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The Centurion Cycle - 2. Book II: The Academy


Chapter One:


The Centurions speak of two kinds of Demons. One is a legendary creature fated to destroy the world. The other is more mundane... a traitor, or any man that represents a danger to the empire. The law, though, is the same for both... all demons must be killed.

Toran Vorr: Legatio Historian

Three days had passed since Jason had been changed by the anima given to him by Gideon and Alex, three days since Jonathan had been found dead, his body found floating in bed of reeds, half his body severely burned. Since then the party had been anxious, as Oktor has said, talking of the prophecy only brings tragedy.

Over the days after the burial, the party continued their journey to the Academy at a near funereal march pace, crossing valleys filled with streams, ponds, forests, and a wide river. Famulus farms dotted the land everywhere, with the large private estates of the Legatio appearing now and then.

With the anima of his two friends flowing inside him Jason spent every night nestled between them, after Jonathan's death. No matter what Alex and Gideon try to do to sneak Jason away from Philip's and Oktor's guards, they were never able to obtain the kind of privacy they

wanted to have with the Legatio however. Eventually the stone road began to twist and turn avoiding

the steeper portions of the now hilly terrain. After another week, they finally arrived at a large lake on the side of a mountain which was fed

by a giant waterfall on the far side of the lake. As they traveled closer, the path was covered by a wooden roof, leading behind the waterfall and into a straight and rising tunnel. Traveling a mile up the tunnel, they came out near the side of the river that fed the falls. There, a few hundred yards away and looking like a single massive 130 foot square block of white stone, was the Academy.

Anear perfect cube, supported by buttresses, the Academy stood ten stories high. Sheathed in white limestone it was a monument to the power of Domus. In the middle of each side was a gate guarded by green-cloaked Centurions, soldiers not part of any legion but specially appointed to the school. Around the cube was what appeared to be a large town made up of barracks, homes, warehouses, smithies and sparring pavilions. None however was higher than twenty feet and all looked insignificant compared to the cube itself.

"Welcome home." Kristen, Jason's only remaining servant, smiled... seeing his master's mouth open wide in amazement.

While Gideon and Alex went to report to their barracks, Jason and the wagon holding all his furniture, supplies, and clothes was led to a row of apartments where he and the other Legatio lived. Still, the night before lessons were to begin, Jason tossed and turned - the emptiness of his bed leaving him feeling unprotected. When sleep would not come, Jason left his bed and snuck out of his apartment to the homes of the Centurion instructors.

The instructors'homes were two-story structures joined together

to form one long barracks-like building, with chimneys sticking out

every twenty paces. Going from door to door, Jason read the names off the shingles hanging above each door until he found the one marked

with Philip's name.

Hoping with all his heart that the door was unlocked, Jason pushed a hand against the wooden door and walked in.

Inside, Erik, Philip's Famulus servant, was busy preparing the day's meals while it was still cool to avoid the late summer's sun that made work in the kitchen unbearable. On hearing the squeak of the main door opening, Erik hurried to see who had arrived and, not to his surprise, it was Jason. "Jason what are you doing up at this hour?"

"I..." Jason's now rich tenor voice replied

"Jason... Philip is at the lake. As a student, you are not allowed to go past the cave without a teacher."

"But..." Jason tried to protest.

"Well, since I need to go down to the lake to pick up some supplies, I might as well take you with me," Erik sighed.

Hidden in a wagon, Jason slipped past the guards at the cave's mouth and was taken to the lake, where Erik left him to go fishing for the night's supper. In the darkness of early morning, Jason could hear the sounds of splashing water and laughter coming from near the shore. Following it, he could see a pair of shadows embraced together in the act of love... From the glow of blue light of their anima Jason could see the faces of the two men... it was Philip, receiving the bond of the just elected Field Marshal Darius.

For some reason, Jason's heart sank. He did not know why, but a creeping jealousy began to fill him. He did not suddenly hate the Field Marshal. He wanted to be him... to be a Centurion.

When Philip saw the look on Jason's face, he knew what needed

to be done... "Come, Jason." Jason knew that the lake was ice cold, but he did as his guardian

asked, taking off his clothes. Philip then stepped out of the water and wrapped his body around Jason's, the thin layer of cold water sending shivers down Jason's spine until the warmth of the Centurion's body

replaced it.

Walking backwards back into the lake, Philip guided Jason in with him until he was up to his shoulders in the icy water. His unprotected back now freezing, Jason's teeth chattered, but soon Darius was behind him, sandwiching him in the warmth that only a Centurion could give him. "Jason... are you upset that I am bonding with your guardian?"

Darius whispered into the young man's right ear. "No... I just wish... I wish I could bond to as many people as I

wanted, like you. I wish I was a Centurion."

"But you are a Legatio and a Legatio's bond is very special because it can only be given once. It is not a decision you can change once you make it and so should not be made quickly... Would you pick Philip and not Alex or Gideon? Can you say for certain that you will not meet someone here that you will not love more?" Darius said calmly.

"I wish I could bond to everyone."

"But you can't. What you need to know and accept, however, is that you are well loved by all those people I just mentioned... including myself. That is why Philip and I are bonding... out of our common love for you, Jason."

"Why do people hate? Why do people not love each other?" Jason asked, hot tears running down his face.

"Jason... you want to be a Centurion. One of the things a Centurion must do is live without regret. Just look at Gideon and Alex. They used to be the worst of enemies, but now they are the best of friends, all because of you. There is a fountain of love inside you... your mother could not destroy that. Every Centurion with whom you have come in contact has drunk from you and been filled with love. But Jason... you do not love yourself. One day I hope you will drink of yourself. For now though... you need to drink from me."

Philip then kissed Jason passionately as his arms embraced the 20-year-old man tightly. There was no anima given in the kiss, but Philip put all his emotions into it.

Darius, for his part, stood aside and basked in the radiant love these two men had for each other. This was how things were meant to be... a Centurion with his Legatio. The only tragedy Darius saw with the moment was that, as far as he was aware, Philip and Jason were the only pair.

By the time the kiss ended, both men wanted to do more, but Philip, seeing the sun begin to rise knew that the eyes of others would not look well on him being with an uncircumcised youth. Philip was relieved that Jason seemed satisfied with only a kiss, for his face was

now content and peaceful. "Time for you to go back and get ready for school," Philip said

with a forced grin. He did not enjoy that this moment had to end. After he watched Jason leave in the wagon with Erik, Philip

turned to Darius. "I know you have already given me your bond, but I

can't give you mine... Jason..."

"I understand," Darius nodded. "You may still have my ring... there might come a time when you will need my authority to protect Jason."

"Thank you," Philip said as he took the Field Marshal's gold

signet ring, placing it on his hand next to the gold and sapphire one,

just like the ring that Jason wore on his own hand. "May you and Jason find the happiness you both seek," Darius

said with a parting kiss.

Chapter Two:

First Day

When Gideon and Alex arrived for the first day of lessons at the Academy barracks, it was loud with camaraderie of other rowdy young men. On seeing Alex and Gideon together, however, the whole barracks went silent, as if theyexpected a fight to break out right then and there. Gideon, though, knew how to end that expectation; he kissed Alex on the lips while his hand gave Alex's rear a possessive squeeze. This sent a series of loud shouts and cheers throughout the barracks, the students amazed that Alex was taking the role as a passive partner to Gideon and his one good arm.

Believing that the still ever popular Gideon no longer held a grudge against Alex, the other youths warmed up to the former loner, with two of them offering to switch cots with him so he could have one adjoining Gideon's. Alex happily accepted.

Just as Alex was getting settled in, the sergeant in charge of their section of the barracks came in to make his inspection. "Positions!" the heavyset man called out. All the boys stopped what they were doing and stood with their backs straight, shoulders rolled back, and heads looking forward.

"As you may know there was an attack against the Field

Marshals. Field Marshal Gorr is dead and Field Marshal Lukas was seriously wounded. To replace Gorr, General Darius, conqueror of Qul Tos, is now Field Marshal of the East, but that is a minor development.

The Commandant has just received a message that Field Marshal Lukas

is personally leading his forces against the Kingdom of Jadoor. That means Domus itself is now at war with the Federation!" the sergeant stressed.

While some wanted to cheer and other's cringe, all the boys

remained silent. The sergeant paced up and down the barracks as he continued to give his speech. "This war will be difficult and may last years... hopefully not as long as the siege of Qul Tos, but it might last longer

than the life of Field Marshal Lukas and his staff. New leaders will be needed in this war and it is my job to make sure that all of you fine lads

are ready to provide that leadership when the time comes. So you boys

better not disappoint me, or I will personally be the one to cut your foreskins, and you better believe I will use a very dull knife."

"Yes sir!" all the boys shouted as one.

