try and get these damned rocks off us. We're trapped. Arashi forced herself to focus. All right. Keep any injuries from turning deadlier than they already are.

Sabishii's voice rang through her and Arashi was startled. Good grief! I forgot about her! =Get these rocks off us! I can't fix anything while they're still causing damage.=

Sabishii began dragging the pieces off her sister. <What's the damage Arashi? How bad?>

Arashi filled her in, causing Sabishii to hasten her task. "Damn it! Arrogant Bitch! Why the hell did she do that?" She grunted as the large boulder shifted away and then reached for the second. "I don't need her to protect me!"

Kiji was quick to correct her. =If you had been under this then you'd be dead. There's no way you could survive something like this.=

Disturbed, Sabishii rolled the last piece away and knelt by Priss' body. "But can she?"

=If I can keep the fallout from the crushed tissue from flooding the rest of her body, then yes.=

"What can I do to help?"

=You just did it. I can begin repairs on the damaged tissue now.=

Kiji sent a silent admonishment to Arashi. =She needs to help with this.=

Realizing her mistake, Arashi backtracked. =Actually you can help a lot by getting us out of here and cleaning up the burns.=

Sabishii scowled down at the still form. "Burns?"

=From the initial blast. Her back is a mess.=

Sabishii was reluctant to move Priss but Arashi reassured her that it wouldn't do any more damage. The faint light from the opening Priss had uncovered lit her path and Sabishii gingerly lifted Priss into her arms, carrying her from the darkness.

Once outside, she threw her arm's scanners into their highest level, searching for danger. The area was clear but Sabishii knew that there was a better than average chance that the bastards that set the trap would return. She carried Priss away from the cave, moving quickly, but at the same time trying not to jar her sister's injuries. She headed for the other side of the mountain, hoping they would be safe there.

Once down the other side, Sabishii found a small niche in the rocks that would hide them both and breathed a sigh of relief as she laid Priss down. She grabbed Priss' medical bag and then carefully turned Priss onto her stomach, wincing at the sight of the torn and burned flesh. Sabishii swore under her breath and began to clean and dress the burns.

Priss floated towards consciousness, dimly aware of gentle hands touching her. She could hear the conversation between Arashi, Kiji and Sabishii and had to smile at Sabishii's bitching.

"Okay this is just icky."

=Well, just try your best.=

"Hey! I never said I couldn't handle icky!"

=Well, you are a little squeamish when it comes to this kind of thing.=

"Who's side are you on, Kiji?!"


Priss' smile grew as she mumbled. "Stop ganging up on my baby sister. I'll have to kick your asses."

Sabishii leaned down to meet Priss' eyes. "Hey. Glad to see you back with us."

"Glad to be back." Priss shifted and then groaned. "Hell. Maybe not."

Sabishii patted her arm where there were no burns. "You'll live. Arashi says you'll be good as new in about four days."

Priss groaned. "Four days? We need to get Linna out now. We can't wait that long." She told her about the call for help she had gotten before the explosion.

"Not a problem. I'll take care of it." Sabishii' brow arched a silent invitation for Priss to argue.

But Priss wasn't up for an argument. "Fine. Go ahead, get yourself…" Priss sighed. "Just be careful."

Smiling, Sabishii held the waterskin to Priss' lips. "Drink. Arashi's been bitching about needing fluids for hours."

Priss swallowed the tepid water greedily, feeling the dryness of her throat ease. "She bitches a lot."

=You give me a lot to bitch about.=

Priss leaned against the rock and monitored Sabishii's progress as she moved through the dark streets of the city.

Sabishii had watched the city during the day, learning guard placements and had seen several disturbing things. What had appeared to be a slave auction had taken place in the main square and several men and women had been sold. That alone was enough to send both Priss and Sabishii into a rage, but when the women were taken to what Sabishii had established was the local brothel, they were sick with it. <Whatever else we do here, that building is coming down.>

Reining in their tempers, they had waited until nightfall with great difficulty.

The guards at the main gate had presented no problem thanks to Priss' little addition to their trip. The long, thin fish spines had not lost there potency in the time since they'd first been collected. When Sabishii had fired the dart through the small blow gun she carried, they had taken instantaneous effect. The guards had literally frozen in place and it had taken her a moment to realize that while they weren't falling, they weren't moving either. She approached them and realized that they had fallen back against the wall and were now leaning there like planks. She stifled her desire to laugh and slipped into the city.

Sabishii had expected more trouble after that, but she'd realized that most of the soldiers were celebrating. She took a few minutes to listen at a few tavern windows and discovered that they thought they'd killed them in the cave explosion. <Suckers.>

She resumed her mission, eyeing the looming shadow of the palace with a justified caution. Her unease with this place was hard to explain, but there was something about the people, the place. Sabishii grimaced. This wasn't a happy place. There was a palpable layer of fear. But of what?

<I hope you don't find out.>

Priss' voice was comforting and Sabishii reached out to Linna, hoping to provide the same to her now that she was in range.

Linna's response was not what she was expecting. <Sabishii? Oh God! Please. Please stop her! Help me!>

Sabishii slid into a side entrance and paused. <Stop who? Linna, what's wrong?>

<Reika! You have to stop her… she's….> What followed was a burst of emotion. Fear, anger, humiliation, arousal and… shame.

Sabishii felt her guts twist as her mind supplied a reason for that particular mix. One she'd felt herself. <I'm coming. Stall her.>

Linna's answer was a strangled sob. <Too late... Just… make it stop… please?> The last was like the desperate plea of a child and Sabishii felt her eyes fill. <I'm coming, Linna!>

She worked her way through the palace, 'silencing' several guards and servants with no hesitation. Linna's mind continued to cry out, fueling Sabishii's rage. Priss tried to calm her down but in truth she didn't want to. Had she not been so injured she would have joined her sister and slaughtered every soul they found in that place.

Sabishii let the cooling body of the guard outside Reika's chambers drop to the floor and pushed open the door. Her eyes locked on the scene before her and a howl of outrage echoed through the room.

Reika almost dropped her knife at the sound. She glared at the intruder and yelled for the guards, pulling out of her captive reluctantly. She tugged her robe closed; covering the large phallus she was wearing. "I'll have your head for this interruption!"

Sabishii was staring at the table appalled at the sight before her. She saw the healing cuts across Linna's back, saw the gag that had been forced between her lips and tied in place to silence her and above that, the vacant, tear-filled eyes of her best friend.

She looked at the monster. "You're dead." Sabishii's voice was flat, her eyes stony.

Reika smirked. "I am the Queen of Daraku! You are the dead one." She whirled and snatched a sword from the wall. Still clutching the bloody dagger in one hand, she raised the longer blade and slashed out.

Sabishii easily ducked the attack and kicked the former singer in the chest, sending her flying.

Reika rolled to her feet and attacked again.

Sabishii remembered Reika as an excellent fighter and she still was but Sabishii had changed. Her augmented strength and reflexes were more than enough to keep the crazed Queen's attacks in check. "You hurt my best friend, you bitch. The sister of my heart." She reached out and punched Reika dead in the face.

Reika staggered, fell, her nose pouring blood. Her scream of outrage at the insult made Sabishii grin. "Get up bitch, so I can hit you again."

The queen's blade moved to cut across Sabishii's legs but she was in the air, twisting into a lazy flip that brought her to a position beside Reika. The blade in her arm shot out and flashed. Reika's scream was one of pain this time.

The Queen of Daraku stared at the severed remains of her left arm in disbelief. The dead hand was still clutching the dagger. "No… NO!!! I am the QUEEN!!!" She raised her sword and advanced on Sabishii.

Sabishii held her own blade up and grinned. "Bring it, Bitch." Reika saw the blade, saw the metal hand and she froze. "But… an overlord?" It was the last thing she ever said.

Blood sprayed in a crimson arc across the room, leaving a gruesome path. The head rolled across the floor under the table and stopped just under Linna's head. She opened her eyes and saw Reika's stunned expression. Gentle hands were freeing her from her bonds, lifting her from the table and pulling her into a familiar and safe embrace. Sabishii caught Linna's chin and turned her face away from the dead woman's eyes. "Come on, Linna. Let's go home."

Sabishii grabbed some clothes from a corner wardrobe and helped her friend dress, keeping up a running chatter of what they had been doing for the last few days. Linna was unresponsive and her gaze kept drifting back to Reika's.

Sabishii made a sound of exasperation and grabbed the head by the thick, dark hair, hurling it through the open window. "Let's get out of here." She wrapped an arm around Linna's shoulders and turned to the door.

Which was filled with guards. "Shit." Sabishii pushed Linna behind her and raised her blade. "You really don't want to cross me right now."

The captain of the queen's guard studied the body and then the fierce woman before him. He dropped the point of his sword to the floor and knelt. "My Queen."

The rest of the guards followed suit and Sabishii stared at them in disbelief. "Oh Hell."

It had taken almost two weeks to get everything taken care of. The weapons had been gathered and destroyed at the new Queen's bidding. A patrol had been dispatched to retrieve Priss from the mountains and Sabishii had given her the task of re-writing the city's laws when she got there. First thing to go was the legalized slavery. Priss had been especially thrilled to order that the brothel was were the confiscated weapons and gunpowder would be detonated. It had been a hell of a blast.

Sabishii hadn't let Linna out of her sight. She was pale and quiet, worrying Sabishii considerably. She knew what Linna was going through. Hell, she and Priss both did. They hadn't talked about what had happened, though Inji had given them the basics. When she'd learned of what Reika's intent had been, Sabishii ordered the former queen's body burned. Just in case.

The people of the city had rejoiced in the change of rule and Sabishii found herself unable to leave the palace without being showered with attention and flowers. Reika had not been a benevolent ruler.

Linna now sat at one end of the library, laboriously drafting the new constitution as Priss and Sabishii argued amicably over points of law. They were being very deliberate in their speech and actions, projecting cheer. Internally they were arguing fiercely about how to best help Linna.

<She's holding it all in.> Sabishii's grin didn't reach her eyes. <She's going to snap soon.>

Priss tossed a wad of parchment at her sister. <Yeah. She's heavily into the denial stage.>

"Cut it out, you moron." <How do we help her?>

<I don't know. Give her space I guess. Be there when she cracks.>

Linna seemed completely focused on her task, but she wasn't. She heard the banter between her friends, but more, she could hear the strain in their voices as they tried to conceal their worry. Her mind kept replaying what had happened over and over again. She wanted Inji to wipe it from her mind, had begged her to do so, but the enclave had been reluctant. There was a lot about the mind that was unknown and even if the memories were gone, her reactions and instinctual fears might not be. You could find yourself reacting in an extreme manner with no idea why. Linna knew what she meant. Sabishii had come up behind her yesterday and Linna had flinched away, whimpering. The anguished look of guilt that had flooded her friend's face had shaken Linna. She had to get over this.

She gripped the bottle of ink and hurled it across the room, where it shattered against the wall in an explosion of black spray. Linna watched the dark liquid running down the walls, but her mind painted the ink crimson and she was back, back in that room. Back on that table. She shuddered and pressed her hands to her mouth to stifle her sobs.

Sabishii and Priss were beside her an instant later. "Linna?" Hesitant hands touched her shoulders and Linna threw herself in Sabishii's arms. "I can't get it out of my head!"

Sabishii held her tightly, rubbing her back. Priss knelt beside them, awkwardly wrapping her arms around them both. "Its okay, Linna. You're safe now."

Linna felt their arms around her, felt their worry and love for her. It was too much. She began to cry, huge gulping sobs of grief. They held her, rocked her, soothed and reassured her.

Priss met Sabishii's eyes and was relieved to find that she wasn't the only one crying. Sabishii ignored the tears running down her face and stared at Priss. <We have to help her.>

Linna was slowly quieting, her grief spent for the moment. She sniffled, wiping her face and suddenly feeling very embarrassed at her display. "I'm sorry… I … I'm sorry."

Sabishii caught her chin and lifted her face. "You have nothing to apologize for. Nothing."

Priss nodded, patting Linna's shoulder. "Damn straight.

Linna reached up and wiped the tears from Sabishii's cheek. "I… thank you…. For saving me."

Sabishii blushed and shrugged. "What are friends for?"

"I haven't been a very good friend to you." And for that she was truly sorry. She'd never really let herself care for the clone as she had Priss. Now she realized that she had denied herself another true friend.

"It's a fucked up situation, Linna. No harm no foul."

Linna saw the clone's embarrassment and grinned. "Uh oh, up go the 'emotional display' walls."

Sabishii blinked and shook her head, forcing herself to relax. "No. Not this time." She hugged Linna hard and then looked at Priss. "Well Oneesan? Got any words of wisdom?"

Priss brushed the hair back from Linna's forehead and sighed. "Not really. Just… we're here Linna. Whatever you need. Whenever you need it." She met her friend's eyes. "You're not alone. Sabishii and I have been where you are now. We know what you're going through."

"I'm going! Don't try and talk me out of it." Nene glared at the others sitting around the huge table. They were in the large meeting room in the center of the Temple of Justice. Ninani had used this room many times since the temple's creation, both for city meetings and war councils. The round stone table seated twenty easily and as Ayden eyed the vast size, she absently wondered if her mother had been inspired by the Arthurian legends. "Mother, no one's saying you can't. We just wish you'd let one of us go with you."

Nene shook her head and glared at her family. "We don't know if there's a problem. The plane could have broken down. But if there is a problem then the rest of you can mount a rescue."

Sylia sighed deeply. "Why not let Kuraki go with you? She's skilled at repairs."

Nene glared at her, seeing through the suggestion. "In case you've forgotten, I am the Goddess Ninani. I've managed to get along just fine without you all for a thousand years. I think I can handle one little trip. I'll be careful. I'll even take the truck."

Kuraki began to thump her head against the table's hard surface. "Sabishii's going to kill me."

Nene scowled. "What?"

"I couldn't get through to her. I kept trying to talk to her, to distract her. Inji had a plan about using the nanos to incapacitate her but I was chained up. Even if she did pass out I would be at the mercy of whoever found me. She never let me loose. If she moved me she brought in four guards with laser rifles." Linna blushed at the memory. "I tried to talk about the first Reika, trying to show her that her ancestor would never do anything like this and she beat me with a whip until I passed out. When I came to I was… strapped to that table and gagged." Shivering at the memory, Linna pressed closer to Sabishii and reached out to grip Priss' hand. "I couldn't… stop her."

The campfire's heat was a rosy counterpoint to the night's chill but Priss pulled the blanket tighter around Linna's shoulders anyway. "Sounds like she'd gone nuts."

The enclaves had there own theories about that and were quick to agree. = There's no telling how much neural deterioration had occurred. The nanos that the original Reika used were recreations of yours. They were imperfect and each consecutive generation got progressively more unstable.=

They were about a week's travel from Tokio and eager to be home. They'd made camp and something about the night, the idea of being home soon had loosened Linna's death grip on what had happened to her.

"I should have been able to do more."

Priss made a sound of protest. "Nonsense! Linna you were in an impossible position. You did all that you could."

Linna stared into the fire. "You would have been able to escape."

Sabishii met Priss' eyes, silently asking to take this one. "Like hell. I saw those chains, Linna. Neither I nor Priss could have broken them. Even with the artificial arm. No leverage. We'd have been just as vulnerable."

Linna looked up at the clone and studied her face. She was telling the truth. Linna seemed to slump a little. "Thanks."

Priss tapped her arm. "Hey. Don't thank us. That's just truth."

Nodding, Linna returned her gaze to the fire. "How… how long did it take for you to get over… what happened to you?"

Priss sighed and tossed another branch onto the fire. "Who says I'm over it?"

Linna's head snapped up and she stared at Priss in surprise. "But… you…. And Sylia…"

"We're okay again, it's true, but sometimes… she'll say something or look at me a certain way and I have to fight back the urge to run."

