Aidan did not know how long he was in the tank with Dorian. As the room was underground, he didn't know if it was night or day. Every time he opened his eyes, Dorian was there to smile back at him.
Then the end finally came and the purple fluid began to drain from the tank. Aidan, his body covered with a film of the remaining thick fluid, felt extremely weak. Looking down at his body, Aidan saw he had lost considerable weight, some of it the little fat he had, some of it muscle. Without the fluid to support him, he almost collapsed. It was only Dorian's quick action that stopped him from falling to the floor.
"My Angel..." Dorian grinned, carrying Aidan in his arms through the tunnels and toward the baths. There, he washed Aidan's body, revealing the white marbled skin underneath. During it all, Dorian remained silent and, each time Aidan tried to speak, Dorian gently placed a hand over his mouth,
After taking Aidan out of the tub and drying him off, Dorian led him to a large bedroom. The ceiling of the room was curved and decorated with an elaborate fresco. On one half was painted a host of black-winged men carrying swords and spears, on the other side were men covered with black tattoos on red skin, eyes also bright red, armed with whips and axes. In the middle was a white-winged Angel, his arm outstretched, his hand on the head of a kneeling, black-skinned demon. It did not take long for Aidan to realize that this room had to be Gladius' and Amplexor's bedroom and that Dorian, his skin now black, was a demon.
After being lowered onto the soft bed, Aidan watched as Dorian stripped off his remaining clothes, the white hair on his chest matching that on his head. The former sea captain climbed on top of his king and for the first time since he had entered the tank Aidan felt warm. Not even the hot bath he had just taken could compare to the heat he felt their bodies shared.
The two of them kissed for what seemed like forever, purple glows coming from both their bodies. Then, Dorian pushed himself inside his lover very slowly until all of him was in. Dorian gave a deep growl, purple anima dripping from his lips. Tasting something thick and sweet in his mouth Aidan dipped his finger in and pulled it out to find it coated purple.
The men gave each other deep and strong kisses, the anima in each other's mouths passing between them. At the same time, Dorian continued to move inside Aidan's body. Near the end of a kiss Dorian felt Aidan's seed spread across his stomach. He soon followed.
Exhausted, the Demon rolled Aidan's body on top of his, holding the smaller man in his arms. They were soon both deep asleep, the changes inside their bodies continuing to progress.
It was the best news Xavier had received in weeks. After the public had learned that Alex, a Centurion, had killed Senator Perils, there had been a furious call for his death. It had taken all his skill, and a considerable amount in bribes, to get Alex sentenced to imprisonment until his 40th year of life, which, if Alex were like most Centurions, would mark his death.
Alex though, just as Xavier had planned, had taken part in drinking Peril's anima. Xavier was betting everything that drinking the fluid would extend his and Alex's life, allowing them to consolidate his power after the war.
The reports from the war front, disastrous after the fall of Sol, had improved. After the fall of Sol, the whole western front seemed to be on the verge of collapse but, with the arrival of the spring rains, the Federation juggernaut was slowing down to a near crawl.
The next bit of good news came when his scouts reported that the massive Jadoorian fleet at Aquanos had raised anchor, taking the army with them. Already, Xavier's Centurions were back in the city. Getting rid of the threat from the south, Xavier was able to move more of his Home Guard to the Gate. With the empire no longer under immediate threat, Xavier had time to remove the last remaining barrier to his power: the Legatio Senate.
The Field Marshal had waited for this moment to reveal Perils' secret trade in the Centurion skulls. Before then, he made a list of each and every one of Peril's buyers, all of whom were named in the dead Senator's accounting books. He had them all arrested.
Going deep into the dungeons under the Grand Hall, Xavier went to retrieve the instrument of the Centurion revenge. Isolated in darkness, and losing his sanity bit by bit, Alex had become totally dependent on Xavier for everything...food, love, company, and a constant supply of Centurion anima, to which he was now heavily addicted.
"Good morning, Alex," Xavier greeted, as he brought a torch into Alex's dark cell, forcing the young man to shut his eyes against the brightness. He could see the large man covered in filth, the rags of his clothes sour with the smell of urine.