The sergeant stopped pacing at the entrance to his private room. "Good, now get dressed and outside in formation. You have a ten-mile run and I don't want to see any foot dragging... do I make myself clear?"

"Yes sir!"

"I see he is sending us out early," Gideon said looking at the darkness of early morning.

Alex eyes were bright with excitement. "That is to be expected as we will have to undergo war training."

"You will... I'll have to take lessons on how to be a secretary,"

Gideon moaned. "Your penmanship is awful though." Alex laughed.

"I know... I'm going to miss the running course," Gideon


"I'm sorry, Gideon," Alex said guiltily. "Don't worry about it, Alex... I've forgiven you," Gideon said

as he lay down on his cot, to take advantage of the extra sleep he was allowed.

"I will not bring it up again," Alex said as he began to get dressed.

"Good... Good night," Gideon grunted. The last thing he wanted to deal with was Alex apologizing to him in every sentence. "Night," Alex sighed as he hurried to join the others outside.


When he finally could not stand remaining in bed any longer,

Gideon went to his usual table in the mess hall for the morning meal "I hear that you and Alex have found yourself a Legatio bed­

warmer." Natrilo, Gideon's friend, laughed during breakfast.

"Jason is no bed-warmer." Gideon glared, stabbing a fat sausage with his fork.

"Sorry, but what do you expect others to think. Legatio are not known for taking interest in Centurions unless they want something,"

Natrilo replied eyeing the stump of Gideon's right arm. "Jason is not like that. He has just never had friends before.

Unlike most Legatio... I feel... I feel he needs me."

"That is how a Legatio is supposed to be. All of them, even the ones from the poorer merchant families treat us as if we are nothing more than a sword to be directed."

"Trust me, Natrilo, when you meet Jason you will see how he needs us even though the last thing he would want any of us to do is kill another person."

"I'll take your word on that," Natrilo agreed as his eyes focused on a group of Legatio students who had just walked in. "Look who has just arrived."

"Felix..." Gideon hissed.

"Watch it, the punishment for attacking a Legatio is


"I know, but look at him... he's even wearing the gold fringe as Academic Horst's pet snoop."

"Is he not a little young for that? He is only twenty."

"He is also the adopted son of Senator Perils, my father. Since the Senate controls the funding of the Academy it is not surprising that the Academics are giving him extra privileges.

"Well, I hope Jason will fix that," Gideon grumbled before

returning to his meal.


"I do not want to wear this," Jason pouted, looking at the red, ruffled, tasseled, and beaded shirt Kristen was holding out for him to

put on.

"It is part of your uniform and you will wear it!" How else are the other Legatio going to know your status? The tassels show the wealth of your family while the number of ruffles signify that your

father was a general. "But what about the beads?" Jason almost whined.

"Those show off your academic skills. The Commandant and I have been keeping a close eye on you, so we know you can read, and write in Mord. The way you have been able to keep track of your money with the merchants and food sellers also shows you have basic skills with numbers.

"I will still have fewer than most Legatio."

"Almost all of them," Kristen agreed. "But you will be the only one with this," he added, taking out a white sash with two silver pendants.

"What is that?"

"All the Centurion students wear these," Kristen explained as he put it on Jason.

"What about Legatio?" Jason asked.

"You are the only Legatio with combat badges."

"So I'm going to stick out." Jason sighed.

"You don't have to wear the sash," Kristen offered, almost taking it off.

"No... I will wear it," Jason said, stopping his servant from removing it.

"Good... now let's go to class." Kristen grinned. Carrying Jason's books for him, Kristen led Jason into the cube-

shaped Academy building. Inside was a large, square atrium across the

top entangled with ivy, allowing a soft green light to pour in from the


Jason's first class was literature. It was made up of 30 students, all sitting on tall stools with writing desks in front of them while their Famulus servants sat by their sides on low boxes, ensuring that their masters always sat higher. The teacher, dressed in red robes and a black sash marked with what looked like over a hundred medals, stood at the podium.

As soon as Jason took his seat, nearly every student turned to look at him. "Please remove that sash," the teacher ordered.

"My pardon Academic Horst... it was a gift from the Commandant." Kristen bowed while at the same time removing Jason's hand from taking the white cloth off.

"It is a Centurion sash and I will not stand for such propaganda in my classroom!"

"And why is that," a strong voice spoke from the doorway.

"Commandant... what nonsense is this!" Academic Horst demanded.

"Jason earned his duel and first blood mark before arriving here, therefore he has every right to wear the white sash and I expect you to allow it."

Horst, face red with anger, shouted;"I will not!"

Oktor walked right into Horst's face, glaring down at the shorter man. "YES YOU WILL! And to stress my point, you will assist Academic Philip with his combat lessons."

"I would rather resign," Horst said as he began to pick up his books.

"Your resignation is declined," Oktor said, summoning two green cloaked guards into the room. "We are now in a state of war, and according to the law, no teacher may resign without the approval of the Commandant which is me."

"That law was established only to prevent you bloody

Centurions from abandoning the Academy to join the fighting," Horst

pointed out.

"Yes, but the law does not make a distinction between Centurion or Legatio," Oktor said, stabbing Horst with one of his calloused fingers.

"So you would keep me a prisoner?"

"Not a prisoner... just detained." Oktor grinned as his guards took position next to the teacher. "My men will be with you day and night to make sure you keep performing your duties. When class is done for the day, you will move your things to the fifteen-year barracks. Your servants will be sent back home to Domus as you will not need them anymore."

"This is outrageous!"

"Be careful, Academic Horst... soon you will be living in a Centurion Barracks, which means you will be under Centurion rules of discipline. It would be a shame to have to flog you in the central courtyard," Oktor warned. Horst went pale on hearing the Commandant's threat. "Yes...

yes, Commandant."

"Good... don't worry, Horst... I plan to say the same thing to the rest of the Legatio Academics, so I am not just targeting you. Good day."

After the Commandant left, the class remained stunned for almost three minutes before Horst could gather his thoughts again. "Today we will be studying the poems of Lamprey the second son of Field Marshal Todos..."

And so, class passed. Every now and then one of the students

would glare at Jason with a look of pure hatred. Jason fingered the

smooth silk of his sash, fearing that his simple choice in clothes had caused all this trouble and anger. Still each time he thought about

removing it, Kristen would remove Jason's fidgeting hands. Thus began Jason's turbulent life at the Academy.

Chapter Three:

The Changes of War

During lunch, the dining hall was not divided by any physical means but a wall clearly existed between the solid rows of red and white, Legatio and Centurions refusing to sit with each other. When Jason entered however, Alex and Gideon waved him over.

Seeing the ugly faces the other Legatio gave him, Jason crossed

the invisible line and joined his friends, a spot of red in what had been

a sea of white.

Alex reached over and gave Jason a hug. "How's it going?"

"Bad... all my teachers have been told they have to move into the barracks." Jason sighed. "I think all the Legatio blame me for it."

"Don't Jason... the Commandant has been planning this since he first heard that we'd be going to war. During war, the powers of the Senate are limited, giving the Commandant greater control over the school," Gideon said to ease Jason's mind.

Alex turned to look at the sullen Legatio, seeing their near banquet size meals. "It is going to get much worse for them... The Commandant is going to make a big announcement after lunch."

"Speaking of lunch..." Kristen smiled as he took three small casserole dishes from his bag. I made some for each of you."

Alex and Gideon took one look at the still warm chicken casseroles and then at the beans, hard bread, and dried beef on their plates and laughed.

"Thank you, Kristen!" Alex grinned as he started digging into one of the casseroles.

"Thank you, Kristen," Gideon said more calmly as he took one of the two remaining dishes.

"You're welcome." Kristen smiled.

Seeing the happy and hungry looks his friends had on their faces, Jason reached over and gave Kristen a hug. "Thank you, Kristen."

"My pleasure, master," Kristen said, returning the hug.

The three of them ate while talking about their lessons. Gideon was bored with having to take two language courses and another in code ciphering... Jadoorian did not seem to share anything with his native Mord. With the invasion of the Western Federation, however, the need for linguists was on the rise.

Alex, now entering officer's training, was being flooded with information on strategy and geography. Jason, for his part, had his first lessons in math and history after Horst's literature class.

They were almost done eating when the dining hall door opened and four ranks of spear-wielding guards marched in. The room that had been filled with talking and laughter went silent as the Commandant came into the room, walking to a raised platform.

"Welcome students... it is good to see all of you back to continue your education to become productive members of Domus society. Many things have happened over the past few months that will change how things are done here. First, as many of our Legatio students now know, all Legatio Academics will live in the barracks."

This triggered a series of boos from the Legatio half of the cafeteria.

"SILENCE!" Oktor ordered and received at once. "Now that we are at war, it is time that our Legatio brothers learn of the sacrifices we Centurions make to keep Domus safe. To that end, all Legatio students will take weapon lessons. There will also be an exchange program... half of you will be moving to the barracks while twice that number of Centurion students will move into the apartments of the remaining Legatio."