Stunned, Linna looked at Sabishii, who was nodding. "Yeah. Same here. Kuraki's a lot more upbeat than Sylia but she's still the person who raped me. I can't forget that."

"Shattered trust." Priss exhaled. "In a way you're lucky. Your monster is dead. We go home and crawl into bed with ours."

It was a lot to think about. Linna thought about what was waiting for her. Nene's face rose into her mind and she felt a sense of peace steal over her. She was lucky. Linna stretched out between her friends and tugged the blanket over her. The stars were an explosion of light above her and she watched them for a time until her eyes drifted shut. Her last conscious thought as she slipped into sleep, was more of an awareness. She felt Priss on one side of her and Sabishii on the other. Safest place on the planet. I really am lucky.

The next day brought an unexpected surprise. The loud rumple of a motor filled the morning air and they all scrambled to their feet and grabbed their things, taking cover in a stand of trees. Better to be sure that the approaching vehicle was friendly.

The troop carrier burst through the brush at a fast clip and slid to a halt as the driver slammed on the brakes. Dust filled the air, but they could still see the petite redhead driving the beast.

Sabishii groaned and rubbed her face. "My God! Nene's driving my truck?!"

Priss chortled and slapped Sabishii on the back. "Look on the bright side; she may not have torn the clutch out of it this time."

New memories of trying to teach Ayden to drive a car filled Sabishii's mind and she grimaced. Nene had thought it had looked fun. And wanted to try it. God help her.

Linna was already running to meet her wife, lifting the shorter woman up into her arms and spinning her around. She buried her face in her hair and swallowed back a sob. "Missed you." The words were shaky and alarmed Nene like nothing else could. She pulled back and cupped Linna's face in her hands. "Linna? Honey? Are you all right?" She touched the close-cropped strands of Linna's hair and shot her a questioning look.

Linna shook her head. "Tell you later."

Nene searched her face, looking for answers, but Linna's over-bright eyes didn't tell her much. She shot a look over her shoulder at Sabishii and Priss. <What's going on? What happened?>

Priss' face was carefully blank. "Hey Nene. How did you find us?"

Nene realized that nobody was going to answer her and scowled. "When Linna didn't return we began to worry. I couldn't stand it anymore and went out to look for you." Nene jerked her thumb at the truck. "Sylia and Kuraki had been tinkering with the scanner's range and increased it tenfold. I just followed the signal."

They made sure the fire was out and packed their gear into the back of the truck. Studiously ignoring the mental bombardment of questions from Nene, Sabishii climbed behind the wheel and started the truck. She shifted into gear and heard a hideous grinding sound. "Nene!"

Linna slid into the hot water with a sigh of relief. She'd taken dozen of baths in Daraku but this was different. This was home.

She began to work soap into her hair, her eyes closing as she inhaled the familiar scents. She didn't realize that she was no longer alone. A hand touched her back and she cried out, lurching away and scrambling out of the sunken tub. Linna had her knife in her hand a second later and whirled to face her attacker.

Nene was staring at her in shock. "Linna?"

Linna began to shake, the blade falling from her hand and bouncing across the floor. Her eyes filled and she sank to her knees, covering her face with her hands as she cried.

Nene climbed from the water and slowly approached her wife, afraid to startle her again. She knelt beside her and spoke softly. "Linna? What's wrong? How can I help you?"

Hearing the hurt in Nene's voice, Linna felt guilt rip through her. She doesn't deserve this! Snap out of it! Linna drew a deep breath and forced herself to meet her wife's eyes. She opened her mouth but couldn't say the words. "I…I'm sorry."

Nene slowly reached out and took Linna's hand, feeling like she was approaching a wounded animal. Whatever had happened had been bad.

Priss and Sabishii had put off all explanations about what had happened, demanding that they let it go for the night. They wanted to tell everyone the next day so they only had to tell the tale once. She realized now that they were really giving Linna time. "I love you. Nothing's ever going to change that."

Linna slumped forward until her head was lying in Nene's lap. <I can't say it. I can't say the words.>

The pain Nene felt within her wife was sharp and bitter and very very new. The truth hit her with the full force of a rampaging overlord. "You were raped."

The choked sob that escaped Linna confirmed it and Nene held her close, pressing her lips against the top of Linna's head. "Oh… my love." Her own eyes flooded and she tightened her hold wanting to pull Linna inside of her and keep her safe. She began an unconscious rocking motion, driven to comfort her wife even as her mind began to fill with an impossible rage. She'd never felt such a thing before and had no idea how to control it. She would have blood for this.

But first she had to take care of Linna. She urged her to stand and coaxed her back into the water so that she could rinse the soap from her hair. Linna couldn't think. She just let Nene lead her and when her wife tucked her into bed and curled beside her, Linna gave up the struggle and let herself fall into sleep.

Nene watched her, saw the lines of tension that had followed her into sleep. She reached out to touch them, perhaps sooth them away but hesitated. The last thing she wanted to do was frighten Linna and her fingers curled into a fist and dropped. Time for answers.

She stormed into the Temple of Prisana and despite the late hour, found the Goddess of War in her hall. Sabishii was beside her and they both looked up as the great doors were flung open and a redheaded terror rolled into the room.

Priss saw the fury and the tears in Nene's eyes. "She told you."

"I guessed!" She snapped, glaring at Priss. "What the hell happened?! She was supposed to be safe!"

Realizing that Nene was looking to blame her and Sabishii, Priss quickly explained. "The soldiers were armed with more than muskets, Nene. They had laser rifles." Priss got up from her throne and bravely approached the furious woman. "The plane's armor wasn't designed to withstand that. She was shot down. We tried to get to her but ran into the squad that had shot her down. We couldn't reach her and getting killed didn't seem like anyway to help her."

"They raped her."

Priss shot Sabishii a look and then shook her head. "No. They took her back to the city. The queen… she recognized Linna."

"Recognized? But how…"

Sabishii cleared her throat. "It was Reika… the 16th."

Nonplused, Nene stared at the clone. "I'm sorry? Did you say Reika? As in Reika Chan? Vision? The singer?" Sabishii just kept nodding at each of Nene's questions. "Impossible."

Priss fielded that one. "No it isn't. She never left the White Tigers, Nene. They took their own measures to survive the flares."

"Yeah and they had nanobots from Linna. They created their own version. From what I found in the records, the first Reika had enough functional technology available to her to program her nanos to conceive a child. I'm not sure what went wrong, but instead of delivering a normal baby, she essentially gave birth to herself. And that programming carried over. Every Queen spontaneously became pregnant when they reached seven hundred years of age. Except for this last one. It didn't happen this time."

Nene was shaking her head. "But I would have known. I would have heard of the city."

"Maybe not. Malcor's army pretty much cut the lower part of the region in half. They expanded south. You explored north."

"But what happened to Linna?"

Neither one of them wanted to be the bearer of that bad news. They were mentally arguing about who should do it when a voice interrupted them.

"Reika raped me."

Linna stood in the doorway, her face pale. She'd woken to find Nene missing and Inji had told her where the redhead had gone.

Nene's eyes locked with Linna's. "She…" Her eyes hardened and her fists clinched. "I'll kill her. I'll wipe that entire city from the face of the planet!"

Linna had to smile. The dire threats seemed a little less dire coming from the diminutive woman. "Too late. Sabishii got there first." She came forward and hugged Nene, feeling the anger thrum through her wife. "She saved me and she kicked the queen's ass."

Nene turned in Linna's arms and met Sabishii's sheepish eyes. "Thank you."

"Don't. Don't thank me for that." Sabishii looked away, unable to bear the gratitude in her friend's eyes. "We should have been able to stop her sooner."

Linna snorted. "Yeah, you should have been able to shake off getting blown up, trapped in a cave and just left Priss' crushed body to die. Then stroll right into a heavily guarded city."

"Blown up? Crushed?"

Priss held up her hands and pointed towards the door. "Let's take this to the council room. I need a drink first."

They had called Sylia and Kuraki to join them, and their wives had told them about what had happened to Linna. When they entered the council room, their eyes sought out Linna and she ducked her head, feeling embarrassed. Sylia didn't know how to proceed. This entire thing was bringing up memories she'd done her best to forget. She settled for nodding gravely at Linna and taking her seat by Priss.

Kuraki had the same problem but was a little more willing to risk being rebuffed. She approached Linna and stopped a few steps away. "I'm sorry Linna." <If you need anything, please let me know.>

Linna was struck at how different the two Sylia's had become. She summoned a wan smile and that seemed to satisfy the clone. Kuraki sat down beside Sabishii and folded her hands on the table in front of her.

The following conversation centered more on what actions Priss and Sabishii had taken regarding weapons and establishing the new rule of Daraku.

"So this guard you made king… can we trust him?"

Priss nodded. "I think so. We found out that he had been organizing a resistance movement among the people."

"And we didn't make him king. We made him governor." Sabishii corrected. "We also drafted a constitution and outlined election practices. It should keep them fairly busy and out of our hair for awhile."

Sylia tapped a nail against the table. "What about the gunpowder?"

"We destroyed all that they had."

"So what's to stop them from making more?"

Sabishii grinned. "Well that's where Reika's paranoia works in our favor. She kept the process a secret and always conducted the last part of the creation herself. There's nobody left that knows how to make it. Especially since we destroyed the royal records. "

Sylia sighed in relief. "The thought of guns spreading across the general populace is disturbing. From a technological standpoint, they're nowhere near ready for it."

Priss grunted and leaned back in her chair. "Yeah. Our soldier's armor isn't capable of stopping a bullet. Even one as slow as a musket ball. But those lasers were unexpected."

Kuraki saw Priss glance at Sabishii and smiled. "You didn't destroy them."

Priss blinked. "What? Of course we did." Most of them.

Kuraki's smile grew. "Like hell. You kept some of them." She canted her head to the side. "Where are they?"

Sabishii held up a hand. "Whoa. Look, if, and I do mean IF we kept some of the rifles then what makes you think we're going to let you two have them? The queens of scientific trouble?"

Sylia was scowling faintly. "You're really not going to let us have them?"

Priss propped her chin on her hand and smiled widely at her wife. "Sure. Just as soon as you tell us what you wanted with that acid."

Kuraki shot Sylia a look and then summoned an innocent smile. "We told you. Chemical synthesis."

"Uh huh. Of what?"

Kuraki stood and stretched. "Well I don't know about you guys, but I'm bushed. I'm off to bed, G'night."

Sylia hastily followed. "Yes, it's very late and I have court duties tomorrow. Good night."

Sabishii and Priss watched them go and then looked at each other. "They are so up to something."

Linna was laughing, genuine laughter for the first time in weeks. "No question. So glad I'm not married to them." She slung her arm around Nene's shoulders and walked out of the council room.

"No! I won't do it Nene!" Linna rolled away and pulled her legs up against her chest. "I can't."

Nene frowned down at her wife and wondered why she was being so stubborn. "I just want to help you, Linna."

"Sharing what happened with you won't help me." I can't let her see that. Can't let her see what I did. It pricked at her, even though she told herself that she'd had no choice.

Pestering Inji had no result and Nene flopped back onto the bed, crossing her arms over her chest. "You're hiding something from me."

Linna flinched. "Damn it Nene! I don't want to think about it! Okay? Is it too much to ask that we just drop it?"

Nene winced. "I'm sorry. I just want to help you. I thought if I knew what happened then I would know what to avoid that might hurt you more. Can't you just…"

Angry, ashamed and very tired of arguing, Linna snapped. She rolled over and pinned Nene to the bed. "You want to see? Fine here! Enjoy the show." Images bombarded Nene's mind and she stiffened in shock. It was more than the telling of a tale. Nene was there, with Linna, feeling what she had felt.

"Don't struggle so, Linna. I know you like this. You're body's telling me all your secrets." Reika held up fingers coated with the slick proof of Linna's arousal. She pushed them into her captive's mouth, making her face the truth of her body's reaction.

The blade cut a long line across the inside of Linna's thigh and Reika's tongue followed the bleeding path. "Please Reika, stop this." Reika ignored her, shoving her fingers back inside and thrusting deeper. Linna cried out at the pain and Reika smiled again. "Oooo. More blood. And in such a tasty place." Her now dark head dropped and Linna cried out for an entirely different reason. Nene felt her own body's inadvertent response and flinched, but the memories weren't through.

"You will not speak of her!" The pain from the beating was swamping her mind, overwhelming her despite Inji's attempts to block it. Reika shoved her over a small table and bound her to its legs. She grabbed her hair and shoved something into Linna's mouth. The smooth wood of the ball forced her mouth open painfully. She felt Reika tying something at the back of her head and realized that she couldn't spit the ball out.

"You have no right to speak!" Reika turned away for a moment and when she came back, she stepped between Linna's spread legs. "You are nothing! I will do with you as I please and when I'm done I'll give you to my soldiers as a toy!" Something hard and cold pressed against her and then a new level of pain rolled over her as she was ruthlessly penetrated.

Reika continued her attacks endlessly, both verbal and physical. "I own you! You are my toy, my slut! My slave! You live only to please me!" Reika raked the knife over Linna's still healing back and drew fresh blood. Linna was dimly aware of her tormentor's lips against her back. She couldn't really feel the thrusts anymore: she'd gone numb. Reika was ranting now, her eyes wild. "All of you belongs to me. You breathe because I allow it! Your heart beats because I will it."

Linna heard her and part of her began to believe it. She was nothing. She belonged to Reika. Reika stopped thrusting and pulled out, raising the phallus to a new target. "Every inch of you is mine. I can fuck you until you die." She laughed madly. "And I will." She slammed forward and Linna screamed against the gag.

More now, better memories. Sabishii appearing and fighting Reika, killing her. The unforgettable sight of Reika's face as her head lay on the floor below her. Sabishii's gentle hands freeing her, removing the gag. Helping her to dress and returning a tiny portion of humanity to her.

Linna rolled away from Nene and stood, striding across the room and throwing the window open wide. Outside the world moved on, life continued to be lived. She could hear the sounds of Nene's weeping and felt a wave of self-loathing consume her. What have I done?

Nene curled up on the bed and cried. The echoes of pain and humiliation were practically strangling her. How could Linna survive this? She opened her eyes and saw Linna's hunched figure at the window. She forced herself to stand, to go to her. She'd pushed Linna into Sharing. She couldn't cry foul now. Nene wrapped her arms around her wife's waist and hugged her hard. "I'm so sorry. I never should have made you…. Oh God Linna. I'm sorry."

Linna turned, her expression stunned. "You're sorry? For god's sake Nene! I just raped you with a memory!"

Nene shook her head and cupped Linna's face, tugging her down. She brushed oh so gentle lips against Linna's and then sank against her. "No. You didn't do anything. But I really hope that there's a Hell. 'Cause I want Reika to burn there for a million eternities!"

Since her legs were now the consistency of jelly, Linna gave up trying to stand and sank to the floor, clutching Nene to her. "I'm so sorry, Nene. I never wanted you to see that. To know that I was…. aroused by… that…I'm sorry."

Nene's head flew up, nearly hitting Linna's chin. "That's what you were worried about?! But that's not… Linna that was not you responding! That was just a physical, automatic response to stimulus. You could no more stop that than you could stop breathing."

Linna wanted to believe her, more than she'd wanted anything else in her life, but the doubts lingered.

Nene saw them and knew she'd need help convincing her stubborn wife. And she knew just who to ask.

Sabishii all but ran into the great hall of Priss' temple. She ignored the bowing of those assembled to speak with the Goddess of War and approached the elaborate throne her sister was seated upon. Sabishii climbed the dais and stood next to Priss, bending down to whisper into her ear. "We need to talk. Now."

Priss dismissed the petitioners, announcing that she would hear them later that afternoon. She followed Sabishii into the small room that was hidden behind the throne and shut the door. "What's up?"

"You're not going to believe what they're doing now." Sabishii's expression clearly showed her own incredulousness. "I found out why they wanted the acid. They're building a damned rocket!"