"Xavier..." Alex said submissively, crawling over to his sole benefactor, groveling at his feet.
"Now, now... try to remain calm, my love. I've brought you something."
"My medicine?" Alex asked eagerly. For some time he had not been able to call the anima for what it was. The guilt of consuming so many of the life forces of others was weighing on his soul.
"Yes... I brought you two vials this time as I will not be able to come to you tomorrow."
"But what if I run out?" Alex said, a panic showing in his solid blue eyes.
"You need to be careful that you don't," Xavier warned while keeping the smile on his face, knowing Alex's addiction had robbed him of any self-control.
Once Alex consumed the first bottle, Xavier slipped off Alex's rags, taking his pleasure from him. He then left for the baths, as Alex's smell had left the Field Marshal rancid. As soon as the Senate was removed, Xavier would have the power to pardon Alex and move him to the palatial quarters of the Field Marshal's residence. Then he could provide him with fresh clothes and water to wash himself.
Xavier enjoyed his little creation immensely. Against his better judgment he was developing feelings for the young man. Not the deep feelings a person would have for another, but one that a man would have for a favorite pet.
The next day was busy for the Field Marshal. He ordered his most loyal men to go into the Legatio Quarter of the city and seal all the gates leading in and out. He then arrested over half the Senators and the heads of the powerful merchant families. At the same time, his men raided the Legatio mansions, searching for their supplies of Centurion bones, pouring precious anima over them to find the bits and pieces of skull.
The Legatio were then sent to the dungeons and the Senate building was closed and surrounded by several dozen Centurions. A curfew was placed over the entire city.
Even with the white-armored Home Guard patrolling the city, several Legatio tried to escape. Most were captured, but a few ended up shot from the city walls with arrows. The bodies of those that died were sent to the Great Hall, where Xavier and his Famulus surgeons extracted the red anima from their bodies.
The next morning, after the curfew was lifted, the remaining free Legatio and their Famulus servants rushed to the Grand Hall to protest the treatment of their fellows. They didn't notice that Xavier's men were slowly cutting off the exits from the large square.
At noon the accused men were led out in front of the mob, all chained together, looking as if they had been roughed up. Xavier then brought out his instrument of destruction, holding a double sword in his hands. With Alex's appearance, the angry Legatio and Famulus shouted louder, yelling out empty threats as the Centurion Home Guard began herding the protestors into the center of the plaza.
"Silence!" Xavier's voice boomed across the square.
When that did not get the desired response, Xavier nodded to one of his commanders, who raised a torch in the air. All at once the white-armored Centurions extended their long spears beyond the towering shields they carried, and leveled them at the mob. At first there was panic and confusion but, once the crowd was pinned in, silence finally took over the square.
"Good!" Xavier laughed at seeing all his enemies trapped in a circle of sharp points. "Before you stand enemies of the state, men who conspired with our enemy Jadoor to preserve their own status and wealth!"
Shouts of protest and disbelief filled the square for several moments. Xavier only had to wave a hand and three of his guards carried out large sacks, emptying them on the parade stand, revealing the bits and pieces of Centurion skulls.
Walking over to the large pile Xavier picked up the remains of a jawbone, lifting it up over his head so the crowd could see it. "See this...this is part of a brave Centurion warrior, the only part he is allowed to keep past his death. This man's reward for serving the empire should have been to have his skull placed with his brothers under the Grand Hall, so the Legatio poets and bards could record his tales and give him immortality. Instead, what was his reward? The Legatio caretakers sold this man's skull to Senator Perils, who in turn sold it to these men before you. And why...? To heal your aches and pains! To make a profit! To extend the long lives you Legatio already enjoy. You took away all this man had left... his past, giving him a final death that no man should face!" Xavier's voice boomed across the plaza.
Silence fell across the square as a growing sense of dread spread over the gathered Legatio and their Famulus. All of them could tell something bloody was about to happen. They just did not want it to happen to them.
Seeing he had the complete attention of the frightened mob, Xavier continued. "For their crimes, there is only one fitting punishment. These men, too, will face their final death. No Centurion may do this deed, however, for that is the law. Therefore, their deaths will be at the hands of the Demon...Armageddon!"