This time the Legatio were too stunned to reply, but Gideon and Alex had wide grins on their faces.

"What?" Jason whispered while Oktor continued to discuss how the exchange of students was supposed to happen.

"Don't worry, Jason... you won't have to move. You will be getting two roommates though," Alex giggled.

Jason saw how Gideon and Alex were looking at him and could guess what it meant. "You two are moving in with me?"

"Yes... the Commandant told us personally. He thinks we will make a good team," Gideon explained.

"We will have to find a place for Caleb as well." "He can stay with me," Kristen offered at once. "My bed is large


"Good..."Alex grinned. "You can deal with his snoring."

"Among other things," Kristen laughed.

Just then Jason felt a large hand grasp his shoulder. "You three paying attention?" Philip grinned. He was in his officer's uniform, carrying a spear in his hands.

"We already know what the Commandant is going to say," Alex said.

"Still, you should at least pretend to listen. Oktor has been looking forward to giving this speech for years."

"We will cheer when he is finished," Alex replied. "Good... just be sure you cheer loud enough to block out the

shouting of the Legatio."

"We outnumber them twenty to one... I think we will win." Gideon smiled.

"You forget they have all their Famulus servants here with them. I don't think they are happy about having to move to the barracks."

"You're right," Alex sighed.

Against the walls were row after row of black-robed Famulus, ready to serve their Legatio masters at a moment's notice. While the Centurion had their own Famulus servant, they did not follow their charges around like the Legatio. They also took their meals in a separate dining hall.

Near the end of his speech, Oktor waved two Centurion instructors forward ..."Now I know most of you know Instructor Zophar from officer's training and Aegis from water combat and swimming instruction... both will be joining General Prat in the war. As a result, I will be teaching Zophar's officer class, while swimming and water combat have been canceled for the year. That is all."

Having finished his speech, Commandant Oktor left the

podium and marched out of the hall with his guards. As soon as the

doors closed, the Legatio jumped off their benches and began to shout

in protest along with their Famulus servants. The larger number of Centurions, though, began to cheer and pound on the tables. It was not long before food and plates began to be thrown by the Legatio and their Famulus at their happier cousins.

The Centurions, of course, would have any of that. In a matter of moments they jumped from their tables and rushed over to the Legatio benches. Alex and Gideon also reacted quickly, taking hold of Jason and Kristen and pinning them to the ground.

"What's happening?" Jason asked panicked.

"My Centurion brothers are going to teach the Legatio a lesson." Alex chuckled while remaining on top of Jason.

"Won't they get in trouble?" Jason asked worried as he remained

down on the ground.

"No... why do you think the Commandant took his men out of the hall. He knew the Legatio would riot and he knew that we would not put up with it. The Legatio are going to learn a lesson in humility."

It seemed that Alex was correct. The Legatio, quickly seeing that the guards were not there to save them, made a rush to the doors, only to find them locked. Within minutes all the Legatio and their servants had been stripped of their robes and tied up with the rags.

When Alex finally let Jason stand up again, he was the only Legatio left still dressed in red. A few Centurions, on seeing him made to rush him but Gideon and Alex sandwiched themselves around Jason, holding him possessively. When one of them did not stop his approach, Alex tore the neckline of Jason's robe, showing the two tattoos on his shoulder.

"Those can't be real..." the boy declared.

"They are very much real, Natrilo," Gideon said in a warning voice. "Natrilo... I would like you to meet Jason, the son of Agamemnon. Jason... I would like you to meet Natrilo, son of Senator Jaspoar."

"The son of Agamemnon... the one who defied Field Marshal Lukas? He does not look ten feet tall and as strong as a bear." Natrilo laughed.

"No, but he has a heart of one," Alex said as he kissed the back of Jason's neck.

"You mean you and Gideon are now...?" Natrilo said shocked, noticing how both men held Jason possessively.

"We are going to become bond-mates after our 21st birthdays," Alex finished for him.

Natrilo raised his eyebrows on hearing that. "May I ask which one of you is the superior?"

"Gideon is," Alex spoke up before Gideon could.

"Well...well... I would have never guessed that." Natrilo snickered.

"If you'd ever seen all of Gideon you would understand," Alex retorted.

"I will have to one day." Natrilo grinned.

"Not likely to happen anytime soon, unless I become your commander." Gideon grinned.

"That's never going to happen... now that you are a cripple that

is." Natrilo sighed... disappointed.

"Then I guess you better hope that I become your commander."

Alex laughed. Natrilo took a few steps back from Alex. "By the demons, no...

no offense, Alex, but almost everyone thinks you're crazy."

"The Commandant says that is a good thing... keeps me unpredictable." Alex defended himself.

"Yes... it's a good thing so long as you win," Natrilo replied.

Alex stood up and took a few steps closer to Natrilo, giving him an intimidating stare. "I play to win... I always have."

"Alex is not crazy... he is just scary." Gideon grinned, breaking the mood.

"I am not!" Alex said in disbelief. "Right, Jason?"

"You are sometimes scary," Jason disagreed.

"Ughhhh!" Alex moaned.

Suddenly, the doors to the hall finally reopened and the guards

returned, wide grins on their faces on seeing the Legatio stripped

and bound. Next to come in were the Centurions' Famulus, carrying

bundles of red and white clothes.

The clothes were stacks of red pants and white shirts, Jason's favorite outfit. At first the Legatio protested, but the guards would not let them leave the hall until they had changed into their new uniforms. Caleb himself went over to Jason with his new uniform, which Jason happily took as he did not like the excessive tassels, buttons and ruffles of his red uniform.

Once all the Legatio had changed, Philip came in and started handing out the new class schedules. More groans and many complaints were heard, with not a few students threatening to go back home to Domus.

"What does your schedule say?" Alex asked when Jason was handed his.

"Combat-staff... diplomacy... and combat-hand," Jason read off.

"... diplomacy? I think our Commandant sees a future ambassador in you," Gideon said excitedly.

"Me... an ambassador?" Jason laughed in disbelief.

"You do get along with almost everybody. You also have adapted to our culture quickly. I think you would make a good ambassador." Gideon grinned. "If you need a secretary and translator I hope you will ask me to join you wherever you end up."

"Being an ambassador would also take you away from Domus," Alex grunted, not pleased at all.

"You never know, Alex... you might end up being part of his personal guard," Gideon said encouragingly.

"Maybe, but I think the Commandant sees me as the next great general. I will get assigned to a war, not guard duty at an embassy."

"Let's not worry about that... we are only 20. Nothing will happen until I am finished at the Academy four years from now," Jason begged.

"You're right... come, Alex, we need to get our stuff moved to Jason's apartment," Gideon said cheerfully.

"We only have a half hour until combat lessons," Alex agreed. "See you, Jason."

"Bye." Jason waved to his two friends.

"Are you ready, Jason?" Kristen asked.

"Yes." Jason smiled as he let Kristen lead him out of the dining hall.

Chapter Four:


Jason's first weapons class was held under the shaded light of the main courtyard of the Cube. All of the twenty-year-old Legatio, sixty-seven of them, waited in their new white and red uniforms, looking very angry. Jason was glad he forgot to put his white sash back on as he was sure it would bring glares his way.

After the class settled down, taking their seats on the nearby

benches, the instructor came in, a tall man, over seven feet tall, wearing

only a short piece of white cloth just below his waist, the rest of his

body covered with a sheen of sweat. The Centurion instructor carried

a heavy, iron-shod quarterstaff in his arms, with which he gave a few

swings. When he arrived in the middle of the courtyard, he then began

the one hundred exercises of a quarterstaff master.

Jason watched, mesmerized by the flexing and stretching of nearly every muscle on the man's sinewy body. The beauty of the man combined with the exquisite moves sent Jason's heart a flutter. When the staff master finished, Jason felt as if the man's violet eyes were

staring right at him. Jason clapped, but soon stopped when none of his fellow Legatio

joined in. In fact, a few of them looked at Jason with snickering looks. Thank you," the teacher said in a strong baritone voice, smiling at Jason.