"What?! But that's…. but why?!" Arashi helpfully supplied several reasons, but they didn't reassure Priss in the least. "My God! Didn't they learn anything from the whole gun thing?"

Smiling grimly, Sabishii shrugged. "Apparently not. They didn't tell me by the way. I saw the blueprints in Sylia's lab and started snooping around. They're building the damned thing in an empty grain silo at the edge of town."

"Damn it all to hell."

"So what do we do about it? Destroy it?"

Priss winced. "Only if you want them to divorce us. We need to approach this with a little more diplomacy than that."

"Diplomacy. Right." Sabishii crossed her arms over her chest. "Who the hell do you think you're talking to?"

"Yeah, yeah. I know. But we at least have to let them explain their reasoning behind this. It'll piss them off if we just charge in there and smash their toys." Priss drew deep breath and then sighed. "One month. I'd like one whole month where all hell did not break loose."

"Hmm. I know what you mean, but it's not going to happen." Sabishii opened the door and held it for Priss. "After you Oneesan. I can't wait to see what explanation they come up with for this."

They stepped into the cool interior of the silo and caught their wives red-handed. Sylia dropped the wrench she was using and began to climb down the scaffolding that had been erected around the small rocket. "Priss. Sabishii. What are you doing here?"

Priss had crossed her arms over her chest and had a stern, questioning look on her face. What she didn't realize was that Sabishii had adopted a similar pose and was sending the same look at Kuraki.

Kuraki looked at her wife and then at Priss. The identical looks were too much and she burst into giggles. Sylia was laughing as well when she finally reached the ground. She picked her wrench up and put it back on the work table beside Kuraki. "Okay, you caught us. We're building a rocket in the hopes of launching a low orbit satellite."

"A satellite. And I suppose you just happen to have what you need to build one?"

Kuraki shrugged. "Sure. That stockpile you left me in was a cornucopia of technology."

Priss rubbed her forehead and shot Sylia an exasperated look. "Why? Can you at least tell us that?"

Sylia grinned. "Sure." The mimic of Kuraki's response sent a tingle of alarm up their wives spines. "With a satellite in orbit, we can increase the range of enclave communication and easily find the remaining boomers. Right, Sis?" She leaned back against the table and looked at Kuraki who just nodded.

Priss blanched. "S-sis?"

Kuraki threw a companionable arm around Sylia's shoulders. "Yes. We decided to take a page from your book and embrace the whole sister thing. You'd be amazed at how well we work together. We've come up with some really Amazing Ideas." Both Priss and Sabishii winced. "Though a lot of them will need some special tools constructed." Another joint wince. "You think you guys could find us an intact and working generator?"

"I give up!" Sabishii threw up her hands and stalked out.

Priss was tempted to follow but felt she should at least try and reason with her wife… and her sister-in-law. My God, how does this keep getting so complicated? She cleared her throat and tried again. "Love, don't you think that seeing this might give the people… well… ideas?"

Sylia shrugged. "I doubt it. At least nothing they can apply to their lives right now. It will be centuries before they develop to that level of technology."

Priss was marshalling another argument when a quiet voice interrupted them. She turned to find Nene standing in the doorway. "Nene?"

"I need your help, Priss. It's Linna."

Once Priss had left with Nene, Kuraki held up her hand and grinned when Sylia slapped it. "Piece of cake."

Nene found that she couldn't say the words aloud, couldn't give voice to Linna's problem. She pleaded with Seiki to help and the enclave told Priss the situation.

Priss understood. It was a nasty doubt that could lay deep in the mind and twist everything it touched. She should know. She'd had the same problem. She briefly wondered if she should get Sabishii but decided to hold that in reserve, as back up, so-to-speak.

Priss urged Nene to attend to her own duties and leave the rest to her. She sounded very confident but inside she was nervous. She wanted to help Linna, not cause her more pain.

Outside of Nene's quarters, Priss paused and drew a deep breath. Nothing to it but to do it. She knocked once and opened the door.

Linna was seated at the window, gazing out at the city below and Priss was struck with a strange sense of deja vu. "Hey."

Linna smirked. "Well hell. Looks like Nene called in the big guns." She looked back outside. "So Doctor Priss. Come to make all my booboos better?"

Priss sighed. Oh this was going to be fun…not. "No. I came to see how my friend is doing."

"I suck."

Shutting the door, Priss took a seat near the fireplace. "I just want to help Linna. I know what you're-.'

Linna exploded away from the window, screaming at her. "NO YOU DON'T!" She hurled a chair across the room, watching it smash into a painting with dull satisfaction. "You don't know anything!"

Priss stood and grabbed her upper arms before she could pick up something else. "Don't I? Don't I Linna?" Her voice was low and tight. "What would I know about rape? About my own body betraying me? What would I know about my body being used against me, taunted with its response? 'Look how wet you are Priss. I had no idea you liked pain this much. Let's see how you like this." She shoved Linna back and glared at her. "What do I know about the horror of feeling your body find pleasure at the hands of a monster?" Priss closed her eyes and forced out the rest. "About… begging... God help me, begging for more." She stalked towards Linna, her words sharp and biting. "Please Kutsuu. Harder Sylia. Let me come, Kutsuu. I'll do ANYTHING Sylia, JUST LET ME COME!"

Linna sobbed and threw her arms around Priss. "I'm sorry! Oh God Priss, I'm sorry."

Priss hugged her and let her cry. Guilt swamped her. "No. Shhh. I'm the one that's sorry. I shouldn't have… blasted you with that." She eased Linna onto the couch and just held her.

A long time later Linna lifted her head and wiped her eyes. "I keep crying all over you."

Priss shrugged. "I'm water-proof."

"Seriously, Priss. I am sorry. I was feeling so… weak."

"No way. You're not, Linna. I should know." She tucked Linna's hair behind her ear, absently noting that it had grown much longer very quickly. Hmm, didn't know the enclaves could do that. "You think I didn't break down? That I didn't bawl my eyes out and smash up my trailer? I did. I went on a drinking binge that lasted ten days. For ten days I was nowhere near sober. Cost me a fortune in alcohol, but I did it. I even got a tattoo."

Linna shook her head. "Okay, now you're pulling my chain."

Priss held up a hand. "I swear."

"Show me."

Sighing, Priss twisted around and raised the back of her shirt, tugging her pants down slightly.

Linna stared at the black web and touched it gingerly. "You really did." She frowned and bent closer. The lines of the web were off center. "Sloppy artist though."

Priss dropped the cloth and turned back. "No. Kutsuu… let's just say that while the scars from the electric burns faded, the damage they did remained."

Flinching, Linna leaned against Priss and hugged her. "God. What fucked up lives we've led."

"Yeah well." Priss sighed again. "At least we've survived so far."

"I guess."

Priss took her shoulders and stared her dead in the eye. "No guessing Linna. You survived! Reika didn't. You won, Linna. You beat her and that's all that matters! Surviving is all that matters."

Tebiki clamped her hands over her mouth as she sobbed, trying to muffle the sounds. She had run all the way from Ninani's temple to Tadashii's room in Sylayla's. She hadn't meant to hear. Hadn't wanted to know… Tebiki buried her face in a pillow and wept. Wept for Linai, who had suffered so terribly at the hands of the mad queen. Wept for Prisana whose tortures at the hands of the demon Kutsuu had been more horrible than had been told.

Tadashii's heart broke when she saw her lover's sobbing form. One of the temple maids had told her that they'd seen Tebiki running towards her chamber and that she'd been crying.

She felt the door behind her open and stepped back to let Tia in. Tia looked at Tadashii, who mouthed, 'I don't know' and then at Tebiki. She'd been looking for Prisana when she'd seen Tebiki tear out of the temple as if monsters were chasing her. She sat down on the bed and gently touched Tebiki's shoulder. "Biki? Come on, love. You're scaring us."

Tebiki raised her head and saw that her friends and lovers were there. She shook her head and wrapped one arm around Tia, reaching out for Tadashii with the other. "I can't! Please, just… hold me? Please?" They surrounded her with their bodies, soothing and touching her, trying to be whatever it was she needed to get through whatever this was.

A long time later, long after she had stopped crying, Tebiki spoke. "I'm all right. It's not about me. I just… found something out that I wish I hadn't."

Tadashii kissed her cheek and met Tia's eyes over her head. "Can you tell us?"

Tebiki shook her head. "No. I'm sorry Tadashii, but I can't. I wasn't supposed to hear, you see. I wasn't supposed to be there."

Torn between her vows and her love, Tadashii debated for a moment and then sighed. "If you need to tell someone then we're here. Nothing you say will leave this room. Ever."

Tebiki's head snapped up and she stared at Tadi in shock. The seriousness of that vow shook her. "Oh Tadi… I promise you, if I need to talk about it I will come to you." She turned and caught Tia's hand. "Both of you. But what I heard… it's just… very sad. People that I care about have been hurt very badly. More than anyone knows. I wish… I wish that I didn't." She laid her head back down and stared at the ceiling. "Just… keep holding me, my loves." They snuggled closer and she closed her eyes and let her mind try and put what she'd heard into perspective.

I'll do anything Sylia. Prisana's pain-filled words came back to her and she flinched.

Had Sylayla really hurt Prisana in such a terrible way?

Sabishii stood at the front of the room and mentally counted heads. Ten students. There were supposed to be eleven. She knew who was missing of course and her eyes narrowed on a tall man near the front. "Where's Tensai?"

The man, Gouzen was his name, leaned back in his chair and smirked. "Guess she ran home to Mother. Women have no place here."

He never saw the goddess move. One second she was glaring at him from across the room and the next he was in the air, held aloft by a gleaming metal hand. "M-my Goddess?"

Sabishii carried him out of the class room, out of the hospital. She threw him hard, watching him sail through the air and crash in the middle of the street. "Don't bother coming back!" The other students had followed and she turned on them, snarling in a way that would have made Priss proud. "Anyone else think like he does?"

Frantic head shakes were her answer and she nodded shortly. "All right then. Get back to class and review what we went over last time. I'll be right back."

She strode out, her expression furious. Tensai had been the bright point in this whole teaching gig. Smart and honestly wanting to learn so that she could help others, her earnest expression never failed to bring a smile to Sabishii's face. She was an acolyte in Linai's temple and was about to take her vows to become a handmaiden. Sabishii planned on talking her out of that though. If she had to have a temple, then she was going to make damn sure that she handpicked her people. And she figured that with time Tensai would not only make an excellent doctor, but a bitchin' High Priestess. Sabishii entered the temple and asked to see Tensai.

Moments later she was surprised to see Linna enter. "Hey. What's up?"

Linna's expression was disturbed. "Tensai refuses to see you. She says she's changed her mind about the classes."

Sabishii swore. "That goddamned bastard. I should have ripped his gonads off."

"What are you talking about?"

"An asshole in my class. He's been an arrogant snot from the start but when Tensai joined he got really pissed. It didn't help that she's incredibly smart and seems to have a natural flare for this whole healing thing." She looked at Linna. "I have to see her Linna. I can't let that rat ruin her future."

Linna saw the calculating gleam in her eye. "Her future? What are you thinking?"

Sabishii shrugged. "They're building me a bloody temple. I can't stop it, God knows I've tried. But since I have to have one, I've decided that I'm gonna get to pick who's going to be there. I want Tensai."

Taking a seat, Linna studied Sabishii for a long moment. "Really. She's about to become a temple maiden. My temple maiden."

Sabishii rolled her eyes. "All right. What do you want for her?"

Linna grinned and shook her head. "Nothing. But I am curious as to what you want her for."

It felt silly saying it aloud, but then the whole goddess thing felt silly. "I want her to continue her studies and when she's ready, I want her to become my High Priestess."

Linna's eyes widened. "Really. That's an important position."

"She can handle it."

Nene knocked on the doorframe, catching their attention. "Hi. Can I take you to lunch, gorgeous?"

Sabishii spoke before Linna could. "Sure, but what will your wife think?"

Sticking her tongue out at Sabishii, Nene came in and sat down beside Linna. "What are you two up to today?"

Linna kissed her wife's cheek and answered. "She's trying to steal one of my acolytes."

Nene's eyes widened in shock and she glared at Sabishii. "Oh my God!" She leapt out of her chair and grabbed Sabishii's chin, holding her still as she hooked a finger into her mouth and pulled it open, peering inside suspiciously.

Sabishii slapped Nene's hands away and scowled fiercely. "What the hell are you doing?!"

"Checking for fangs." Nene was still suspicious. "Had any memory losses lately?"

Realizing what she was suggesting, Sabishii was infuriated. "I am not Priss! I don't have a cat and I'm not going to! Cut it out!" She jerked back as Nene stood on tiptoe, trying to see her eyes better. "You're being goofy, Nene."

Linna had long since hit the floor and was holding her sides as she laughed hysterically.

Sabishii and Nene stopped and looked at her with identically expressions of ire. Linna stopped, saw their faces and was off again, pounding the floor as the laughter overtook her.

When she finally calmed down enough to speak, she sputtered, "P-Perfect! Got… to…tell…Priss!"

Nene rolled her eyes and looked at Sabishii. "Sorry. I'm a little touchy about the acolytes since, well, you know."

Sabishii sighed and nodded. "Yeah. I guess I can't blame you. But seriously, I want her to come back to class and I want her to join my temple."

Nene brightened. "Really? So you're going to stop complaining about it?"

"I guess."

Nene clapped her hands and nudged Linna with her toe. "Okay you hyena. You can stop now. We have a ceremony to plan."

"Ceremony?" The word held the same tone Sabishii would have used to say 'overlord' and Nene smiled.

"Oh yes. You can't just have her. There's rituals involved, an official ceremony to perform. It'll be great!"

Linna wearily sat up and grinned. "You mean a party to be planned."

Nene blushed. "Well, there is usually a, well you could call it a party."

Sabishii realized that this was going to take more time than she had and shot Linna a pleading look. "Can I talk to Tensai or not? We're holding up class."

Linna waved a hand towards the door, wiping her eyes with the other. "Help yourself. Acolyte's quarters are at the end of the third hall."

Sabishii escaped out the door, but heard Nene's parting shot.

"Just take one!"

That night they all met at Sylia's for dinner. Sylia was looking a little pale and Linna noticed that she was wearing a looser tunic than she had been. She shot her a sympathetic look. "Morning sickness kicking in?"

Sylia nodded grimly and sipped the weak tea. "Taisei's keeping it at bay, but I'm afraid I still feel a little off. Why do they call it morning sickness when it comes anytime it damn well pleases?"

Her plaintive comment caught Priss' attention and she scooted her chair closer, reaching out to rub the small bump that was beginning to form. "Hey love. Can I get you something? Dry toast? Crackers?"

Sylia eyed her warily. "Crackers? They can do that?"

Priss nodded. "Yes. Now they can. I had a chat with my cook." She started to get up and then sat back down. Priss met the eyes of the temple maiden at the door. "Can you send a runner to my temple and pick up something from the head cook?" The girl nodded and Priss told her what she was to ask for. The way the girl sprinted from the room told Priss that she was going to run the errand herself. She sighed and glared at Nene. "You couldn't have given us joint temples? We are married you know."

Sabishii was nodding in agreement. "Yeah. Why do Kuraki and I have to have two temples? Its ridiculous and a huge waste of money and resources."

Nene held up both hands to ward them off. "Hey! I'm going to say this one more time: I was not in my right mind. Sorry. I'll try and do better the next time I wake up alone with a jumbled mess for a memory."

Linna squeezed her wife's hand and sent a chiding look around the table. "Its okay, Hon. We know you did your best." She paused and then ventured, "But maybe we don't have to build new temples for Sabishii and Kuraki. What if they took over mine?"

Nene blinked. "But what about your worshippers?"

Linna glanced over her shoulder and Tebiki appeared, carrying a large roll of parchment. Linna thanked her unofficial aide and spread the scroll out in front of her. "This is the layout of your temple. I'm guessing at one time you had a lot more handmaidens?" At Nene's nod, Linna continued. "But now you're down to twenty. And fifteen acolytes. Over half of this space is standing empty."