In chains, Alex walked forward, his face covered with a Black Death mask, the blue light of his anima addiction showing through. He made his way to the Legatio prisoners, welding his double bladed sword. Looking each Legatio in the eye, Alex hacked them to pieces one by one, killing each in turn. At the last one, he made several deep stabs to the stomach before thrusting his hand deep into his victim and pulling out the round anima core. The crowd watched in horror as the Demon Alex drank the vital fluid, the red anima dripping down the sides of his mouth.
Once the executions were complete, Xavier made his way to the man who had been Alex, now creature Armageddon, wrapping an arm around his waist. "This is the fate all traitors of the empire will face. This marks the beginning of a new order. Today I declare Armageddon...Field Marshal of Demons. He will assume the powers of the Senate, which is hereby disbanded, as are all rights and privileges of the Legatio. For too long you have taken the fruits of the Centurion's hard work, effort, and blood. It is now time for you to earn your keep. Unfortunately, you Legatio can only serve two purposes, to produce more Centurion warriors or to surrender your anima and extend the lives of deserving Centurions. Therefore, from this day forth, consider yourselves cattle with all the rights and privileges of cattle. If you produce plenty of new Centurion warriors, you will be rewarded. Resist or produce poor livestock and you will be sent to the slaughterhouse!"
After hearing the terror Xavier was going to inflict on them, the crowd broke. All the Legatio, seeing their lives of comfort and privilege gone, tried to slip past the Home Guard Centurions surrounding them, only to be tackled and tied down.
During the struggle Xavier saw one of his suspicions proved true, as swords and daggers began to appear among the Legatio's Famulus servants. In the short struggle, three hundred Famulus were killed as well as twelve Legatio. Their bodies were quickly carried up into the Grand Hall, where their anima was extracted and stored in vials, gifts to be given to the generals who had sworn loyalty to Xavier the night before.
All the prisoners were led away; the Famulus to the Jasper mines and the Legatio to their quarter of the city, under house arrest in their mansions and palaces.
The Lord Commander
Word of what had happened in the capital spread quickly throughout the empire, faster than Xavier could send out his legions. Hundreds of Legatio living in the countryside fled their estates. with their thousands of Famulus servants. With nowhere else to go the Legatio and Famulus sought sanctuary in the one place still free of Xavier's control...The Gate.
Lord Commander Grecoron, overseer of the Gate and all its defenses, had not been one of the men Xavier had approached in his coup. His position forbade such an action. In the long history of the empire there had been times when relations between the Field Marshals had led to civil strife. During one such conflict, extending for generations of self-proclaimed Marshals, the Federation had tried to take advantage of Domus's weakness and invade. It had taken the ending of all feuds between rivals to unite the remaining Centurion forces and defend the last fortress, the Pillar of Flames itself. In order to prevent the enemy from flooding into the rich valleys of the empire, the Lord Commander of the Gate had been designated as independent of the Field Marshals and the Senate. He was free of the political games in the capital. The same was done for the Centurion training schools and the Academy, the Commandants not reporting to anyone but themselves. In this way the empire hoped to protect itself and its children from the ambitions of aggressive politicians.
Still, when the three heads of the Senate appeared out of nowhere at the gates of the Pillar of Flames, pleading for his aid, Grecoron knew that whatever choice he made would be recorded in history as him breaking his sworn neutrality.
To add to the pressure the Lord Commander was feeling, the time in which he could make a decision was very short. After the first of the Legatio refugees had appeared at the gate, Grecoron had sent scouts to determine what actions the Home Guard were taking to consolidate Xavier's power. From their reports, he had learned that three legions were making their way toward the Gate, only stopping to search the nearby settlements for any fleeing Legatio. At the rate they were moving, they would reach The Gate in two weeks. By that time he would have to have made one of three choices. First -- the one the Senators wanted of him -- was to lead his forces against Xavier and retake the capital. Second, was to hand the Legatio and Famulus refugees over to Xavier's legions and earn the gratitude of the man who was quickly becoming the empire's sole ruler. Either way, that would be taking sides in a conflict that did not directly involve the gate's security. Third, Grecoron could just rid himself of the Legatio, using his own men to herd them through the Gate to the border between the empire, Qul Tos, and Freen.