Jason blushed on seeing the man's smile. He had never felt this

way before... not about Alex or Gideon... not even Philip. The instructor

had a magnetism about him that made Jason unable to take his eyes off


The teacher then turned his attention to the class. "Welcome... I am Staff Master Varrus. I served in the first regiment of the Western Army for five years before becoming an instructor here at the Academy,

where I have taught your Centurion cousins for three years. For those of you doing your math that makes me 29 years of age so any of you

thinking I'm going to drop dead anytime soon might as well give up on that hope," the staff master joked, but only received a laugh from

Jason. "I see one of my students understands my humor." Varrus

grinned. "Why don't you come up?" Varrus said, waving his hand at

Jason. Jason, now bright red with embarrassment, got up and made

his way over to the staff master. As soon as Jason was close, Varrus threw his staff at Jason,

who surprised him by catching it. "Very good! You Legatio might be

teachable after all." "Why do we need to learn the staff in the first place?" one of the

unhappy students asked. "Because we are at war... the largest war since General

Agamemnon defeated the Eastern Confederacy at the Battle of the

Gate. The Western Federation have nearly a quarter of a million armed men and over two thousand warships. Our Western Army is made up

of twenty legions, one-hundred thousand troops strong. Our fleet is made up of only 600 ships however. This will be a difficult fight." "But why do we need to learn how to fight... is that not what the

Centurions are for?" The Legatio asked.

"Because we don't know if we can win this war. What would

you do if Jadoorian troops invade the capital? Would you have your

Famulus servants protect you? You need to learn how to fight for your own good. You are learning the quarterstaff and not the knife because there is less of a chance of cutting yourselves with it. By the time I am

done with you, all of you will be weapons masters." "Not likely... does the Senate know what you are doing?" Felix snickered. "My orders come from the Field Marshals themselves and THEY...

not the Senate have final say on what happens at the Academy."

"What if we refuse to even pick up the staff?" a boy sitting next to Felix asked, his voice filled with insolence.

"Guards!" Varrus called out. Before he knew what was happening, two guards picked the

boy up and brought him to the staff master. Varrus then took up another staff that had been lying on the ground before taking back the staff he

had thrown Jason.

"Take the staff," Varrus said in a serious voice.

"No..." the boy refused.

"Then you will have to fight me unarmed... I would prefer an armed opponent... but so be it. The question now is how many bones of yours I am going to break before you try to defend yourself."

Seeing he had no choice, the boy reached for one of the staves. As soon as he grabbed one, the two guards let go of him and stepped back. Varrus then took up a guard position and waited for the boy to make a move.

The boy moved quicker than Jason had expected him to. With only one hand on the staff, the boy charged his teacher swinging out of control. Varrus only had to block one out of every five blows, the boy's aim was so far off. Then, as if he had enough of this game, Varrus blocked one of the boy's wild swings, hitting the boy's staff so hard that it was thrown out of the student's hand. Hitting the butt of his staff into the boy's stomach, Varrus knocked the air out of the Legatio's lungs, toppling him over.

"If this is the best I can expect from you Legatio I will be very disappointed." Varrus shook his head. "Until one of you can put up a decent attack and defense all of you will have to join your Centurion cousins in their morning exercises. Is there anyone willing to challenge me?"

No one spoke. The staff master seemed happy to let what he

had done to the impertinent boy to sink into the minds of the rest of the

class. Jason though saw a chance... if he put up a good enough fight,

then the class might not be forced to run in the morning. It might do a lot to help him earn friends among his fellow Legatio. So silently Jason

went to the where the boy's staff had fallen and picked it up.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Varrus asked with an amused grin. "Yes," Jason replied, bowing and taking up a guard position,

surprising the staff master.

Apeculiar smile grew on the staff instructor's face, one that sent a shiver down Jason's spine. His violet eyes not leaving Jason's face, Varrus bowed to his young opponent. As soon as he straighten back up, Varrus was forced to block a blow, a hard one from Jason followed by another and another in quick succession. It soon became clear to the weapon master that Jason was not some novice; he had actually been taught how to handle the staff. While he knew he could easily defeat the young Legatio; he let the duel continue, wanting to see how skilled the young man really was.

After Jason attacked him for a while, Varrus started throwing in a few swings himself, testing Jason's defense. By the time he was ready to end the fight, Varrus knew that the boy had actually been taught by two different Centurions... one of them having learned from Varrus himself. Second, Varrus realized that the boy was only half way through the 100 exercises of a staff master from the limited moves he made. The only question Varrus had left was how would the young man handle defeat? He found out soon, when he knocked one of his opponent's blows out of the way to make a sweep of his leg, causing the boy to fall on his back.

"Better!" Varrus laughed. "I can only hope that most of your fellow Legatio will have your skill."

"Thank you, sir," Jason said as he tried to stand up but found he could not put weight on the foot that Varrus had hit.

"Are you alright?" The Staff Master asked worried.

"I think I hurt my ankle," Jason said as he hopped on one foot. "Damn it!" Varrus cursed. "Here, let me help you back down."

"It's alright," Jason said through the pain, his teeth clenched,

while his ankle swelled.

"There, there now," Varrus cooed as he lowered Jason onto his back. The weapon master actually found he liked seeing Jason spread out on the ground, for he looked like no Legatio he had ever seen, muscular like a Centurion but narrow in frame.

"You were toying with me," Jason accused while the staff master pulled up his pant's leg.

"I am a master... did you want me to kill you?"

"No... it just showed how much I have to learn."

"You've learned a lot so far. I just realized though that I don't

even know your name." "Jason."

Varrus's brow furrowed as he tried to remember where he had heard that name before. "Jason... I don't remember you from last year."

"I was not here last year," Jason replied.

That confused Varrus, yes there were other schools than the Academy, but they were for Centurion students who had done poorly on the entrance exams. Every once in a while one of those students would improve enough to attend the Academy, but that did not include Legatio. All Legatio children from age fifteen to twenty-four were supposed to go to the Academy. "So you are a new student... where were you before you came here?"

"The Labyrinth Tower in Qul Tos."

On hearing the name "Qul Tos", Varrus finally realized who

Jason was.

"You're the son of Agamemnon who I've been hearing so much about."

"Yes," Jason blushed.

"Would you mind showing me your back?" Varrus asked/

"No," Jason said as he pulled off his shirt.

Varrus raised Jason up to a sitting position so he could look at his back. "Yes... I see you are the young man I've heard about. Living at the Academy all year round, the only news I receive is from the periodic messengers.

"I understand," Jason said as he felt as sharp pain run up his spine from his leg.

That was how the rest of the class went. Varrus talking to Jason while they waited for a healer, who arrived just as the bell ending class rang.

"Now what has Jason done this time." Erik laughed as he came in with his black bag.

"It was my fault, I was the one to hit him," Varrus apologized.

"No... it was my fault. I should have been able to block him," Jason said between throbs of pain.

"I very much doubt you would be able to block a staff master."

Erik grinned, as he took out some bandages.

"Won't he need crutches?" Varrus asked worried. "Not when I am done with him... you can go now."

"I guess I should. I have to go teach a younger class. Be sure to take care of my new favorite student," Varrus said before planting a

kiss on Jason's cheek and leaving. "My my... what a charmer you've become." Erik grinned.

"What do you mean?" Jason asked.

"Centurions by their nature are a passionate people. They are quick to anger as well as love, but I have never seen a Centurion fall in love so quickly. A Legatio with a weapon must be a fetish of theirs."

"A fetish?" Jason asked.

Erik let out a deep sigh. "Never mind... you'll find out one

day." "Alright..." Jason groaned as Erik wrapped his ankle up.

"Now this will sting a little," Erik warned as he took out a sharp

needle. "What is that?" Jason said not recognizing the instrument."

"It is called a syringe. I will inject some medicine into your foot that will help it heal faster."

Jason closed his eyes nervously as he watched Erik bring the long needle closer to his foot.

"You might want to relax a bit," Erik suggested when he saw Jason tense up.

"I'll try..." Jason agreed as he took in a deep breath. Soon he felt a short sharp pain and then it was gone. "You can open your eyes now." Erik chuckled.

Jason opened his eyes expecting to see a lot of blood but all he saw was a small paste of Centurion bone over the spot where Erik had given him the injection. Jason felt relieved as the swelling and pain left his foot, replaced by numbness.

After putting his instruments away, Erik helped Jason onto his feet. "You think you can get to class now?"

"Yes..." Jason nodded as he put more weight on his foot.

"I will need to give you more shots until the foot heals, but I think you will be okay."

"Thank you, Erik." Jason smiled, giving him a hug. He did not know what "okay" meant but, by the Famulus' tone, it had to be good.

"Get going, you big flirt." Erik laughed, handing Jason his shirt


Chapter Five:

The Weight of the Empire

Jason's next class was actually held in one of the Academics' offices on the tenth floor. Dragging his numb foot up the stairs it took him some time to make his way to the top.

Finally arriving at the correct room, he opened the door expecting to see several students in the room but he turned out to be the only one.

"Good for you to finally show up, son of Agamemnon," an old

craggy voice spoke from the shadows.

"I'm sorry... I hurt my leg." "You seem to be standing fine now," The voice spoke.

"Yes... Erik helped me."

"Erik... what an unusual name, I have never heard its kind before... and I have been almost everywhere." The man chuckled as he stepped out of the shadows.