Nene smiled, seeing where Linna was going with this. "What about the great hall?"

Linna shrugged. "I've never seen it filled. Most of the time, when you have something important to announce you do it at the Temple of Justice or on the steps outside."

"True. We could easily split it in half." Nene's smile widened. "And we'd get to spend more time together!"

"Exactly. And If I move in with you then there's a temple standing empty, ready for Sabishii and Kuraki."

Priss was whispering in Sylia's ear. At her wife's nod she sat back with a pleased expression. "I love it Linna. Sylia and I want to do the same. We can move her people into my temple."

Ayden held up a hand. "Before anyone even thinks it, let me say right now that I don't want the spare temple. I'm not even the goddess of anything yet."

Sabishii cleared her throat. "Actually I have an idea about that." They all looked at her expectantly and she shifted in her seat. "Um, what about moving the hospital there? And we could use the rest as a school, for both medical and general education."

Priss laughed at her sister's uncertain look. "Excellent idea. I guess we have to change what you're the goddess of."


"You're the Goddess of Medicine and Sorrows. Actually I guess they kind of go hand in hand don't they?"

There was more than a little grumbling among the different houses and the goddesses had their work cut out for them trying to please everyone. The council had been adamantly against it until Linna had shown them the projected costs of two new temples versus the costs of altering the existing ones. Faced with the obvious savings, they quickly fell into line. They even began singing the goddesses praises at their desire to save the people of Tokio any financial hardships.

There was just one final problem they had to deal with: The High Priestesses.

A Temple High Priestess was in direct charge of the temple. Everything from provisioning for the kitchens and organizing the housekeepers to scheduling and directing ceremonies fell under her authority and none of the priestesses were willing to share power.

Hours of debate and discussion had finally dissolved into shouting and name-calling. Everyone was tired and they were getting nowhere. Sylia stood to call the meeting to an end and then swayed alarmingly. Priss was across the room in an instant, scooping her wife up in her arms and carrying her from the room. Over her shoulder she shouted, "Enough! You're all fired! We'll pick new high priestesses!"

Stunned silence followed. The goddesses ignored their priestesses as they bombarded Arashi and Taisei for information about Sylia. Reassured that she was just really tired, they all stood and glared at the four priestesses. Linna spoke first. "I'm sure you'll be happy to know that Sylayla is going to be alright. She's exhausted and stressed from this mess but she and the baby are fine."

Shocked by the news of the goddess's condition, the priestesses sank a little lower in their chairs.

"We're done with this. Figure it out among yourselves. Hell, fight it out it if you must, but get it resolved. Because when the moves take place and they will, there will be no squabbling like this tolerated. I will personally skin anyone who does!" She stormed out and the other goddesses followed, leaving four abashed women behind.

The morning of the launch dawned bright and clear, much to Priss' disappointment. Had it been up to her they'd never fire the damned rocket at all. But when Sylia bounced out of bed and hurriedly dressed, Priss realized that she'd have to go along. If only to keep her wife out of trouble.

The rocket had been set up in a small valley to the south of the city. Kuraki was already there when they arrived and a sleepy-eyed Sabishii leaned against the scaffolding. She frowned at them. "I hope you realize that this is going to make the stories that Ayden's been telling people look tame in comparison?"

Sylia smiled wryly. "What's one more?" She started to climb the frame and felt Priss' arms wrap around her waist.

"Uh uh. No heights for you, Lady." Priss jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the hastily erected stone wall that sat several hundred yards away. "You watch from there."

She started to protest, but saw the resolve on Priss' face. Sylia gave in graciously and made her way to the protection of the shelter Priss had made. She has a point, Sylia mused, feeling the nausea rise again. It would be foolish to take such a risk. Still, it was hard to watch the completion of your work from a distance.

Behind her, a few of the braver souls sat down on the hill to watch whatever it was that the goddesses were doing.

Kuraki climbed back down and grinned at Priss. "Isn't this exciting?!"

"Oh yeah. I'm thrilled."

Her deadpanned tone made Sabishii snicker. "She's been going on all week about peeka-lights and motherships."

"Picosatellites and the Mother satellite." Kuraki corrected. "Together they'll create a network around the planet and provide us with an incredible amount of information."

"So what are you powering these things with?"

"Solar cells." Kuraki checked the systems once more and then turned to them. "Shall we join Sylia?"

It was a simple enough idea. The rocket would drop its payload into orbit above them, then fall back to earth, or rather into the ocean. The payload consisted of fifty, two pound piocosatellites and one, two hundred pound mother satellite. The picos would spread themselves out along the orbit and relay all the information they received to the mother sat. Then the mother satellite would send that information back to the enclaves on earth. It would mean that they could see every boomer energy signature that was left. It would also mean that they would be able to keep in constant communication with each other, except for in the farthest northern region and the farthest southern.

Non-sentient nanos would man the tiny satellites and were capable of repairing any damage.

Still, the sight of the gleaming metal rocket made Priss uneasy. She had come to like this world the way it was and didn't want to show the people something that might lead them down the same destructive paths as their ancestors.

When the fuel ignited and bellowed out a cloud of flame and smoke, the crowd was shocked. Some screamed and ran, others stayed, too paralyzed by fear to move. But some stared at the sight with a kind of pleased awe.

This was the magic of their goddesses. And it was powerful indeed.

Several hours later they managed to construct the first view of the earth since the flares. It was shocking. The land masses had seemed to have shrunk. Sylia stared at the huge chunk of South America that was now underwater. "But that kind of change would only be possible if the ice caps had melted. And they haven't."

Kasuhito projected the next image through his eye projector. "Ah. That might explain it."

"Is that… Hawaii?" Linna's voice was shaky. The sight of the huge continent where the small islands had once been shocked her. "But how?"

"Volcanos. It's what created the islands in the first place." Priss' answer was matter-of-fact, but the churning in her guts was anything but.

"It's about the size of Australia." Kuraki mused. "Must have been a massive eruption."

"Or a long series of them," Sylia countered.

They debated that while the others watched the scenes of the world flash by. Nene's gasp of horror had them both turning to her. "What is it?"

Nene pointed at the current image, her face pale. "It's… gone."

They all stared in shock at the ocean-covered space that had once been Japan.

"Fusha, we have to tell her." Kishin watched Koneko and tried not to flinch when the little girl leapt off her chair and landed lightly in a low crouch. The child then began to dash about the room, tumbling and laughing in delight. She kept up a running chant of babble and Kishin looked at Fusha. "I've heard that language before, Fusha. And so have you."

Fusha didn't say anything, but instead got up and began to pull out the things she needed to make dinner. Kishin sighed heavily and joined her, peeling vegetables with a small knife. "She needs to know about this. What if this is hurting her?"

The former high priestess bowed her head, hating that Kishin was right. "I don't want to see them again."

Kishin dropped what she was doing and put her hands on her wife's shoulders, squeezing gently. "I can take her."

Shaking her head, Fusha turned to watch her daughter scamper around the room like any other happy three year old. But she wasn't. Koneko was only a little over a year old. But she could walk. And run. Koneko smiled up at her suddenly, her dark brown eyes flashing gold in the light. The black slits were wide as she was playing in the darkest corner of the kitchen. "Mama? Can I have apple?"

The well-spoken sentence made Fusha want to weep. "Of course, sweetie, let me slice it for you."

Koneko nodded and ran to Kishin. "Mama 'Shin? Can I play Daifu?" Kishin ruffled her dark brown hair and nodded, going into her and Fusha's bedroom. She opened the trunk at the foot of the bed and took out her old helmet. Upon the crest of the helm, a silver phoenix was imbedded. She rubbed the metal and sighed. She'd been a captain in Prisana's personal guard. It had been how she and Fusha had met. Leaving had been hard, but she'd been determined to free Fusha. But that was in the past. She was a member of the city guard now.

Koneko grabbed the helmet when it was offered and hugged it to her, carrying it off into the shadowed corner and talking to it as if it were alive. Kishin shot Fusha a pointed look. "She's speaking the Divine language, Fusha. She knows whose symbol that is."

It had been a shock. The little girl had already begun talking, walking but when she had seen the phoenix, she'd clapped excitedly and screamed, "Daifu!" She'd cried and pleaded with them until they'd let her have the helmet. The little girl had touched the silver emblem and then surprised them both when she'd kissed it and began babbling earnestly to it. It was several days later that they realized she wasn't babbling. She was speaking the ancient language of the gods. But they hadn't said that aloud. Fusha had refused to discuss it and had cut Kishin off every time she brought it up. But the baby's incredibly fast growth was showing no signs of stopping and Kishin was more than a little worried.

"I'll take her." Fusha's voice was deceptively calm. "We'll go in the morning."

Kishin caught her hand, bringing it to her lips. "I'll go with you," she said, but Fusha shook her head.

"No. It's okay. They won't hurt me."

Linna jerked awake and leapt from the bed, her eyes wildly searching for her tormentor. But the creature that was attacking her dreams was not here. Linna sank into a chair and focused on Nene's sleeping form. Still sleeps like a rock.

=I could wake her.=

Seiki's quiet voice in her head made her smile. <No, but thanks. One of us should get some rest. The moving starts tomorrow. Want to bet it's going to be hell on earth?>

Seiki snorted. =No bet.=

Inji disagreed. =Oh, I don't know. You can always crack down on the movers like you did the priestesses.=

Linna blushed. <Damn. I guess I did go too far. I should apologize.>

"No way!" Nene stretched out across foot of the bed and peered at her wife sitting in the dark. "They were being silly and you had every right to call them on it."

"Damn. Seiki should have let you sleep. I'm sorry honey."

Nene climbed off the bed and into Linna's lap. She kissed her lightly and then snuggled into Linna's long arms. "Nonsense. And miss the chance to cuddle with you? I don't think so."

Linna tightened her arms around Nene and exhaled roughly. "That's all it will be though. I'm sorry."

Nene looked up and met her wife's eyes. "Did I ask for anything else? Nope." She tapped Linna on the nose. "You need to stop thinking like that, love. Right now you need to focus on healing. And that's only going to happen at your speed. Besides, I can wait. I have all the time in the world, remember?" She rested her head back down on Linna's shoulder and was soon snoring lightly.

Linna watched her sleep and wondered how on earth she'd ever gotten so lucky.

Shukan nodded politely as the other priestesses entered her office. They sat in the chairs provided and Shukan surprised them by getting up and moving around her desk. She took the last empty chair and faced the others. "The move will begin in two hours. We must resolve this." Linai's threat hung silently between them. The fact that the goddess, who was known for her even temper and grace, had made such a threat had shaken them.

Aika, Prisana's High Priestess spoke. "I know you all think I'm terribly naïve but I'm more than willing to share with you Shukan. I've heard everyone's opinion and the problem seems to be more about who would control the basic temple upkeep. Not anything related to our respective goddesses."

"What's your point?"

"My point is why are we arguing about cooks and housekeepers? Their tasks are basically the same regardless of which temple they're in. Why not appoint a single person to run each temple and let us focus on what's important: serving our goddesses."

Shukan smiled. "A single person to handle the day to day tasks. And they'd have no say in how we performed our duties?"

Aika's brow rose. "I was under the impression that a high priestess answered only to her goddess."

Leaning back in her chair, Shukan chuckled. "I must say Aika, that the last thing I think you are is naïve."

It was chaos outside Prisana's temple and Fusha hesitated at the bottom of the steps. She'd forgotten about the move. The entire city had been abuzz with the news and Fusha felt a little foolish that she'd forgotten. She looked down at her daughter who was staring around her with wide, curious eyes.

"I think we need to come back later, sweetie. Everyone's very busy here today." She started to lead Koneko away when the little girl cried out and tore away from her grip. "Daifu!" She raced up the steps and threw her arms around the stone statue of Prisana. Fusha's eyes filled as she realized that she was going to lose her little girl. A hand touched her arm and she turned to find Aika beside her.

"Fusha? Are you all right?" The new high priestess had been surprised to see her standing in front of Prisana's temple. She had gotten the impression that Fusha had wanted nothing else to do with the goddess. "What are you doing here?"

Fusha wiped her eyes and forced a smile. "I brought Koneko to see Prisana."

Aika looked around Fusha and her brow creased. "Where is she?"

Fusha pointed to the statue and then blanched. She was gone. "She was right there! She must have gone inside!"

Aika blinked. "Went inside? But she's what? A year old?"

Fusha shook her head and ran up the steps, calling back. "You don't understand."

Priss collapsed on her throne and glared at the collection of people in front of her. "I thought all of this had been worked out before we started this mess. Have the walls moved without my knowing it? Has a room disappeared?" They shook their heads and she glowered at them. "Then follow the damn plan and leave me alone!"

They almost tripped over each other on the way out but Priss couldn't summon a smile. She knew the move would be worth it in the long run but she might not survive until then.

A small figure dashed into the room past the fleeing movers and skidded to a halt in front of her throne. Sylia came in right behind her. "I thought I saw a… Ah. I did." She watched the child race towards Priss and stilled as Priss' entire body shifted into alert.

Priss stared hard at the rapidly approaching child and felt every nerve go on edge. The scent was so familiar. So missed.

Koneko leapt at the woman in the pretty chair and flung her arms around her, holding on for dear life. "Daifu!"

Priss felt the word rock her very foundation and she hid her face in the girl's hair, blinking back tears. "Koneko."

"Daifu. My Daifu." Koneko patted Priss' chest and peered up at her. "Daifu. You bad! Gone too long! No do again!" She hugged her mother again and Priss looked up and saw Fusha.

Sylia could see how nervous the woman was and she spoke softly. "Fusha. Are you all right?"

Fusha shook her head. "I don't know. I wasn't expecting… I had to bring her." She looked at Sylia. "Is this normal for the gods? She's growing so fast and talking… she knows the Divine language."

Sylia was reeling. She turned to study the child in dismay. <Priss, she shouldn't be developing like this. And how could she possibly know Japanese?>

Taisei and Arashi had an answer to that. =She has an enclave.= It was the strangest thing they'd ever felt. The enclave seemed as if it were also an infant. Its mind was so simple and yet it seemed to contain the knowledge that Priss' mind held. =She has Priss' memories and knowledge.=

Priss paled and hugged the little girl closer. <But that's not… goddamn it! The cat? I didn't realize. Arashi tell me this isn't like what happened with Reika!>

Sylia tentatively patted Fusha on the shoulder and offered a reassuring smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "It's alright, Fusha. She'll be fine."

Arashi had Priss' arm running complete scans. =It's not the same, Priss! Koneko is her own person. Her DNA is a blend of yours and what I assume is Fusha's.=

<Arashi can you scan her mind? See what all she knows?> Priss was terrified. There were things in her mind, in her past. Things that no child should ever know about.

Arashi knew what Priss was worried about and she gently asked the new enclave if she could enter. It was very willing and Arashi began hunting for certain memories. They weren't there. Relieved, she carefully withdrew. =There's nothing harmful in there Priss. It's like your memories, right? But the rated G version.=

<The cat must have done it. It's the only explanation.> Priss looked into her daughter's eyes again and froze. "She's got my eyes."

From the half terrified edge in her voice, Sylia figured that Priss wasn't talking about the color. She stepped up onto the dais and examined the cat-like orbs. "Yes, she does." Sylia offered a weak smile. "Just like her Daifu."

Despite herself, Priss blushed. Koneko looked up and smiled at Sylia. "Sylia!" She stood up in Priss' lap and hugged Sylia. Ignoring the tears running freely down her face, Sylia rubbed the girl's back. "Hey little one. My you've grown!"

Koneko pulled back and nodded. "Me grow big, like Daifu. We play seek?" Sylia shook her head. "Maybe later sweetie. Why don't you sit down before you scare your Daifu?"