This last choice seemed to be the only one he could make that would not jeopardize his neutrality. As Legatio, the refugees had every right to ask for passage through the Gate. The only problem was that the Senators did not want to accept exile. They wanted to strike back with the ten legions stationed at the Gate. Getting his men involved in a civil war was the last thing Gercoron wanted.
Meeting again with the leaders of the Senate, the Lord Commander steeled himself for a long debate. "I have seen that your people are fed and clothed but I think it is time you moved on."
"Moved on? This is the last part of Domus that is not under the control of the traitor and his Demon," Senate Speaker Lucius said condescendingly. He gripped the thick bronze armrests of his chair as if he were in command.
"Xavier is sending an army in this direction. Your people must be gone if you wish to escape."
"But why should we run? Are we not safe here at the Gate? Don't you have a duty to defend citizens of the empire?"
"My duty is to prevent invasion from outside the Jasper Mountains, not getting involved in an internal problem," Grecoron replied sternly, trying to remove the smirk from the Senator's face.
His face now red with anger, Lucius pounded on the table in front of him. "As leader of the Senate I order you to protect us and lead your men against the traitor, Xavier!"
"I will protect you...as you pass out of the Gate, but beyond that you are outside my jurisdiction."
"We are Legatio, not warriors. It is your duty to die for us!"
"My duty is to defend the empire from outsiders. While Xavier's grab for power disturbs me, your conflict with him may not interfere with my responsibilities."
"Then I hereby remove you as Lord Commander of the Gate!" the Senator threatened, only to be laughed at.
"Do you know how I earned the title of Lord Commander of the Gate? Do you think the Senate, or even the Field Marshals, gave me this post? The men who defend the Gate give the title of Lord Commander. Only they, not you, have the power to remove me."
"Then I demand that I be allowed to speak to all your men and hold a vote of no confidence in your leadership," Lucius demanded.
"Go ahead...and while you are wasting your time, Xavier's men will get that much closer to capturing all of you."
"You may demand nothing. You will listen to what I have to say, and make your choice from that! You may remain huddled around the Pillar of Flame, and wait for Xavier's men to come and arrest you, or you may accept my offer of free passage out of Domus. Go see Lukas in Freen or Darius in Qul Tos if you have problems with Field Marshal Xavier. If you can convince them to return to Domus and restore order, I will let them pass as well. Other than that, I will not get involved in this conflict!" Grecoron shouted at the Speaker.
"But Lukas is about to be defeated in Freen."
"Then go to Qul Tos. It is a protectorate of the empire, not under Xavier's control. You may find sanctuary there," the Lord Commander recommended.
Speaker Lucius fell back into his chair, defeated, his arms crossed over his chest. "You are not giving us any other option..."
"With the Federation army only months away, I would be failing the empire to become involved in a civil war. Go to Qul Tos, make a new life there only, this time, show your Centurion cousins the kindness and respect they deserve. If you had done that in the past, I am certain they would not have turned against you."
"Very well, Lord Commander. I will tell my people to be prepared to move by dawn tomorrow. It will take us several weeks to reach the safety of the capital of Qul Tos. Do I have your word that you will delay Xavier's men long enough for us to reach safety?"
Letting his eyes take on a more sympathetic look, Grecoron nodded. "I will see that your followers have the time they need. Xavier will not be so foolish as to move against my men, not with the Federation so close."
"Then I should leave now and tell my people they have a longer journey ahead of them," the Speaker said as he stood up to leave.
"Take whatever supplies you need, just be beyond the Gate within three days." Grecoron offered.
"We will have to move quickly then," the Speaker said as he left Grecoron's office.
Before the sun set that night, the Legatio and their Famulus followers passed the gates of the Pillar of Flames, heading down the road that led out of the empire. Once the last of the exiles were past the gate, Grecoron ordered them shut and reinforced. He did not think Xavier would be so foolish as to attack the Gate. He just did not want to take the risk. Even while the empire was collapsing from within, the Lord Commander of the Gate would see to it that he did not fail in his duties.