In front of Jason was the oldest man he had ever seen. His head was bald and wrinkled. His hands were thin and showed almost every vein. He walked hunched over, but without a cane or staff.

"Please sit down." The old man pointed to a chair.

Jason went to the bench in front of the large and cluttered dk. He waited while the old man hobbled over to the large throne-like chair topped by a carving of an owl with wings spread.

Once the old man sat down, he looked right at Jason as if he were trying to analyze a piece of art. "Do you know why you are here?"

"I am supposed to learn about diplomacy," Jason said uncertainly.

"Yes... but there are classes and other Academics for that. Do you know why you were brought to me?"

"No," Jason admitted. "Good... you are humble enough to admit you don't know


"Thank you, sir." Jason blushed.

"You are welcome. You may call me Academic Melkior, son of Justin... the founder of Domus."

"The first Centurion?" Jason said amazed. "No... he was just the first Field Marshal. I can also see by your

face that you are trying to guess how old I really am. By next spring I will be two thousand four hundred and seventy two years old, which makes me the oldest Legatio still alive."

"I didn't know we could live that long," Jason said, amazed

"Very few of us can. There is a secret behind it... one day you

might find out what it is."

"Is that why I am here... to learn this secret?"

"No... you were sent to me because I am the most experienced diplomat in Domus. Your father... the great general Agamemnon asked me himself to teach you in return for a favor."

"What favor was that?" Jason asked.

"To spare the Eastern Confederacy after the Battle of the Gate."

"Why?" Jason asked confused.

"Would you believe it if I told you I was the one who created both the Eastern and Western alliances?"

"Why did you go and do that? Aren't they our enemies?" Jason asked.

"To protect Domus if you can believe it. The empire is strong... yes, but beyond the borders of both alliances are lands larger and stronger. The Alliances provide us a buffer, tribute, and most importantly slaves for our shrinking population.

"Shrinking population?"

"It is rarely talked about but we are a dying people. A Legatio might have dozens of wives and hundreds of Centurion children but our own numbers are still declining. It is very hard for us to talk our Centurion cousins into having children of their own when what they really want is to sleep with us Legatio. Even with our long lifespan there are only around twenty thousand of us. It has reached the point

where the Field Marshals have to award a mark to their men for just

taking a wife, being that the Centurions are very proud of their marks. Still... many Centurions take pride in never earning such a mark."

"I see..." Jason sighed.

"I don't think you do... If things don't change soon, the Legatio will become too old to mate... the number of Centurions will drop, the Famulus might revolt and the empire will collapse. Things have to change. We must go from over-lording our neighbors to being their allies. Relations between the Centurions and Legatio must also improve if we are to find a way to get the Centurions to have children again. Your father saw this, but knew he would not live long enough to implement the needed changes. That is why he had you."

"What can I do?" Jason asked, not seeing what was special about himself.

"You are one of the most promising Legatio in centuries. Both the Famulus and Centurions are attracted to you. Your Legatio brothers might have different ideas, but my plans for you do not include you

being part of a corrupt Senate." "What are your plans for me?"

"To make you the first High Ambassador since I retired from

that post over a thousand years ago," the old man smiled.

ept late by Melkior, Jason hurried down the stairs and out of the Cube to where his hand-to-hand class was to take place. Feeling the burden of all the ancient Academic had told him, he was glad that Kristen did not ask him how his class went, as Melkior insisted that what they said together was to remain secret.

The class was outside on a giant raised platform covered with straw mats. Both Legatio in red and white and Centurions in solid white sat around the edges while Commandant Oktor demonstrated some moves with staff Master Varrus.

As he approached, Jason saw Alex wave him over. Jason tried to move to sit next to his friend but was stopped by Kristen, who pulled him to where the Legatio were sitting.

"Come now, young master... it is ok to be different, but let's not throw it in everyone's faces," Kristen chided him.

As soon as Jason sat his tall frame down, towering over the other Legatio students by several inches, Oktor performed a flip maneuver causing Varrus to fall on his back. "You're late, Jason... go run ten times around the Cube," Oktor ordered without looking at him.

Jason let out a deep sigh, but stood up and started running to the surprise of Varrus and many classmates. Still, the stone path around the main Academy building was hard on his ankle and by the time he finished his seventh lap his foot was limping. On his eighth lap, three other boys joined him running around the Cube, two were Legatio, the third a Centurion holding a switch, a wide grin on his face. When done, Jason limped his way back to the sparring platform.

On seeing Jason hobble back, Oktor waved the Legatio youth over to him. "You should have told me you hurt your leg."

"It was not hurting when I started," Jason explained.

Oktor grinned. "Yes, but you also should have reminded me you were coming from Melkior's office on the tenth floor. Not only did you have a long walk but I also know how long winded that old man can be."

"I still ran the ten laps," Jason pointed out.

"That you did, boy, and without complaint, unlike the two other students who showed up late. They were found trying to run away back to Domus through the tunnel. I am sure there are going to be several more attempts before the week is through."

"I'm sorry, Commandant," Jason said, embarrassed by his fellow Legatio's behavior.

"Don't be, now lay down so I can take a look at your ankle."

Jason lay down and pulled up his pant leg so the Commandant could examine him. While he did that, Jason watched the other boys practicing their kicks and punches. It seemed as if the boys had been paired off, five Centurions per Legatio. While four Centurions practiced more elaborate moves, the fifth helped to teach the basics to the Legatio.

When Jason felt a sharp pain, his attention returned back to his foot. The Commandant was inserting pins into his ankle one by one. "There, that should help with the pain for a while." Oktor grinned. "What are you doing?"

"Acupuncture... when I was fighting pirates in the Southern

Seas, I got wounded, I had a cracked skull and a broken arm. Our

healer had died in the battle so I was left in serious pain. That was

when one of our captives came forward and started sticking pins into me and surprisingly it did the trick. When we brought the pirates to Aquanos to be sold as Famulus I used my entire victory pay to buy him for myself and had him teach me all he knew of acupuncture. The

old pirate still lives here, working with the healers. Now... if you don't

mind I need to go check on the rest of my students." "Thank you, Commandant."

"My pleasure, Jason... I'll send Varrus to keep you company."

Jason watched as the Commandant went over to the still

shirtless staff master, slapping him on the ass to get his attention. Varrus

responded by wrapping his arms around the Commandant and giving him a kiss while the Oktor whispered in his ear. Varrus then waved at Jason and started walking in his direction.

"I see our Commandant has you on pins and needles." Varrus

laughed, seeing Jason's ankle.

"I think it is working," Jason replied, unable to hold back

a smile. Just having the staff master this close to him made him feel

giddy inside.

"Good... everything else going well?" Varrus asked as he sat down next to Jason on the straw mats, wrapping a bare arm around Jason.

Jason felt his heart flutter, feeling the heat and smell of sweat coming off the staff master's body. "I'm fine... I mean Alex and Gideon get to move in with me. I just think the other Legatio don't like me very much."

"The Legatio are sheep... they don't like anyone who does not

follow the herd," Varrus said with distaste. "I guess... but I still wish they liked me."

"I think we can take these pins out," Varrus said after a while pulling the pins between two fingers.

When done, the staff master lifted Jason back on to his feet and led him over to where some students were practicing.

"Oh come on, sir, not another Legatio," one of the Centurions complained.

"Now calm down, Octavos, I think you will be impressed by Jason here."

"He better be, Luktavis can barely kick without falling down

on his ass. Octavos laughed... pointing the young man lying on the mat


"That is why you are supposed to teach him. You do want to

become an officer one day, don't you, Octavos?" Varrus said darkly.

"Yeah, but I will be commanding Centurions, not Legatio."

"And I thought it was a Centurion's dream to command a legion

of Legatio." Varrus laughed.

"We tell them what to do, but they don't listen," another of the Centurions complained, stopping his own practice.

"Then you must teach them to listen, Saul." Varrus smiled evilly.

"Alright, Luktavis... spar against me," Saul said, lifting the

young man back onto his feet.

"I can't fight you! I am a Legatio."

"I am going to fight you whether you like it or not," Saul warned as he raised his fists.

"Noooooooooooo!" Luktavis screamed, running off.

"Chase him down," Varrus sighed.

"Yes sir!" Saul said with an eager smile.

"Now am I going to have to chase you down to get you to kick properly?" Octavos asked Jason with arms crossed.

"I don't know," Jason said nervously.

"Well show me!" Octavos said, taking the ready position. Jason copied the position and bowed to Octavos. He then

waited for Octavos to make the first move. He did not have to wait

long. Octavos took two steps forward before making a high kick to hit Jason in the head. Jason blocked it with a side swipe of his arm, causing

Octavos to spin around. When Jason could see Octavos' face again, he had a wide grin. Octavos attacked again with a series of quick punches,

all of which Jason at least partially blocked. Then Jason made a few

attacks of his own, all of which were blocked, but kept Octavos busy.