"Daifu?" Fusha had bravely come closer, until she was beside the throne. She saw Sylia's face and realized that she had hurt them all by staying away. "What does that mean? She's been saying it ever since she saw your phoenix on Kishin's helmet."

Priss cleared her throat. Coughed a little. "It means 'father.'"

It was Fusha's turn to blush. "But how did she know?"

Priss stroked Koneko's cheek and smiled down at her. "Honey? How did you know that that was Daifu?" She pointed at a banner hanging near the throne that bore her emblem.

Koneko shrugged and pointed behind Priss, to the large stone phoenix. "Daifu. Daifu sing now?"

She remembers me holding her here. Priss thought about all the times she'd brought the baby here. It was without a doubt her favorite room and the throne was the most comfortable seat in the entire temple. And Koneko remembers it. Priss looked up at Fusha. "Can she stay here for a little while? I'll bring her back to you in a couple of hours."

Fusha didn't hesitate. "Of course. She's had breakfast but she'll be getting hungry soon. I warn you now, she eats a lot." Her concern about that was obvious and had Priss quickly reassuring her.

"That's to be expected. Her body's growing so quickly she needs a lot of energy. Does she tend to nap a lot?"

"Several times a day. She sleeps the night through but still wants to nap."

Priss chuckled and settled Koneko into a more comfortable position. The girl became fascinated with Priss' artificial arm. "I'm afraid that's my fault again. She's using a lot of energy and her body wants to rest in between active spells. I do the same thing."

Nodding, Fusha met Priss' eyes. "Is she all right? Really?"

"I swear to you, Fusha. She's perfectly healthy. But she is special. She's a god." She hated to say it like that but knew it was the simplest way to explain what was happening.

"I knew…. But I had hoped…." Fusha gathered her courage and forced herself to ask. "Will you take her from me?"

Priss blinked and began rapidly shaking her head, her expression horrified. "Of course not! I would never… Fusha she's a part of you! You are her mother and nothing is going to change that!" Priss stood, and settled Koneko on her hip before reaching out to take Fusha's hand. "I will never take her from you." She paused a second and then grinned. "But if you need a babysitter we're available."

Impatient with all the talk, Koneko tugged a small braid on the side of Priss' head and imperiously demanded, "Daifu sing!"

Priss laughed and sat back down on the throne. "Okay shorty. What do you want to hear?" It surprised her, but it shouldn't have considering, that the little girl knew just what she wanted to hear.

The apple rocketed straight for Sabishii's head and she had a split second to catch it before it impacted. The fruit smacked against her palm so hard that she actually felt pain. "What the hell?" Stepping fully into the room, she spotted her sister sitting at her desk with a small child perched in her lap. "What's the idea of flinging apples at me? I piss you off?"

Priss glared at her. "Shh. Watch the language."

Sabishii looked at the child and shrugged. "I don't think it'll be a problem. She's a baby."

Koneko scowled and picked up another apple. "No baby! No like Aun Sab!" The apple was pulled back for another throw, but Priss caught it this time. "Hey, hey. What did I say about throwing stuff?"

Koneko pouted for a moment and then sighed. "No throw. Hurt people. No hurt people."

Priss smiled and kissed her cheek. "Good girl. Do you think you should apologize to Aunt Sabishii?"

Koneko nodded and launched herself out of Priss' arms and onto the desk. Like a bolt of lightening she was in the air and aimed right at Sabishii.

Sabishii got her arms up in time to catch her and found her arms full of giggling little girl. "Whoa! Going to give me a heart attack kid."

Koneko patted her cheek and smiled. "I sorry, Aun Sab. No hurt you." She kissed Sabishii's chin and then wiggled until Sabishii set her on the floor. Koneko was off and running again. She barely paused as she reached Priss' desk and jumped, her fingers grabbing the edge and pulling herself up. She hopped across the width and into Priss' arms again, shouting, "Love you Daifu!"

Sabishii stared at the child in shock. "Daifu?" She looked at Priss and saw the confirmation. "But… Koneko?"

The child waved happily and took a slice of apple from her mother.

Priss had to laugh at her sister's expression. "It's really her." Mentally she explained what was going on. The explanation had Sabishii sinking into a chair. "But… if the cat caused this to happen…. And the same process is what got Sylia pregnant… won't the same thing happen to her baby?"

Astonished horror rolled over her in a paralyzing wave. For a brief moment she literally could not think. Arashi was already contacting Sylia.

=Um Sylia, Sabishii just had a thought. Is there any chance that what happened to Koneko could happen to your baby?=

Sylia dropped the book she had been holding and stared blindly at Kuraki. <It… it hadn't occurred to me.> Which shocked her almost as much as the suggestion itself. Where is my mind? She sat down in what would be her desk chair (once the desk was actually delivered) and clasped a shaking hand to her stomach.

"Sylia? What's wrong? Are you in pain?" Kuraki laid a tentative hand on her sister's shoulder. When she got no response, she frowned and reached out to Priss. <Something's wrong with Sylia.>

Priss spoke from behind her. "She's okay, just worried. We hadn't considered that what had happened to Koneko might happen to her baby too."

"What happened to Koneko?" Her eyes fell on the little girl in Priss' arms and she froze. "Oh! I see."

Taisei began checking on the nanos that were centered in Sylia's womb. Everything looked normal. The fetus was developing right on schedule and all the nanos in that area were actually doing was monitoring. She checked the fetus itself and then paused. It was so faint she almost missed it. It would look like a tiny speck beneath the transparent skin of the head. A closer inspection through the eyes of a nearby nanobot stunned her. A tiny network of nanos were busily altering the fetus' brain. When she tried to contact them she was rebuffed. =I don't want to alarm you, but we have a problem.=

Sylia's hand covered her mouth, both in shock and to quell a sudden urge to vomit. "It's happening to her isn't it?"

Koneko was demanding to be set down and once she was she headed straight for Sylia. She stopped beside her and grinned up at her. "Mama Sylia." She frowned and tilted her head, as if listening. Then she laid her head against Sylia's stomach, patting the small swell there. "Shhh. Baby sleeping." She crawled into Sylia's lap and patted her cheek. "Love Sylia. Love Imouto." Koneko snuggled closer and closed her eyes. She was sound asleep in moments.

Priss knelt beside her wife and daughter. <I'm so sorry, Sylia. I had no idea.>

Sylia had been staring at Koneko with a bemused expression. She looked up at Priss and smiled a little. <Don't apologize. If she's anything like Koneko then I'm already in love with her.> Priss wrapped her arms around them both and rested her head against Sylia's shoulder. <Makes two of us.>

"Why would the cat do this? Obviously she had to be responsible." Sabishii's voice was low.

Arashi had been searching within for that very answer. <Actually the cat is no longer a separate entity. We are… us. But I believe it was pure primal instinct. Not a conscious choice by us.>

As Sabishii tried to wrap her head around this new information, Kuraki asked. "Instinct? How is this instinct?"

<Natural selection and evolution. Survival of the fittest. Our subconscious took all the good things available to her and gave them to our offspring. Knowledge and increased intelligence, reflexes, speed, stamina, etc.>

Kuraki shook her head. "But that doesn't explain the rapid growth."

"Sure it does." Sabishii leaned against the doorway. "Primal instinct again. Babies are small and vulnerable. The faster they grow up, the better the chance they have to survive."

=Yes. There's something else you should all be aware of.= A series of pained expressions bloomed. =I've been trying to coax Koneko's enclave into stopping the rapid growth. She can't. She's not the one doing it.=

Priss straightened and looked down at her sleeping child. "But then how… that doesn't make sense."

=Actually it does. What's happened to her, the way she's growing and the physical enhancements to her body? They have been written into her DNA.=

Sylia grew even more pale. "Then there's a good chance that these changes will be passed on to any children she has."

=Not a chance. It's definite. Basic genetic traits. Like having two arms, two legs, one heart, and so on. Koneko's DNA defines these new traits as a normal part of her life cycle.=

Kuraki met her sister's eyes and realized that Sylia had reached the same conclusion she had. She cleared her throat. "She's not human anymore."

Priss stood quickly, her fists clenched. "Shut up!"

Kuraki held up her hands in surrender. "Easy Priss. That's not what I meant. Homo sapiens are defined as homo sapiens because they all share the same basic characteristics. Koneko has more than the basics." She offered a small smile. "She's Homo," she paused, searching for the word. "Ulterius."

Priss watched Sylia's scribe watch Linna's aid. She frowned and looked at Sylia. <I thought Tadashii and Tia were an item?>

Sylia smiled slightly and continued to eat. <They are.>

<Then why is Tadashii staring at Tebiki like she'd like to lick her from head to toe?>

Sylia choked on her water and began coughing. She waved hands of assistance away and glared at Priss, who just smiled innocently. <You rat.> She took a careful drink and then looked back at her wife. <Because Tadashii and Tebiki are lovers.>

Priss ran that through her mind a moment. <But Tia…?>

<Is part of the ménage á trois. Tadashii, Tebiki and Tia. lovers. Understand?>

Nonplused, Priss stared at her. <Is there some kind of orgy disease running rampant through the city?>

Sylia choked again and shot a death glare at her spouse. <Now that was deliberate!>

Smirking, Priss nodded slightly. <Yes, yes it was. Seriously though, how did this happen?>

Sylia unfolded and refolded her napkin before answering. <I accidentally made them aware of the option.>

Prisana's laughter rang out through the dining hall and everyone turned to see Sylayla glaring at her. And blushing.

Sabishii saw Ayden walking towards her and smiled widely. Seeing this, Ayden stopped dead. "What?"

Her aunt threw an arm around her shoulders and urged her towards the new hospital. "Ayden! You're just who I was looking for. Have you ever considered helping us out at the school?"

Ayden blinked. "But… I don't know anything."

"Nonsense! Look at the mill! And the new spillway. I remember the extra classes you took in high school. You were thinking about becoming an engineer."

Ayden shrugged. "Well yeah, but I never actually made it to college, remember? Flares?"

Sabishii made a sound of dismissal. "Not a problem. All the data is stored in the new library here. Shugo can help you learn what you need."

They had entered the newly renamed 'Temple of Learning' and Sabishii was subtly steering the younger girl towards the hospital section.

"Well, I'd like to help, Sabishii. I'll get Shugo to access the information and …" She trailed off and blinked as they entered a well lit room. A raised bed stood in the middle of the room and Ayden recognized the five students standing beside it. They were Sabishii's star pupils and had wanted to learn more than the general level of medicine. They were all smiling at her. Ayden looked at Sabishii and scowled. "What's this?"

Sabishii patted her on the shoulder. "Advanced Anatomy class. We're studying the internal organs today."

Ayden felt a trickle of alarm skitter through her. "Internal?"

Sabishii nodded and handed her a folded sheet. "Would you mind going behind that screen and undressing?" She turned back to the small class. "While she's getting ready, we'll cover basic sanitation techniques again. Tensai? Could you make sure the surgical tools are ready?"


Nene stormed into the Temple of the Goddesses of Sorrows and the Sea, sending death glares to all that approached her. She threw the doors of the great hall open and marched up to the startled goddess who'd been helping to shift a large statue. "What the hell did you think you were doing?!"

Sabishii paled and ducked behind the statue of her wife. She peered around the outstretched arm at the fire-breathing Goddess of Love and Harmony. "Hi Nene! Linna all settled in?"

Nene came around the statue, making Sabishii back pedal quickly, her hands up in an attempt to ward her off. "I'm going to insist that Prisana holds a special class about combat injuries. And you're going to be the target! That way I can slice you up and she can sew you back together!"

Sabishii flinched. "Nene, Ayden's fine. She didn't feel a thing!"

"You performed a Y-incision on my daughter!" She still grew faint at the thought. Nene glared at the Goddess of Medicine and jabbed a finger into her chest, making Sabishii wince. "How on earth did you even come up with that idea?!"

Shrugging, Sabishii explained. "A little boy was brought into the hospital two days ago. From the symptoms, I realized that it was his appendix. It was on the verge of bursting and I barely got to it in time. He would have died, Nene. If I hadn't been there, then there would have been no one to help him. What if I had been away again? I can't just tell the students what to do Nene. I have to show them. The pantheon's ability to stop pain and bleeding make them the perfect choices for this."

"Then why not choose one of the others?"

"Well let's see: Kuraki's got her hands full with the move since I have to be at the hospital. Priss and Sylia's skin are reinforced with carbon fibers and won't cut, plus Sylia's pregnant. Linna…" She stopped and Nene nodded in understanding. "So that leave's me, you and Ayden."

"Why couldn't Priss teach the class and you be the patient?"

Sabishii snorted. "Because the feel of internal organs makes her hurl."

Nene was surprised. "But you don't?"


The clone seemed happy about that and Nene shook her head. "How come? I mean, you're her clone. Shouldn't you guys feel the same way about it?"

Sabishii hesitated. She knew why Priss had more problems with this part of medicine than she did. It had started with the emergency surgery that she… they had had to perform on Sylia. But when Priss tortured and killed Kutsuu then the revulsion had been set in stone. But she couldn't tell Nene that. "We're not the same person anymore. Priss can do it if it's a life and death situation, but she pays for it afterwards."

Nene realized that she'd get no further explanation from Priss' little sister. They'd all been surprised at the way the two had banded together, though as Linna pointed out, they were married to Sylia and Kuraki. They needed all the help they could get. "So why didn't you ask me?"

Sabishii rolled her eyes. "Because this is the first time I've seen you without Linna since…" She let her words hang.

"Okay, I understand. But next time," Nene scowled so fiercely that Sabishii backed up a step. "Rats! I want to demand that you ask me but she's a grown woman. I'm having problems remembering that."

"I think that never goes away." Sabishii chuckled.

"I think you're right." She eyed the taller woman. "But tell me: How did you get her to do it?"

"I appealed to her sense of civic duty."

Nene snorted in disbelief. "Try again."

"No really. She wants to help these people, Nene. Actually all the improvements and designs she's been working on have given me an idea."

Fusha perched on the edge of the couch, looking as if she would bolt at any moment. Sylia handed her a glass of wine and sat down in a chair across from her. "Thanks for coming, Fusha. I know this isn't easy for you."

Priss sank to the floor beside Sylia, curling her legs under her. "We felt we needed to clear the air between us. Koneko's spending a lot more time with us and she's going to pick up on any tension."

"I understand." Fusha looked at them expectantly.

Priss glanced at Sylia. "We felt we should tell you what was happening when I returned to Tokio. After I found out that Sylayla was dead." She and Sylia had debated on what to tell her, on how much was too much. They'd finally decided to tell the truth but to do it 'Ayden Style', in the form of a myth.

"A long time ago, before the earth was burned in the flames of Genom's revenge, I was captured." Fusha nodded, having heard the story that was widespread across the city. Priss continued. "At Kutsuu's hands I almost died. To survive, I had to open a very ancient piece of myself. It worked, but once free I couldn't bury that part again. It became part of me and I learned to live with it. Even coming to enjoy the extra powers that it gave me." She stopped and rubbed the center of her forehead. "When I thought that Sylia was dead I, I wanted to die as well. I saw no point in continuing without her and I sought to kill myself."

Surprised at the admission, Fusha had to bite her lip to keep from speaking.

"But the other part of me didn't want to die. It took control of me, preventing me from harming myself. Once it had that control it was reluctant to let go. I didn't realize it, but my sadness at Sylia's 'death' made it easier for it to gain that control." Priss dropped her gaze to the rug she was sitting on and idly traced the patterns. "When I returned here, I sank even further into depression and the beast had free rein." She cleared her throat. "When she takes over I am not aware of it. I can't remember large chunks of time."

Sylia leaned forward and gripped Priss' shoulder in support, knowing how hard it was for her to admit to such a loss of control.

"When I… took… the temple maidens..." She sighed heavily. "I don't remember it. I get flashes every once in a while but… I can only recall a few moments of what happened. I remember waking up with you the next morning. I don't remember what happened between us that night."

Her fingers tight around her glass, Fusha took a long drink of her wine. "You… I had thought, at times, that it was like I was speaking to two different beings."

Nodding quickly, Priss agreed. "Exactly. I was two people and neither of us behaved honorably towards you. I am so sorry for that, Fusha."

Sylia offered a wan smile. "I know its little consolation, but the beast chose you out of everyone else because you are the best choice for a mate. Out of everyone else, she picked you."

Fusha blushed, and admitted to herself that it did make her feel better. She hadn't been another conquest to the goddess. She had been chosen. "Thank you for telling me."

Priss spoke, her expression earnest. "Please, believe me when I tell you that I really did fall in love with you. I was ashamed and embarrassed when I realized what the beast had done, but as I spent time with you I realized what an amazing person you are."

Sylia bent forward, resting her forearms on her knees and clasping her hands in front of her. "I guess it's my turn for confessions." She met Fusha's eyes. "When Priss and I were married we made promises to each other. One of which was that we would only be with each other from that moment on. When I came here and found out that Priss had broken that vow I was angry and hurt. But she had thought that I was dead and I was determined not to hold her infidelity against her. But then I realized that she had every intention of being your mate as well. I was beyond furious and I lashed out at her, as you saw. It took me awhile to come to terms with what was happening. But the gods have a special gift that allows us to share memories and emotions with each other. Priss opened her mind to me and I saw you as she did." Sylia paused and a hint of color darkened her cheeks. "I think that was part of the reason I came to be attracted to you so quickly."

It was Priss' turn to offer support and she reached up and took Sylia's hand, squeezing lightly.

"I'm sorry if you felt that you had no choice but to…to sleep with me." Sylia's face was scarlet now, and Fusha realized that she was embarrassed.

"I…Sylayla, I," She stopped and then tried again. "Perhaps it is now my turn for confessions." She looked at Priss and spoke what she was feeling. "When you… forced me to be with you…. I hated you. I had been faithful to you, serving as your high priestess and devoting my life to you. I was happy when you returned to Tokio and overjoyed when you came to live here at your temple. But then you seduced the handmaidens. I was confused and disappointed but they had made their vows of chastity to you so I reasoned that it was your right to take their innocence." Priss was blushing furiously now. But Fusha wasn't through. "But then you pursued me… you ignored my protests…" Her voice grew angry. "I begged you not to take me and you ignored me! I put my faith and trust into you and you betrayed that trust!" Fusha's hands were shaking badly but she was determined to have her say. "I planned to escape, to flee Tokio and never return. But then you told me that I was pregnant. And I knew that if I ran, you'd follow. I was trapped."

Priss' head fell forward into her hands and Fusha saw something fall into her lap. She halted her tirade, realizing that the Goddess of War was crying. Despite herself, her tone eased. "I hated you. But then I started to notice that sometimes you were terribly kind to me. And even when you were… more forceful… you never actually hurt me. You seemed so happy about the baby and you were treating me like a princess. After a time I realized that I didn't hate you any longer. I was content."

Priss swallowed hard and forced the painful ball of tears knotted in her throat back down. "I'm so sorry. It means so little, but I truly am."

Fusha nodded, believing her, but she wasn't through. "Then Sylayla returned. I thought that was then end then. She would strike me dead. But she didn't and I was left waiting, wondering when you would grow tired of me and kill me."

The identical stunned expressions of their faces reassured Fusha. Apparently that had never occurred to them. "I was afraid of you at first Sylayla, but you were so kind… and you asked me things. You didn't tell me, you didn't assume, and you didn't ask me in a way that made me feel I had to do what you wanted."

"I'm ashamed to admit it but part of why I enjoyed… being with you was that I felt I was defying Prisana. But it grew to be so much more than that. I… it was a choice that I could make." She shrugged. "And everything was better since you'd returned. Prisana was… calmer. I felt safe again."

It was a toss up as to whether Priss would be sick or cry. What the former high priestess was describing were classic Stockholm Syndrome responses.

Sylia had closed her eyes, relieved that she hadn't unwittingly added to Fusha's ordeal. The high priestess' next words shocked her.

"And when you and I made love… it was the most amazing thing I'd ever experienced." Fusha was determined that Sylayla knew. "You let me explore your body, let me learn how to please you. I felt so, so powerful when I was able to bring pleasure to you. As if I had accomplished a great feat."

Priss wasn't sure how to take that and stared at Fusha bemusedly.

Realizing how that sounded, Fusha hastened to add, "Not that I didn't enjoy being with you, Prisana. It was just…" She couldn't come up with a word.

"Different." Priss offered the word with a wry grin. "I understand."

Fusha smiled in relief. "Yes, different." She hesitated. "Can I ask you both a question?"

The goddesses exchange wary glances and nodded.

"When Prisana… joined us, Sylayla," She cleared her throat. "Is that… do such things happen to mortals?"

Sylia scratched the back of her neck and looked at Priss.

Priss was wishing the floor would swallow her. "Um, it can. But usually when it does it's just for the enjoyment of the act itself, not because the three people involved actually care about each other. That's much rarer."

Sylia leaned forward and looked Fusha straight in the eye. "But when there's love between all the parties involved it can be an extraordinary and beautiful thing." She smiled and something in her tone triggered Priss' senses. "I can't speak for you and Priss, but I went into this with both eyes open and my heart filled with love for both of you."

Fusha blushed and nodded shyly. "Then it seems we are numbered in the rare and lucky few." She found Prisana's eyes and stared into them without fear. "I did grow to love you Prisana. I'm sorry that I had to leave my position, but Kishin… it was for the best if I put some distance between us."

Priss reached out and took Fusha's hand. "Is she treating you all right? Are you happy?"

Fusha nodded, "Yes she's wonderful. And she loves Koneko as if she were her own."

Marginally reassured, Priss let her go and sank back down. "Okay then. But if you ever need anything…come to us. Come to any of the goddesses. We'll help you however we can."

Sylia coughed slightly and shot Priss a pointed look. "Perhaps we should talk about the other situation."

Priss frowned and reluctantly nodded. "Yeah. She needs to know."

"Fusha…you know about the children of the Goddess Ninani? And how they live much longer than anyone else?" At the girl's nod, Sylia continued. "Well some of her temple maids also have longer lifespans."

"You're speaking of the god-touched among her harem."

"Yes. They were in intimate contact with the goddess and as such became… well, let's say gifted with better health and longer life." She looked at Priss and then at Fusha.

Fusha realized what they were saying, or rather, not saying. "I am god-touched?"

"Yes. Even more so since you carried my child." Priss looked decidedly uncomfortable. "A lot of my temple maidens are now as well."

Fusha was puzzled. "But not all?"

Priss blushed. "Um, no. It's… not all of them… tasted… me." Her face was scarlet by the time she choked it out.

A long moment of silence. "Ah! So it's only by drinking a goddess's desire that one becomes god-touched?"

Priss mad a strangled sound and Sylia took pity on her. "Yes. We'd rather that you didn't tell that to anyone. It could cause… problems."

Fusha thought about that for a moment and then nodded gravely. "I swear, I will speak of this to no one."

"Well, you'll have to tell Kishin at least."


"Yeah. She'll become touched through you. Not as much, but certainly enough to expand her life."

It had the potential to become a huge problem, this passing on of nanos. Already they had spread into the population and Kasuhito calculated that they had already increased the lives of the average citizen by twenty years. Nene's children and lovers had spread the technology city-wide over the centuries, but the level of nanos was small enough not to cause radical changes. But now there was more goddess, which meant more contact and Priss' nanos had apparently reprogrammed themselves to reproduce again and enhance the host. Of the handmaidens Priss had taken, six had nanos. And of those, two were showing signs of marked biological improvements. Aika and Tereya had become lovers though and Priss hoped that that was the only reason they were different from the others. She was keeping a close eye on them, just in case.

"An extraordinary and beautiful thing? Why does that sound like the voice of experience?"

Sylia flushed scarlet. "Ah… well there's always things that one does when they're young and foolish."

Amazed, Priss moved closer until their bodies were almost touching. "Why Sylia Stingray! Are you telling me you actually participated in a ménage à trois?" The last three words rolled off Priss' tongue in a sensual purr.

Pushing against Priss' shoulders, Sylia stepped back a pace. "You're imagining things."

But Priss knew better. "Total honesty, Sylia. Remember? I think it's time you answer a few questions."

Sylia glared at her. "You're not going to let this go are you?"

Priss' grin was wicked. "Hell no!"

Sylia sank down onto the foot of the bed and crossed her arms over her chest. "Fine. Let's get this over with."

Gleefully rubbing her hands together, Priss drew a chair up and sat facing her wife. "Now tell me Sylia, have you ever had a ménage à trois before what happened between us and Fusha?"

Sylia rolled her eyes and nodded. "Yes, I have. In college."

Priss grinned. "Who with?"

"Priss, that isn't important."

"Who with?"

"Tsuukai Yamato and Seraphine Dumont."

"Seraphine? Where was she from?"

"France. She started college much later than the rest of us. She was twenty-four."

Something in her tone alerted Priss that there was more here than Sylia was saying. "So you guys were hanging around the dorm room one day and somebody said, 'hey, let's have a three-way?"

Sylia realized that Priss wasn't going to give up, so she did. "No. She set about seducing the shy, bookish girl that had been raised in a religious girl's school." She shrugged. "I was hardly a difficult conquest. When father died I had turned in on myself and focused completely on learning everything I would need to know to strike back at the people responsible for his death. Seraph had an overwhelming personality. People listened to her, followed her. I came back from the showers one night and she just pulled me into her room and pulled my robe off. I was too shocked to protest. Then she kissed me and well, like I said, I was hardly a conquest."

Fascinated, Priss shook her head. "I would have never guessed. You're always so confident. So how did Tsuukai enter into this?"

Sylia blushed. "Once I was under her spell, Seraph had me where she wanted me. To this day I'm surprised that my grades didn't slip after that. I wasn't spending any time studying. Well, not school subjects anyway. She seemed to take great pleasure in seeing how far she could corrupt me. She was my first lover and introduced me to pretty much every form of sexual practice that existed."

Priss' mouth went dry at the thought. "Every?"

Sylia nodded, and looked up at the ceiling. "Yes. She loved to tie me up and found no end of ways to torture me once she had. Nipple clamps, clothes pins, whips, dildos, vibrators, ice cubes, hot wax," Sylia shifted and looked at Priss. "That really hurts in case you're wondering. I suspect that she was doing it wrong. I tried to stop seeing her after that but she came to my room and begged forgiveness. She kissed me so tenderly and then made love to me so gently. It was beautiful."

Sylia grimaced. "When I woke up a little later, I found that she'd tied me to the bed. I was furious and was yelling at her to let me go. There was a knock at the door and I was both relieved and embarrassed. She opened the door and the floor monitor came in. Seraph locked the door behind her and I was shocked when they started to kiss. Tsuukai was her girlfriend, Seraph explained. I didn't know what to think and when Tsuukai undressed and crawled on top of me I was even more confused."

Appalled, Priss stared at her wife. "My God. Sylia…"

But Sylia just smiled and shrugged. "I could have snapped the ropes and gotten free, Priss. The nanos had increased my strength to that point by then. It would have been hard to explain but not impossible." She sighed. "But while Tsuukai tried to find my tonsils, Seraph had taken my clitoris into her mouth. I had never felt anything like that in my life. The both of them, touching me, pleasuring me. To borrow one of your phrases, 'it blew my mind.' And that semester I learned a great deal about myself… and about how to tie knots."

"I didn't mean to…" Priss trailed off.

"Priss I'm fine. And what happened between Fusha and us has helped put all that into perspective for me. That was they way it should have been. Teenage mistakes are just that. Mistakes. You learn and you move on."

Another thought occurred to Priss and her brow furrowed. "How old were you?"

"Ah, well I was very advanced academically and graduated high school early. I had just turned fifteen when I met Seraphine."

"That sick bitch!" Priss was horrified. "Somebody should have done something to stop her."

Sylia smiled slowly, a wicked grin that made Priss freeze.

"They dropped me the next semester, looking for a fresh conquest. I begged them for just one more night and they agreed. We fucked in every way imaginable and then they left me tied up on the floor. Which I had been expecting because Tsuukai really didn't like me very much. Probably because Seraph did like me; a little too much. So they drank the bottle of wine that I had brought them and fell asleep. And when they woke up the next morning they found a nasty surprise. I had drugged their wine, planning to exact a little revenge. I easily broke the thin rope and I carried them into the center courtyard. I tied them into a… interesting position. Then I covered them with a sheet and left them there."

Priss was afraid to ask. But she did it. "What did you do?"

"Well, I laid Tsuukai over the back of one of the benches and tied her in place. Then I strapped onto Seraph her favorite dildo, the one with the built-in vibrator that could pound nails into wood. With the help of a lot of lubricant, I pushed it into Tsuukai's ass." Priss winced. "Tsuukai had one thing she would not do with Seraph and that was it. I think that might have been part of Seraph's motivation with those seduction games. God knows she seemed to be obsessed with mine," Sylia mused. "Anyway, I tied Seraph in place, covered them and then took the remote to the vibrator and went back inside. I found a good view of the courtyard and waited until the students were changing classes before triggering the remote."

"I take it that woke them up?"

"Tsuukai squealed so loudly that I could hear it inside. Somebody yanked the sheet away and there they were in all their twisted glory. It took a while to get them loose as nobody seemed to be in a hurry to help them." She tapped a thoughtful finger to her chin. "And several of the students had recorders as I recall."

Priss was speechless. She opened her mouth, closed it again. Sylia was watching her calmly. Priss shook her head and gave up. She stood and put her chair back where she got it from and turned to Sylia.

"So. Dinner?"

The map of the surrounding area lay spread out on the newly dubbed Round Table. Ayden's request of the name had amused them and they'd agreed even though Nene swore that wasn't what she had in mind when she had it created.

The outer areas of the map were clear of boomers but within the city itself, several energy sources had been detected.

Sabishii pointed to a cluster of stars within the city. "This was recorded last night. There's two energy signatures that are definitely me and Priss, and I'm assuming this one is Sylia. The strength of the satellite's scanners is amazing."

Ayden glanced at Sylia in surprise. "Why would you show up?"

Sylia tried to recall if they'd ever told Ayden the full story of their final battle with Genom. "I lost my right leg when Genom attacked us that final time."

"But… I don't remember anyone saying anything about that."

"Probably because it has an artificial shell. It's not readily apparent."

Ayden nodded thoughtfully and then touched a smaller mark on the map. "Then what's this?"

Nene cleared her throat. "That would be me."

Stunned now, Ayden stared at her mother in surprise. "You? I don't understand."

Sighing, Nene perched on the edge of the table and decided to be frank with her daughter. "When Priss killed Kutsuu, she neglected to destroy her brain. Genom took it and placed it into a boomer. The new Kutsuu was aware of the fact that Priss was a Knight Saber. She planned and executed a simultaneous attack on all of us." She smiled at Kuraki. "Well, not all of us. Just the original four of us. It caught us by complete surprise and we all got hit hard. My scooter blew up under me and my eyes were damaged in the blast. The doctors at the hospital replaced them with artificial ones. Linna was gunned down in our apartment and Priss was blown up inside Lady 633."

Reeling from these revelations, Ayden looked at Sylia. "I'm afraid to ask."

Priss grimaced and shook her head. "You should be. Sylia was forced off a bridge and the motorcycle she was riding fell on top of her and burned."

"Oh God. But… how did you all survive?"

Sabishii raised her hand. "Kuraki and I came riding to the rescue. We got Nene out of the hospital and away from the boomers hunting her. Then we scraped Sylia up off the road and dug Priss out."

Ayden looked at her mother expectantly, causing Linna to shift uneasily. "I had been found by Reika Chan and taken to a White Tiger hide out. Once Priss was mobile again she came and got me."