It was not really much of a contest, but Octavos was not ready to have his opponent flat on his back yet, since doing so would end the match and he was enjoying himself too much for that. The idea of fighting a Legatio was such a novelty at the moment. Jason, he could tell, only knew a few moves but the ones he did know he had mastered to the point of using effectively against a more skilled opponent. If it were not for the clothes Jason was wearing, Octavos would have been

sure that he was facing a junior Centurion student.

It was only when Octavos noticed that Jason was limping that he decided to end the match as he did not want to fight against a cripple. When Jason extended himself a little too far with a punch, Octavos grabbed Jason arm and pulled him so that Jason fell forward onto his stomach. Octavos then lifted his leg and moved to stomp on his opponent's spine but stopped only a few centimeters from doing

so. "You are dead," Octavos declared.

"I guess I am," Jason agreed, admitting defeat.

It was only when Octavos helped Jason back onto his feet that both of them noticed that the rest of the class was staring at them.

"Very good, Jason!" Oktor clapped, breaking the silence. "I would give you a duel mark for your performance if you didn't already have one."

"What!" Octavos said in disbelief... who was his opponent. "Did you send me a Centurion in disguise?"

"No... Jason is a Legatio. He just likes acting like a Centurion."

Varrus chuckled. "Show him your marks."

Blushing, Jason took off his shirt and showed the whole class

the blood tear and crossed swords on his back. This sent the class to


"That was great!" Alex yelled as he ran over to him.

"Thank you," Jason said, trying to hide his embarrassment.

"You might one day earn your fist mark." Oktor grinned.

"Do I have to learn all one hundred exercises for that?" Jason asked.

"One hundred, no Jason, the fist takes one thousand exercises to earn the title of master." Oktor smiled as he peeled off his shirt to show the large fist mark on his left shoulder.

"I'll never earn that mark," Alex sighed.

"That's only because you love your sword too much," Oktor chided. "To earn the mark of the fist means you have trained your whole body to act as a weapon. Varrus has seven hundred fifty three of the exercises down. I expect in a few more years he will earn his mark."

"Yes and I will be in my thirties and too old to enjoy it," Varrus

sighed. Oktor gave Varrus a sly wink. "Yes, but you might stand a chance of beating me then."

Varrus looker at the much larger man and chuckled. "I very much doubt that."

Oktor gave Varrus's rear a squeeze before addressing the rest

of the class. "As you can see, all you need to learn is a few basic moves

that can provide a decent defense and attack. Jason here has only been learning for five weeks and look at what he has been able to accomplish.

For my Legatio students, I want you to see Jason as proof that Legatio can defend themselves. For my Centurion students, I want you to see that it does not require fancy moves to spar. Taking what I teach you

and mastering it is better than rushing into the flips and jump kicks all

of you want me to teach you. Understood...? Class dismissed."

Chapter Six:

The Mentor

"Let's go Jason... I think Erik needs to have another look at your foot," Alex said as he helped Jason off the sparring platform.

"Wait..." Jason said, turning to face Octavos. "Thank you, I learned a lot from you today."

"As did I from you," Octavos said with a wide smile.

"Well, it looks like you made one new friend today." Alex grinned as he supported Jason while they walked to Philip's house.

Jason nodded. "He's nice. He could have beaten me at any time, but he let me fight and learn."

"Good... so how were your other two classes?" While the two of them walked Jason told about his accident in

weapons class and what little he felt was safe to tell about Melkior.

Alex told Jason about sword practice, that he had beaten three other students in duels, making him the top student for the moment. History was not as boring as last year, as it dealt with the Western Federation. With Domus now at war with the west, the class seemed to have real relevance, instead of being a collection of abstract dates.

Halfway to Philip's, Gideon came running to join them. He had finished a course on accounting, the regular class on diplomacy, and

another language course. As a result he was incredibly bored. Philip

however had told him to come by the house as he had a gift for him. After knocking on the door, the three of them were led into the

parlor by Erik. Jason was given the entire sofa to rest his foot, Alex sat on the carpet below Jason, and Gideon sat on one of three benches in the room. Erik then brought mugs of hot tea and a plate of dried fruit for them to snack on.

The three boys ate and continued to talk about their first day of school while Erik saw to Jason's foot, giving him another injection while chastising him for not taking it easy. Just as Erik was putting away his black bag, Philip came in carrying a weapons case under his arms.

"Oh good, Gideon, you are here." Philip grinned as he put the case down on the table.

Gideon, his eyes glued on the weapon case, stood up and saluted. "You said you had something for me."

"Yes... a way to get you back into combat class." Philip grinned as he opened the case. "Oktor and I talked to Logan about your situation and he came up with this."

Inside was a long rapier with a cupped gauntlet that had several leather straps. Philip took it out of the case and gave it to Gideon.

"What am I supposed to do with this... I don't have a hand to

hold it." "No, but you still have most of your arm," Philip said. He took

the stump of Gideon's arm and pushed it into the cup of the sword. He

then strapped the sword to his arm and across his shoulder. "I know it is not a full sword but give it a try."

Gideon stood up and gave a few practice jabs with the needle­like weapon. "I can't do much to block or swing with this."

"No... it's primarily a thrusting weapon... but we do have a fencing master here so you can take combat lessons again."

"I don't know what to say?" Gideon said, filled with conflicting emotions.

"Just say thank you and that you will give it a try," Philip suggested.

"Thank you, and I will try." Gideon smiled.

"Good... now how is my favorite Legatio," Philip said as he turned his attention to Jason.

"I messed up in staff class," Jason said, embarrassed.

"He's doing great... he held his own against Octavos on the sparring platform." Alex grinned, giving Jason's hand a squeeze.

"He should not have even sparred," Erik said, as if he were disappointed in Jason for hurting his leg more and Alex for cheering him on.

"Why... what's wrong?" Philip asked concerned. All Erik did was point to Jason's foot.

Philip's voice dropped an octave and took on a serious tone. "What happened?"

"I was sparring with the Staff Master when I didn't block one of

his blows. I think I twisted my foot as I fell. "Damn Varrus," Philip cursed as he started to get up.

Seeing anger and a thirst for revenge in Philip's eyes, Jason grabbed Philip and pulled him back down. "No... it wasn't his fault. I just was not good enough."

"He's the master, you're the student. He has the responsibility

for what happens in a duel," Philip growled.

Jason grabbed Philip's hand just as Philip started turning to the front door. "Philip... please don't be mad."

Sensing what Jason wanted, Philip said, "I am mad. I promise I

won't go off and challenge him to a duel however."

Standing from the sofa Erik looked at the pair of Centurion

youths with a motherly expression. "Good... now go back to Jason's

apartment. I have already sent the double bunk for you and Gideon. You might be living in Legatio quarters but your sergeant will still be coming by to make sure your bunks are made and clean and that you are in bed by sundown."

"Yes..." both Gideon and Alex sighed. They had hoped that living in Legatio quarters would have meant Legatio privileges.

After Gideon and Alex left, Philip lifted Jason up and took him

to the large bathing chamber that all the Centurion teachers shared,

letting him soak in the hot water with him. Jason was almost asleep

when he felt a sudden rush of water as Philip stirred.

"I have you to thank for Jason's foot," Philip grumbled when

Varrus came strolling into the room.

Varrus' voice took on a tired tone as he slipped into the water.

"It was an accident, Philip. It happens during training." Jason opened his eyes and saw Varrus swim toward him. The

man's long, tanned, muscled body sent a shiver up and down his spine,

triggering a response.

"How is your foot," Varrus asked when he surfaced right in front of Jason, rivulets of water running down the groves of his muscular body. Taking hold of the injured foot he massaged it with his long fingers.

Philip glared at the staff master. "His foot is sprained."

"It doesn't seem to affect the other parts of him." Varrus giggled, seeing the head of Jason's manhood popping out of the water.

If the hot water had not already turned his face red, Jason's embarrassment would have been even more evident. Still, Jason let himself sink deeper into the water to hide his erect sex.

"Awww..." Varrus sighed... seeing he had embarrassed Jason. "Does Jason have a mentor?" he asked Philip.

"No..." Philip had to admit, already knowing what Varrus was going to ask.

"Would you mind if I offered myself for the role..."

"I was planning to take that role myself," Philip said, trying to remain calm.

"You can't... you're his guardian. You can't be both guardian

and mentor."

"He is also a Legatio... Legatio don't have mentors," Philip

reminded Varrus.

"Yes... but things are changing. We are now teaching the Legatio the Centurion way. Should they not follow Centurion customs as well?"

"If we follow custom the guardian has to approve of who the mentor will be," Philip reminded Varrus.

"I guess I will have to endear myself to you." Varrus smiled as he moved closer to Philip, sliding between him and Jason.