The implications of this were very clear. Ayden hadn't been told much about what had happened with Queen Reika but she could make some educated guesses. To be betrayed like that by someone wearing the face of a friend…. Ayden shivered. "I can't believe you never told me any of this."

Priss corrected her. "It wasn't that we didn't tell you, it's just that to make the virtual time line work, it couldn't happen. I could have programmed all that to occur but why put everyone through that kind of suffering again? The mental images knew what had happened and why it was necessary to keep it from you."

Ayden exhaled. "I hope you kicked Kutsuu's ass. Again."

Priss smirked. "Oh yeah. Hard to copy a brain that's been diced."

"Um, thanks for the visual, Aunt Priss." Ayden was still trying to take it all in. "So that's what caused you all to mount a final attack on Quincy. Not just the spy that had been caught."

Nods all around. "Well things calmed down after that, at least for a little while." She almost missed it. The quick look that her mothers exchanged with Priss and Sylia. "What? What else happened?"

Priss looked decidedly uncomfortable. "A few weeks after we took Genom out and before we found out about the flares, we discovered that Kutsuu wasn't the one who attacked Sylia."

Sylia's smile was wry. "Priss had met a woman while she was away after her fight with Sabishii. The woman was very forward and pursued Priss ardently. Priss didn't return her affections and she took exception to that. Unaware of just how dangerous she was," She shot Priss a disgruntled look, "Priss kept returning to that hotel and essentially kept adding fuel to the fire. She began to stalk Priss."

"Hey, I had no way of knowing Iroke was that nuts! And I liked that hotel. They had good steak." Priss shrank under Sylia's baleful gaze. "All right, all right! I messed up. I'm sorry. I stopped her from stabbing you didn't I?"

Sylia's brow rose higher and Priss sighed. "Okay, you stopped her and I just hauled her down to the police station." She got up and moved to stand in front of her wife. "Forgive me?"

Sylia kissed her lightly and nodded. "Fool that I am, yes."

Ayden sat back in her chair and looked at her family in amazement. "Too wild! I can't wait to tell this one to the guys down at the tavern."

Six pairs of eyes zeroed in on her and she flinched. "Um, just kidding?" They still glared and she grew indignant. "What's the difference between me telling what happened and her doing it?" She jabbed a finger in Tadashii's direction.

The scribe didn't look up from her work as she absently answered the goddess. "I don't embellish the facts."

Silence reined as the pantheon stared at the scribe in surprise.

Tadashii realized that everyone had stopped talking and looked up to find them staring at her. She looked down at her record and read what had just transpired. Everyone heard the gulping sound the scribe made, even those without enhanced hearing.

Ayden snorted, setting off a chain reaction of laughter that lasted for several minutes and left them all winded and smiling.

Tadashii considered it a small miracle that her head had not burst into flames from the heat that was rushing through her face. She kept her head down and focused on her task.

Kasuhito entered, carrying more maps. "I've finished the next regions. I took the liberty of marking large heat signatures, like those a village might give off, with triangles."

They spread them out and immediately noticed the huge area around Tokio that was absent of boomer signatures. Priss shrugged. "I guess they don't want to come play with me anymore."

"I wonder why?" Sabishii snickered. She laid the next map out, one that covered the northern region. "Got a lot here." She traced a finger over the outer edge along the coast. "Looks like they're massing together."

Priss stared at the location and tried to picture the area in her mind. An image of a decaying pyramid formed and she began to curse. "Goddamn it! Linna, you did activate the security systems in the tower before you left right?"

Linna nodded sharply. "Of course. We reprogrammed them to repel any boomers that tried to enter."

Priss pointed to the group of boomers, jabbing the parchment with her finger. "We're going to need a more detailed view of that area Kasuhito-sama. We may have trouble brewing."

"Already done Priss." He handed her the next map. "They're not actually in the tower yet."

Sure enough, the closer view showed approximately two dozen boomers spread out in a loose crescent around the Genom tower.

Sylia considered the image a moment. "Were the external defenses operational, Linna?"

"I'm not sure. They certainly weren't engaged if they were. We focused more on the internal systems."

Sabishii glared at the map as if it were to blame. "So do we go up there?"

Nene shook her head and smiled. "Maybe not. I have an idea."

The picosatellite in orbit over the northern region turned and began scanning the large metal pyramid below it. It was able to connect with the building's security program and relayed that to the mother satellite.

Back in Tokio, Kasuhito projected the image onto the wall and they watched as the external security systems were activated. Nothing happened.

"Then we have no other choice. We have to activate the self-destruct." Sylia was disappointed. "It's a shame though. There's probably a huge amount of usable technology inside." She met Kuraki's eyes.

Her sister had an identical look of calculation upon her face. "If we could destroy the boomers we might be able to get in and repair the external defense systems."

Their wives, alarmed at the gleam they saw, both exclaimed, "No! Best if we just blow it up."

Priss glared at Nene. "Destroy it, Nene." <Unless you want the trouble twins to have more toys?>

Nene nodded and began reprogramming the tower's systems. "This will just take a moment." She glanced at Kasuhito. "Can you alter the search parameters while I'm doing this and make sure there are no humans within the blast range?"

The sliver head tilted in agreement, making the image on the wall tilt. "Of course."

Deep within the tower, the long dormant self-destruct device engaged.

"There are no humans within the blast radius, Nene. You may proceed."

Nene began the countdown and they waited in silence as the seconds ticked off.

The micro-neutron bomb, despite being thousands of years old, fired exactly as it was designed to do. A huge explosion appeared on the wall as the tower and the surrounding area were destroyed. When the next scan several moments later revealed no energy signatures, they all breathed a sigh of relief.

Nene looked at the image, shaking her head. "Now even more of France is under water."

Priss met Sylia's eyes and smiled. "Ah well. Karma is a strange thing."

Sylia laughed and went back to studying the maps.

Linna found her wife in the large room that Nene used as a studio. The redhead was halfway up a ladder, carefully tapping a chisel into a huge stone orb in front of her. Linna waited until the hammer stopped before speaking. "Hey. I thought you were done with this one?

Nene smiled down at her wife. "I was. Then we took a large chunk out of one of the continents." She pointed and Linna could see the small change Nene had made.

"You're a slave to details, Honey."

Nene wrinkled her nose at her wife and climbed down the ladder. "Yep. What's your point?"

Linna just smiled and studied the large globe that would go in front of the Temple of Learning. The new surface of the earth had been carved into the granite with loving care. She ran her fingers over the raised bumps of the Andes mountain range and marveled again at her wife's skill. "You've got amazing hands."

"So you've said before." Nene's smile was naughty.

Blushing, Linna pulled Nene into her arms and nuzzled her neck. "That's actually why I'm here."

Unable to stop her moan of pleasure, Nene melted against Linna's body. She was surprised when she felt Linna's hands begin to wander across her with definite intent. "Linna? Are you…" She trailed off.

Linna raised her head and offered a small smile. "I want to be with you again. That won't happen if I keep shying away from touching you… and being touched. I have it on good authority that it takes a lot of work and a ton of patience."

Instantly realizing who her 'authority' was, Nene nodded. "Well I'm ready and willing to help. Just tell me what to do." Her eagerness relieved Linna but she cautioned her wife, "I may not be able to… they said it takes time."

"Then why don't we go back to our chambers and practice?"

Priss strolled into Nene and Linna's temple and after a quick conversation with a temple maid, she headed to Nene's private office. Priss knocked on the door and stuck her head in. "Are you decent?" She made a disappointed face and sighed. "You are. Better luck next time." She came in and plopped down in the chair across from Nene and propped her feet on the goddess' desk.

Nene stared at her suspiciously. "What do you want, Priss? You're too chipper. And that makes me nervous."

Priss laughed and shook her head. "Not a thing, Nene. Just wanted to chat."

Really nervous now, Nene leaned back in her chair and stared at Priss with the glare that had backed armies down. Priss merely snorted.

Deflated, Nene threw her hands up. "Okay, I give up. What do you want to chat about?"

Priss sighed and grew serious. "Tia."

"What about her? She's Kuraki's aide, not mine."

"But she's your descendent."

Nene flinched and Priss felt badly about that, but this needed to be addressed. "I wasn't sure at first, but I had Arashi run a DNA comparison."

Rubbing her temple, Nene glared at Priss. "What do you want me to say Priss? I had six children over the span of nine hundred years. Half the population of Tokio is related to me!"

Priss leaned forward. "The DNA match is within three generations, Nene. She's your great granddaughter."

Nene nodded and stood, going to look out the window. "Zannen. Belgran's older brother." She fell silent and then turned to look at Priss. "You ever do something that you regret, Priss? Truly regret to the point you would give your life to be able to change it?"

Priss shifted in her chair and then nodded once.

"I have too many of those in my past. But this one tops them all." She closed her eyes. "I banished my son."


Nene sighed deeply. "Of all my children, I loved Zannen the most. I know that makes me a horrible mother, but when he was born I was struck by how much he looked like Ayden did as a baby. I spoiled him rotten. Truly rotten." She sat back down and rested her forehead in her hands. "All of my other children knew that I was a Goddess, but that while they were special, they weren't gods themselves. Zannen fought that. He insisted that he was a god and wanted the people to worship him. I blocked his every attempt to claim that power and he left the city and raised an army. He attacked right after Malcor did, when we were still recovering from the battle. The damage he did set us back a hundred years. I led the force that drove him out and then I stood on top of the city wall and a banished him from Tokio. I put a price on his head, hoping that would keep him away. The hatred in his eyes when he looked at me that final time…" Nene shuddered.

Priss got up and moved around the desk, kneeling beside her. She hugged, her whispering, "I'm so sorry."

Nene sniffled and shook her head. "I don't deserve your sorrow. I messed up and he paid for it."

Gripping her arms, Priss shook her slightly. "Nene, you know better. We make our own choices in life. He chose the actions he took and you did what you had to do to protect your people."

Wiping her eyes, Nene sighed. "I know. In my head, I know you're right." Her smile was pained. "But here, I can't get over what I did." She pressed her clenched fist to her heart.

Priss nodded, understanding. "So Zannen went north to escape the bounty."

Nene nodded. "I receive scribe reports about him from time to time, but nothing more. The last report was a hundred years ago, when he died, killed in an overlord attack."

"Hmm. His son, Caldos, is the village leader. Tia's father."

Nene nodded. "I guess I should contact him." She saw Priss' face and frowned. "What?"

"Caldos banished Tia from the tribe for helping me stand against the overlords."

Nene's eyes filled. "My God…" She laughed, but the sound was shrill and pained. "You were right, Priss. Karma is a strange thing."

Tia took the news that Ninani was her great grandmother with surprising calm. She'd seemed okay with what the goddess had told her about her past and had asked to be excused as Kuraki needed her help.

Nene watched her go, worry etching her features. "She's not okay. She's upset. What do I do, Linna? Priss?"

Priss was quick to reassure her. "She'll be okay. She's probably headed to Sylia's temple right now." Priss strode to the door and opened it, startling Tebiki, who had been staring at the empty hallway. "Well don't just stand there! Go after her! She's going to need you both so grab Tadashii from the Temple of Justice on your way."

Tebiki nodded and ran down the hall.

Priss closed the door and turned back to find Nene and Linna staring at her. "What? Oh don't tell me you didn't know?"

Nene frowned at her, shaking her head. "Know what?"

Priss sighed. "Triple T is what I call them. Tadashii, Tebiki and Tia. They're lovers."

Linna blinked. "Lovers? Who are?"

Nene had a surprised look on her face and a small grin. Priss was relieved that she at least got it. She wasn't going to think too hard about why it had been so easy for Nene to make that deductive leap. There were some things that she could not handle!

She slung her arm around Linna's shoulder and started to explain, hoping she wouldn't have to draw her a diagram.

Ayden covered her eyes with her hand and groaned as the white queen crossed the board and placed her squarely in checkmate.

"Checkmate!" Small hands clapped excitedly, as the little girl bounced up and down in her chair. "Let's play again Ayden!"

Ayden shook her head and stood. "How about we take a walk instead? We can visit the stables and see the horses."

Koneko hopped down and reached up to take Ayden's hand. "We can see Bishamon!"

They walked out of the library and through the temple, Koneko keeping up a constant stream of chatter. Ayden had to smile at the girl's enthusiasm. Her intelligence was startling but it was her amazingly cheerful demeanor that always took people by surprise. She was the very definition of the word happy. She was also sixteen months old.

Ayden lifted the child up onto her shoulders with the admonishment to not jump off… again. Koneko promised and they traveled the short distance to the stables without incident. Once inside, Koneko slipped off Ayden's shoulders and nimbly climbed the stall door before Ayden could stop her.

The huge black horse snorted at the intruder and moved towards her even as Ayden was lunging for her. But before she could grab Koneko, the horse had dropped his head and had started to nuzzle the little girl affectionately.

Koneko hugged the huge head and kissed the broad forehead. "Bishamon's so nice. Daifu says I can ride him when I get bigger."

Ayden pinched the bridge of her nose and exhaled in relief. "Really. That sounds like it will be fun."

Koneko grinned and continued to pet the animal. "Ayden?"

Ayden leaned against the stall door and met the child's eyes. "Yes?"

"I'm not like the other kids, am I?"

Oh hell. How do I answer that? Should I answer that? <Priss, I'm at the stable with Koneko. She's just asked a question I think you need to be the one to answer.>

<On my way.>

Koneko smiled up at Ayden. "You asked Daifu to come."

Ayden blinked. "Um, well yes. I thought she might like to be the one to answer your question."

Koneko nodded and turned back to the horse. "Gaki says that I'm a god."


"The cook's son. But I know what the word means. I'm not the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe."

Ayden blinked at the precise recitation. "Um, no you're not. Honey, I really think we should wait for your Daifu."

"So am I a being that has more than natural attributes and powers and that requires humans to worship me?"

"No. But the people of this time think we are."

Priss picked her daughter up and Ayden shot her a relieved look. "I'll just go now."

Priss watched her flee and smiled down at her child. "You freaked her out with that one."

Koneko nodded gravely. "She freaks easily."

Priss laughed and set her back down before going to retrieve Bishamon's saddle. "How about we go for a ride?"

Priss led the horse through the city and out the main gates. Koneko saw the people bowing in respect as they passed, but said nothing until they had reached the river. "Why do they think we're gods?"

Priss sighed deeply. "Well sweetie, it has to do with the nanobots."

"We have them, they don't."

Surprised at the insight, Priss thought about it. "Yeah, you're right. At the heart of it, that's the difference. Let me tell you a story."

She told Koneko about the way the nanobots had changed them and about the birth of the enclaves. They followed the river as she spoke and by the time they reached Ayden's current engineering project, Priss had told her about the Flares and the fact that they had all overslept. They got off the horse and Priss tied the reins to a bush near a nice green patch of grass. They left Bishamon munching contentedly and walked up the slope to watch the workers.

The new spillway was well under construction and Priss had to admit that Ayden had a real knack for this kind of thing. "When Nene woke from suspension she was alone, and the nanos had malfunctioned. She thought everyone was dead. Her memories were a mess and after awhile she realized that she was different than everyone else she'd come across. She didn't age. She knew amazing things and her wounds healed almost instantly. The people around her began to look to Nene for leadership. After a few hundred years, they declared her a goddess. She began to believe it too. Together, she and the people built Tokio and created the mythology of the Goddesses."

Koneko sat down on the grassy part of the slope and began plucking the green blades. When she had several, she began to weave them together, her small hands working with a deft skill that made Priss' heart ache. She already knew all this, her mind filled with the basic facts from her shared memory with her Daifu. But the facts had had no context for her. Now they did. "So by definition we are gods."

"Yes. But we don't require people to worship us, honey. We don't want them to, but right now, at their current social level, it's just easier to go along."

Koneko nodded sagely, adding more grass to her creation. "And safer."

Priss' brow wrinkled. "Safer?"

Her daughter shrugged. "If they knew that we weren't gods, that what made us special was just that we had something they didn't…. then they would want it too. They might try and take it from us, like Queen Reika did to Linna."

Priss paled. "H-how do you know about that?"

Koneko shrugged. "Shin'Yuu told me."


"My enclave. She took FOREVER to choose, but now she has a name." The slightly exasperated tone in Koneko's voice made Priss smile despite herself.

"How did she find out?"

"She heard the other enclaves talking about it, of course."

<You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking?!>

=Priss calm, down. We didn't realize!=

For the thousandth time, Priss wished she could physically lay hands on Arashi. <She should never have to deal with this kind of thing!>

Arashi sighed. =It wasn't intentional Priss. We had joined together to help Inji and since everyone was so far away from each other we were broadcasting pretty strong.=

Priss stopped her furious pacing. <Help Inji? With what?>

She could almost feel the enclave's 'oh shit' look. "Arashi…. Spit it out."

It had been a long held secret and one the enclaves had vowed to never reveal to their hosts. =I know you think that we enclaves are just located in little lumps of metal inside your heads. But we're not. We see and feel and experience the world just like our hosts do. So when you see something so do I. When you taste something so do I.= She paused. =Your senses are my senses. I am one with you. So when you kiss Sylia, so do I.=

Priss sank down onto her throne and thought about that. "So when Sylia and I make love, it's like you and Taisei and are making love too?"

=Exactly. So when Reika raped and tortured Linna…=

Priss exhaled raggedly. =She did the same to Inji.=

Another realization hit her and she gasped <But that means when Sylia raped me… when Kutsuu…. Oh shit.>

Arashi was quick to reassure her. =It's okay. Taisei and the other enclaves were there to help me through all that. That's why it was so important to be there for Inji.=

<But why didn't you tell us that we were connected like this before?>

=Come on Priss! You remember how upset you all were when we first contacted you. We had to lie about being able to shut ourselves off from you, just so that you could continue to feel that you had a measure of privacy. How do you think you would have responded if you had known that every time Sylia kissed you, you were also kissing Taisei?=

Blood rushed into Priss' face and then faded. "Well that will definitely take some getting used to."

Arashi laughed. =You think? The others are wondering if they should tell their hosts now.=

Priss slumped back in her chair and rubbed her face. "I don't know Arashi. I just don't know."

"Know what?"

Sylia stepped onto the dais and slid onto Priss' lap. "What's wrong?"

"My love, I don't even know where to begin."

Tia lay between her lovers, thinking about her life. When Ninani had told her that she was her great granddaughter she had been stunned, but determined to hide it. When Ninani had further explained the falling out between her and her grandfather it had been all she could do to keep from breaking down right there in front of the goddess.

She'd lied and said that Kuraki needed her but she could see in her eyes that she knew the truth. She'd fled, running back to Tadashii's room, the place that she'd come to call home.

She didn't know why she'd been surprised when her lovers had come to her within minutes of her shutting the door. But at the time she'd scarcely been able to believe that they were there. It had been a long night of tears and talking. Tia wasn't upset that Ninani was her grandmother. She wasn't upset that Ninani had banished her grandfather. What had upset her so much was what Ninani had said after.

"I've made a lot of mistakes, Tia. But if you could forgive me and if you'll let me, then I would like to call you my granddaughter and make you part of my family."

Tia had never received such a wonderfully terrifying offer in her entire life. Ninani wanted her. Wanted to know her, wanted her to be part of her family.

She had laid in Tadashii and Tebiki's arms and explained that before them, no one had wanted her. She'd been an accident. Conceived with the village whore. Only her unmistakable resemblance to her father had forced him to take her in. They'd been the only blondes in the entire village. Otherwise she'd have become a whore like her mother. She'd been reminded daily by her father and his wife that she should be grateful that he'd taken pity on her and that she should repay him for that by shutting up and staying out of the way.

Tebiki had cried for her, big, dripping tears that flooded her face and made Tia's heart ache. Tadashii hadn't cried but Tia had seen the white knuckles as she'd offered to go north and beat her father to a bloody mass. Tia had kissed her fists and said she needed her here more.

She turned her head and kissed Tadashii's shoulder, making the scribe shift in her sleep as she was ticklish there. Tia smiled and turned to Tebiki, brushing tangled mass of auburn hair aside so she could plant the softest of kisses on her cheek.

Tebiki blinked sleepily and smiled up at her. "You're thinking again. Stop that and c'mere."

Tia moved closer and let Tebiki direct her until she was lying with her head on Tebiki's breast. She felt the press of Tebiki's lips on the top of her head and closed her eyes. Sleep claimed her quickly, leaving the three lovers curled together, dreaming peacefully.

Nene listened patiently while the enclave's true level of connection was explained to her and then sat without speaking for a moment. She met Linna's eyes, grinned and winked. "Kinky."

Linna would later swear that she had felt the blush roll over her, starting at the top of her head, traveling down her body and heating the very tips of her toes. As she sank deeper into her chair, Priss and Sabishii howled with laughter.

Ayden wrinkled her nose, reaching up the shift the blindfold but found her hand getting smacked instead. "Ouch! Come on Mother! This itches."

"Just a few minutes more." Nene led her daughter through the streets until they'd reached the center of the city. Ayden could hear the sounds of a lot of people and knew that whatever her mother's surprise was, it had drawn a crowd.

Nene met Linna's eyes and when her wife nodded, she whipped the blindfold off.

Ayden blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the light and then froze as she realized what she was looking at. At the center of the square stood a new statue. The center square had long held the images of the four goddesses at each of its corners, but this statue had been placed at the heart of the city. She stepped up onto the stone platform it was resting on and stared at it in wonder. It was her.

She was facing the east and the morning sun seemed to illuminate the pale marble, making it glow. She was standing; her left arm down by her side and a hammer was clenched in her fist. Her right arm was bent across her, holding a small sheaf of wheat to her chest. The statue stared at the rising sun with a look of utter confidence.

Ayden was speechless. She looked at her mothers and then at the rest of the pantheon. "I… I don't know what to say."

Linna moved to stand beside her daughter, pointing to the inscription at the statue's base. "We figured out what you're the goddess of."

Ayden read the words and then burst out laughing.

Ayden, Goddess of Civil Engineering.

Ayden began, rapidly beating on one of the drums before her in a fast rhythm. She expanded the sound, tapping the other drums around her and melding them into the base. Koneko began shaking the gourd rattles, deepening the sound.

The other members of the pantheon sat around the banquet table, watching. Sylia found herself rocking gently to the rhythm; the black-haired infant curled sleeping in her arms.

Priss gently struck the strings of her guitar, calling attention to herself.

Well I've run through rainbows and castles of candy

I cried a river of tears from the pain

I try to dance with what life has to hand me

My partner's been pleasure... my partner's been pain

Sabishii moved to stand beside her and picked up the next verse, her own fingers flying over the strings of her instrument.

There are days when I swear I could fly like an eagle

And dark desperate hours that nobody sees

My arms stretched triumphant on top of the mountain

My head in my hands... down on my knees

Together they sang the chorus, splitting the words between them and getting knowing smiles from their family.

Sometimes it's a bitch... sometimes it's a breeze

Sometimes love's blind... and sometimes it sees

Sometimes it's roses... and, sometimes it's weeds

Sometimes it's a bitch... sometimes it's a breeze

Priss met Sabishii's eyes and grinned

I've reached in darkness and come out with treasure

I've laid down with love and I woke up with lies

Sabishii smirked and tossed out the next part.

What's it all worth only the heart can measure

It's not what's in the mirror... but what's left inside

Sometimes it's a bitch... sometimes it's a breeze

Sometimes love's blind... and sometimes it sees

Sometimes it's roses... and, sometimes it's weeds

Sometimes it's a bitch... sometimes it's a breeze

You gotta take it as it comes

Sometimes it don't come easy

I've run through rainbows and castles of candy

And I've cried a river of tears from the pain

I tried to dance with what life had to hand me

And if I could... I'd do it all over again

Sometimes it's a bitch... sometimes it's a breeze

Sometimes love's blind... and sometimes it sees

Sometimes it's roses... and, sometimes it's weeds

Sometimes it's a bitch... sometimes it's a breeze

Sometimes the picture just ain't what it seems

You get what you want... but it's not what you need

Sometimes it's a bitch... sometimes... it's a breeze

Well it's a breeze... it's a breeze... it's a breeze...

As the song died and their audience applauded, Sabishii took a mock bow and returned to the table.

Priss set her guitar down and let her eyes sweep the room. Her wife sat with their three month-old daughter, Mirai. Sylia was smiling with an ease she'd never seen before. Koneko was sliding into the empty chair beside her, looking more like twelve rather than the twenty month-old she was. Across from her sat Fusha and a slightly uneasy Kishin. Ayden had resumed her seat next to her mothers and reached out to lift Hirani's hand to her lips. Sabishii bent to kiss Kuraki's cheek before she sat back down, her hand reaching out to rub the invisible swell of her wife's belly. Priss grinned, hardly able to wait for the opportunity to tease her sister. Linna sat close to Nene, her arm around her shoulders. She was whispering in the redhead's ear and whatever she was suggesting was making Nene blush furiously and shift restlessly in her seat. Beside them sat Triple T and Priss had to smile at the picture they made together. Tia and Tebiki were playfully trying to take Tadashii's book from her and she mock glared at them. Such a strange combination that worked so well.

She watched them, her family and thought about all that they had been through. Her eyes met Sylia's and instantly she was transported back, to a stormy night on a broken bridge.

"Will you shut up?!" She yanked hard and Sylia came flying over the edge of the bridge, knocking Priss back and landing on top off her. Priss' arms came around her and held her tightly. She told herself that it was to keep Sylia from doing anything stupid, but she was lying to herself and she knew it. She buried her face in Sylia's hair and tried to think of some reason she shouldn't. Hot tears splashed onto her neck and she pulled away to look at Sylia. Despair was the only word to describe what she saw there and Priss reacted without thinking. She caught Sylia's face in her hands and kissed her.

So much love. So much pain. Priss smiled ruefully.

And if I could... I'd do it all over again


Priss crossed to her wife and daughters, taking her place beside them. She looked into Sylia's laughing eyes and took her hand, kissing the platinum band she wore and letting herself be drawn into the conversation.

She let the past fall back into the shadows and focused on her present.

And all that tomorrow would bring.

(The BGC Blues Anthem)

Pain Redefined

Fading, falling, lost in forever

Will I find a way to keep it together?

Am I strong enough to last through the weather in the hurricane of my life?

Can it be a conscious decision?

That I look for ways to alter my vision?

Am I speeding towards another collision in the alleyways of my life?

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Those who have fallen in

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Those who have fallen in

Please believe me

That my eyes deceive me?

Don't stand me up

Just leave me

I have fallen again

This is the end

Pain redefined

Shaking, burning up with the fever

In the realm of pain, I am the deceiver

Now I lie to myself, so I can believe her

As she dissembles my life

I cannot dispel the illusion

All my hopes and dreams are drowned by confusion

Can I find a way to make a solution that will reconfigure my life?

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Those who have fallen in

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Memories don't lie

You know better than

Those who have fallen in

Please believe me

That my ears deceive me

Don't stand me up

Just leave me

I have fallen again

This is the end

Pain redefined

And I know that stillness shatters

We have all been frightened by the

The sound of footsteps on the pavement of our lives

I stand and fight

I'm not afraid to die

Elochai, bury me tonight

Please believe me

That the world deceives me

Don't stand me up

Just leave

I have fallen again

This is the end

Pain redefined

That's it. The end. Fini. Shimai.

Thanks for coming along on the ride.


The End

Author's notes: As you may have noticed, I used lots of song lyrics from different artists in this one. As I can't write songs myself and most of the ones within the BGC series have modern references, I wasn't left with much choice. ^_^

In order of use:

Bara no SORUJA (Rose Soldier) From Episode 5 of Bubblegum Crisis.

Wasurenaide From Episode 3 of Bubblegum Crisis

Like You by Evanescence

Surrender by Evanescence

Hear Me by Kelly Clarkson

Sister by Sarah Bettens

Sometimes it's a Bitch by Stevie Nicks

Pain Redefined by Disturbed

Surprisingly, I rarely just make up names.

Aika (Second temple maiden Priss seduced and her new high priestess) = Lament

Antou (Company that Sylia gives to Sabishii) = Secret feud

Arashi (Priss' enclave) = Tempest

Ban'Yuu (city to the west of Tokio) = Foolhardiness

Bishamon (Priss' response to one of Kutsuu's questions -Priss' horse) = Japanese God of War

Bonshu (Genom Doctor) = Mediocre ability

Daraku (Reika's City) Corruption, depravity

Fukyou (Jeweler where Priss got her and Sylia's rings) = Wealth and Power

Fusha (Priss' high priestess) = Virgin consecrated to a deity

Gaki (Cook's son) = Brat

Gensou (luxury hotel from Illusions) = Illusion

Giku (Nene's high priestess) = Uneasiness, apprehension

Gouzen (medical student) =Arrogant

Hinagata (Model crafter) = Miniature

Hirani (First temple maiden Priss seduced) = Earnestly

Hitoiki (Company Linna mentions) = Puffy

Ichidou (Mackie and Kyouki's son) = A ray of hope

Inji (Linna's enclave) = Artistic pursuits

Inken (a mountain pass outside Tokio) =Treacherous

Iroke (hotel manager that chased Priss) = Seductive (She also shot out Sylia's tire, sent Priss dead flowers and crazy notes and drove Sylia off a bridge.)

Isha (Tokio's head healer) =Doctor

Kiji (Sabishii's enclave) = Abandoned child

Kijin (Priss' Helmet) = Fierce god

Kishin (Fusha's beloved) = Noble

Koneko (Priss and Fusha's daughter) = Kitten

Kousotsu (One of Sylia's companies) = Armored warrior

Kuraki (From the word Kuraku) (Sylia's clone, Sabishii named her) = Pleasure/Pain, Joys/Sorrows

Kutsuu (Evil Genom minion) = Pain, agony

Kyouki (Mackie's girl) = Wild joy

Mirai (Priss & Sylia's daughter) = Future

Mumei (From the video game Nene was playing) = Nameless

Imouto (Koneko's name for Sylia's baby)=Younger sister

Rihi (Kuraki's enclave) = Judgment of right and wrong

Ronshou (A scribe of Sylayla) = Certain truth

Sabishii (Priss' clone) = Lonely, desolate

Sangai (evil net being {Quincy}) = Havoc

Seiki (Nene's enclave) = Verve

Seraphine (Sylia's first lover) = From Seraphim, meaning 'Fiery One'

Setsu (Mackie's enclave) = Earnest

Shaku (Employee that Sylia chewed out in Shards) = An annoyance

Shikima (Third temple maiden Priss seduced) = Horny

Shinobi (Nene's spy in the boomer city) = Spy

Shitsumei (investment company that Linna used to work for) = Name unknown

Shugo (Ayden's enclave) = Protection, safeguard

Shukan (Sylia's high priestess) = Manager

Sozuko (Priss' accountant) = petty thief

Tadashii (Sylayla's scribe) = Truthful

Taisei (Sylia's enclave) = Great sage

Takumi (Tokio's premier craftswoman) = Carpenter

Tebiki (Temple maid that helps Linna) = Guide

Tenarai (head archiver in the Temple of Justice) = Study

Tensai (Sabishii's apprentice) =Prodigy

Tereya (Fourth temple maiden Priss seduced) – Shy

Toku (Captain of Priss' personal guard) = Shield

Tsumari (Good net being {Sylia's father}) = Ultimate

Tsuukai (Sylia's second lover) = Intense pleasure

Yuu (River that runs beside Tokio) =Courage

Ulterius (From Kuraki's comment about Koneko's humanity.) Latin for Advanced

Zannen (One of Nene's sons) = Regrets

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