"I do not think so," Philip said as he tried to swim away... I have already heard you are Oktor's."

"Oktor and I are not a couple," Varrus said seriously as he continued chasing Philip around the pool, Jason laughing. He had never seen Philip look so nervous. "Not like what I hear about you and Field Marshal Darius."

"How do you know about that?" Philip said, shocked.

"The walls have ears." Varrus snickered. "I also saw the gold ring on your finger with the Field Marshal's mark."


"Oh don't worry... it is not a scandal that you are bonded with our dear Field Marshal. As for Oktor, he is just my mentor."

"Your mentor... but you are a staff master."

"Yes... and you don't know how much that disappoints him. It has always been his goal to make me a master of the fist before he dies."

"Please don't tell anyone," Philip begged. "I don't see what you are worried about... So what if you and

Darius are now lovers. Now that he is a Field Marshal he will be in the capital most of the time, close to you, instead of patrolling the Eastern Confederacy." Varrus smiled as he pinned Philip in a corner of the pool. "So tell me... how did you and Darius get together?"

"No," Philip said as he tried to find a way around Varrus.

Tell me." Varrus smiled as he reached under the water to stroke

Philip's manhood. "Jason..." Philip moaned, with the Staff Master so close to him

he could see the rumors were true. Varrus was the most handsome man he had ever seen.

"Why am I not surprised, you three make such a happy family," Varrus grinned. "Now, about Jason?"

"Jason?" Philip called out causing the young man to jump almost out of the pool.

"Yes Philip?" Jason asked nervously.

"What do you think of Varrus being your mentor?" Philip asked as, to his relief Varrus left his side to swim toward Jason.

"I...really, Varrus wants to do that?" Jason asked in disbelief.

"Don't worry about what you think. Just tell me what you feel. It's your choice," Varrus said on reaching Jason, wrapping his long legs around the Legatio's naked body.

"I... I like you very much. I would really like you as my mentor though I don't know what that means." Jason said his stammering getting worse. In the months since leaving Qul Tos he had known the power of love. Varrus however was having a different effect on him...

the more primal feeling of lust. "It means I will be your teacher from this point on until the

day I die. It means I will always be there for you, no matter what. It means..." Varrus whispered as he stroked the Legatio's muscular back.

"That we will be lovers?" Jason asked the shy smile on his face growing into a wide grin.

"If that is what you want?"

"I do... I really do," Jason nodded wrapping his arms around the back of Varrus neck. He then did something he had never done before. He leaned forward and gave Varrus a kiss, the first time he had ever been so forward with another man.

"If it's what he wants so be it," Philip sighed as he watched Varrus lean down to return Jason's kiss. As he observed how Varrus handled Jason, keeping him mesmerized without letting things get out of control, he couldn't help wishing there had been a ‘Varrus' at the Academy when he was a student. In all the time he had watched over Jason he had never seen him so giddy as Varrus spun him around the pool. It made him feel happy himself until he realized he was not the one Jason had his arms around. His feelings then turned to fear.

Chapter Seven:

The Bargain

After Jason and Varrus spent a considerable amount of time washing each other's bodies, the two and Philip returned home. In the parlor, Jason went right to the sofa, while Erik was cooking in the kitchen.

"I hope you are making enough for all of us." Philip grinned as he hugged Erik from behind forcing himself to smile.

"Yes, I saw Master Varrus heading for the baths."

"Yes, but that didn't mean he was going to join us for dinner,"

Philip pouted.

"Oh yes it did, sir," Erik chuckled. "You gay men don't know how to keep your hands off each other."

"Your servant has a queer sense of humor," Varrus laughed. "You have no idea." Philip blushed. "Sleeping with the help?" Varrus laughed.

"Hey I'm gay... I don't mind." Erik laughed as he turned the

pieces of chicken frying in a pan. "Erik...," Philip warned.

"Oh come on, Alex is not here... why can't I say ‘gay'?" Erik

pouted. "It makes us sound abnormal," Philip fumed. "The King of Jadoor is rumored to be gay," Erik complained.

"Well, soon there will be no King of Jadoor... not if Lukas's army has any say about it," Varrus snickered.

"What are the reports?" Philip asked as he took a seat at the dining table.

"Two-thirds of the army is already marching against those parts of the Western Federation that are on the mainland. They are weak and will fall quickly. Once Gladmore has fallen, they will build a shipyard to construct a fleet to take the army across to the Jadoor's main island," Varrus said.

"What of the rest of the army?" Philip asked.

"They are being ferried to the smaller, weaker islands by what fleet we have. It is a risky business. Until our new fleet is built, we cannot face the Jadoorian armada in open water."

Splitting up the army was not something Philip would have done if he had been in command. That worried him. "What do you think our chances are?"

"I don't know... we have not fought against the western kingdoms in centuries. Unlike the Eastern Confederacy, the Jadoorians are so much stronger than the other kingdoms that the weaker ones are nothing more than vassal states. As a result there are no inflated egos for us to count on to divide their forces. King Aidan has the full support of his allies, as they know they will face the wrath of Jadoor's army if they don't fight against us.

"So they are not as afraid of us as they are of Jadoorians. We will have to correct them of that mistake," Philip grinned.

"Yes... we shall," Varrus smiled back..

Jason woke up to the sound to laughter and Erik giving him a nudge. "If you keep on sleeping you will wake up in the middle of the night and be up until morning."

"Alright..." Jason yawned. He was still tired and sore, but the smell of food soon set his stomach to growling.

"Good, you are awake... dinner has been waiting for you!" Varrus smiled as he served himself some green beans that had been cooked with bacon.

"Enjoy it while it lasts... when winter comes, the freshest food you will have will come from a slaughtered sheep or a jar of pickled vegetables," Erik said as he served Jason some steamed carrots coated in honey.

"Still, the food here is better than anything I had in the army," Philip said, his mouth watering on smelling the fried fish on his plate.

"Everything I have eaten has been better than what I had," Jason said, not noticing how his comment removed the smiles from everyone's face.

"Well, soon I will have you fattened up," Erik said to end the awkward silence, adding a whole fish on Jason's plate.

"Not fattened up... bulked up. With all the hard work he will be doing in combat classes he will soon be much stronger than he is now." Varrus laughed.

"I'm still sore from today," Jason sighed.

"You will have to get used to that. Until you are stronger you will be going to bed sore every night," Philip grinned.

Erik spooned more carrots onto Jason's plate. "You can always ask Kristen for a back massage. He will be here soon to take you back to your apartment."

Jason nodded his head as he took a bite out of the fish. Hungry

from all his work he soon cleared his plate and waited for everyone

else to finish. He did not have to wait long. Varrus and Philip took

second and third helpings and cleaned their plates, leaving room only for dessert, still baking in the oven.

While they waited, Kristen came. He then took Jason to the upstairs bedroom, and undressed him for bed. With Jason lying down on his back, Kristen took out some cold ointment and massaged it into Jason' skin.

"This will help your muscles relax," Kristen explained as he

rubbed Jason's body, working on his neck, back, arms, legs and stomach.

As Kristen spread the ointment over his body, Jason felt his skin tingle and then go numb. The muscles of his body went limp while the fumes made his mind enter a pleasant daze.

When Kristen was done, Jason's skin had a white glow about

it, while his eyes had taken on a vacant stare. Seeing that the ointment

had taken its effect, Kristen took out a long needle connected to a glass tube. He took Jason's arm and on the underside of the elbow he stuck Jason. Soon a stream of blood began to flow into the tube. When it was half full, Kristen removed the needle and covered the spot with

Centurion bone paste. He then pocketed the blood-filled vial as well

as the ointment before heading back downstairs and into the parlor. Erik on seeing him gave him a questioning look to which Kristen only nodded before making his apologies for leaving so soon, going out the front door.


When Jason did not come down for dessert after Philip called

him, he sent Erik to go check on the boy. Erik came back and told them

that Jason was too tired to join them. Concerned, Philip and Varrus took theirs and Jason's dessert upstairs.

On the large bed they saw Jason, his skin shimmering white against the moonlight looking like a statue. Philip went over to Jason and shook him, only receiving a soft smile.

"We have a spiced apple for you," Philip said offering the bowl of a cinnamon and buttered apple to Jason. Jason's only response was to part his lips.

"I guess we will have to feed him." Varrus smiled.

"I guess we shall," Philip agreed, liking the idea.

Lifting Jason up so his back was against the headboard, Philip fed Jason the hot, spiced apple while Varrus cleaned Jason's face with a towel. Jason chewed slowly but was able to finish the spiced apple before closing his eyes. The two men then each gave Jason a kiss on the cheek and pulled the quilt over him before taking their own clothes off and joining him in the bed. Jason had enough awareness and strength to wrap an arm around Philip and nuzzle up closer to his chest.

"He loves you," Varrus sighed. He lay down his long body on the other side of Jason.

"I don't know if it is love, but he trusts me," Philip replied, running his fingers through Jason's hair. "When you embraced him in the pool I never saw him so happy."

"I tend to have that effect on other men. That is why I was sent here... too pretty to fight a war," Varrus laughed sarcastically. "As my poor general lamented I was too much of a distraction. I guess that is something Jason and I have in common. I've never seen such a beautiful Legatio before. Poor boy, life in the tower must have been horrible," Varrus sighed while his hand ran down Jason's arm, resting it on his hip.

"He has recovered for the most part. Yet... he still does not understand why we Centurions have to kill."

"Well, most Legatio believe we're savages," Varrus pointed out, a hint of bitterness in his voice.

"It's not that... he feels sadness when someone dies whether he knows the person or not," Philip replied, clearly wishing he could do something about it. "When I had to kill one of my men I almost felt as if I had betrayed him."

Varrus reached over to squeeze Philip's shoulder. "It will be something he will have to get over... He is a Legatio... they all have to deal with death eventually."

"Let's not talk about this. Jason might hear us."

"He will have to one day," Varrus stressed the point again. "Yes, but not right now," Philip sighed.

"Fine..." Varrus replied, dropping the subject.

Both men then remained silent as they tried to fall asleep when a sudden gush of wind blew up a tree branch hard against the bedroom window, breaking a pane of glass.

"What was that?" Varrus asked, jumping up.

"A zephyr..." Philip guessed.

"A zephyr... you don't really believe in those legends." Varrus laughed.

"I have seen many strange things in my life... a living wind spirit would not be too out of the ordinary."

Varrus still did not believe Philip. "And I've seen a tribe of half-bull and half-man beasts, women who grow wings, and men with fish tails."

"There is a tribe of men who wear the head of a bull in battle

in Qopo. In the south there is a civilization where girls on their 17th

birthday must wear wings made of feathers before jumping off a six-

story tower with a rope tied around their ankles. If the rope holds and she lives, her soul is considered light and pure enough for marriage," Philip gave as examples.

"What of the men with fish tails," Varrus argued. "Well, that I don't know about... I have yet to see the entire

whole world." Philip chuckled.

"Yes... but as you see there is a logical reason behind all these legends... your wind spirit is probably as real as the bull man," Varrus insisted.

"You are most likely right, but you are a Centurion, you are supposed to love myths and legends."

"I like true stories better," Varrus disagreed.

"What story is completely true?" Philip answered back.

Varrus thought about that for a while before he came up with an example. "The stories of Agamemnon are true."

"Hahahahaha... you are telling me that the whole population of the Eastern Confederacy went down on their knees as he conquered their territories."

"Not literally," Varrus admitted. "So you see one man's truth is another man's lie." "In stories, yes... I don't think the Eastern Confederacy view

themselves as the villains in the last war," Varrus agreed.

"In other things as well. Just look at us Centurions and Legatio. Both of us think that we are the more important piece in Domus culture."

"True as well."

"Jason, though, is teaching me a new truth... we need each other. Not just for the future of our people but for love," Philip said as he gave Jason's left bicep a tight grip.

"It has gotten a little hard to love those brats." Varrus smirked.

"Jason though is very lovable." Philip grinned as. "That he is indeed," said Varrus. "When is his birthday?" "Not until near the end of winter." "I can wait," Varrus told himself.

Chapter Eight:

Of Past Regret and Unspoken Apologies

Standing at the head of the Imperial Senate, Legatio Speaker Lucius Valerius stood up from his white marble throne, tossing his gold fringed red toga over his shoulders before speaks. "Fellow Senators, news from the front. Our great Field Marshal Lukas Fowler has once again achieved victory on the field of battle, his legions surging from The Gate into the hills of Freen to capture the king Rygar's palace after only a fortnight of besieging the city of Jorlan."

To this news the rest of the Senators let out a loud cheer clapping their hands as they imagined the new treasures and slaves that would soon be streaming into the empire, increasing its already incredible wealth.

During the applause a black robed Famulus approached the dais Lucius was standing on, holding a gold tray in his hands. Bowing in front of the Speaker, he offered the scroll resting on the tray.

Raising his hand, Lucius brought his fellow Senators to silence.

"More news," he chuckled in a jovial tone before opening the scroll,

his face quickly turning pale. "Oh dear... fellow Senators listen to me. The Imperial Fleet, under the command of Admiral Urrak and by the

orders of Field Marshal Darius attacked and defeated a fleet of over two hundred Jadoorian warship near the harbor on the Island of Eb."

To this news the Senators cheered again only to be silenced once again by their Speaker, Senator Perils leaving his spot in the front row of the tiered marble benches to approach the speaker and take the scroll from him. "Senators it appears a disaster has befallen our fleet. The day after the Island of Eb fell to our Centurions over a thousand Jadoorian ships gathered at the mouth of the harbor, cutting off any possible escape for our fleet of six hundred ships. Since the mouth of the harbor is narrow Admiral Urrak has no hope of breaking through such a blockade and is therefore trapped with six legions... almost a third of the Western Centurion Army at Eb. He asks that Field Marshal Lukas send aid at once or he will be forced to kill his Famulus rowers in order to preserve his already meager supplies. My fellow Senators... this is indeed a disaster, unlike any we have faced since the Empire's founding. I vote we immediately consult with Field Marshal Xavier and begin opening an investigation into the leadership of Field Marshal Lukas... for possible impeachment," Perils said, his own face going pale. Never in his life did he think Lukas would be such a fool as to risk a third of his forces to capture such an insignificant rock as the Island of Eb. It seemed that is exactly what the Field Marshal had done, falling into the Federation's trap.

As he slowly returned to his bench, letting the scroll fall from his hands, Perils' calculating mind was already busy working out his next move. He couldn't send the message to have Jason killed, not now at least. With the Western Army crippled, it would be a grave mistake to begin a new war with the Confederacy. No, he would have to wait and push for Field Marshal's Lukas' removal. With a new Field Marshal, one he would handpick, Perils could have the advancing legions of the Western Army pull back and fortify. It would mean losing territory but at least the Centurions would be in better position to defend against Jadoor's next move. Summoning a Famulus messenger to his side, Perils scribbled a note to be sent to Xavier. He would need Xavier's help removing Lukas. If both Xavier and the Senate demanded Lukas' impeachment, Perils prayed that Field Marshal Darius would have enough sense to play along. How could he not after Lukas' blunder?

As soon as Jason entered his literature class, Academic Horst's face soured. He looked tired, and his clothes were a little ruffled, but

when he stood up to address the class he had a smile on his face. "Due to the change in Academy curriculum I have decided to

assign a project to each of you. In keeping with the theme of the war,

all of you will read one of the Great War epics. You will have a week to read them and I expect a full analysis from all of you. Felix... you will research the War of Mathannon Succession. Justin... the Second Qopo Campaign, Jason... I have something special for you... I want you to read The War of the Labyrinth Tower. You should be able to write a good paper about that since you were there," he said with a snickering voice.

"Thank you." Jason smiled, while in the corner of his eye he

saw Kristen go pale. "What's wrong?" "Shhh... you will soon find out," Kristen warned.

Horst continued to give out assignments and then went into a lecture on the Poems of Sarith, who wrote about a Legatio's abortive love affair with a Centurion. The poems were bitter and filled with feelings of betrayal... Sarith blamed his Centurion lover's death on the Centurion people, leaving his lover to suffer the long centuries alone.

Jason for his part, did not miss the point of the lesson... a

Legatio falling in love with a Centurion would only find tragedy. It was

all he could do not to burst into tears on thinking of Philip, Alex, and Gideon.

After the lesson was over and Jason was on his way to his arithmetic lesson, he asked Kristen why he had looked worried about his reading assignment.

"Horst is setting you up to fail." Kristen started to explain. "The epic of the Labyrinth Tower was just finished a few weeks ago. There is not even a copy in the Academy library. Even if you found one, it is over five thousand pages in length, over a page for each day of the war."

"And I'm to read it all in a week?" Jason exclaimed. Kristen gave Jason a looked of pity. "You can't... at least that is

what Horst is hoping for." "So he wants me to fail?"

"Yes, he can't have the favorite of the Centurion instructors' Legatio student outshine someone like Felix. You should have guessed by his selection of poetry that he does not care for his Centurion cousins. If you are lucky though Academic Melkior might have a copy... he is considered the most learned historian in all of Domus." In fact Melkior did have a copy of every volume and let Jason

read some of it in his office, but only from the final volume, from the

last few pages, the ones dealing with his rescue. When he saw Jason

drop the tome to the stone floor, his eyes dripping with tears, the

Academic knew that an important truth had been hidden from Jason. Out of curiosity he wanted to see what Jason would do next.

Leaning down to recover the book Jason whispered;"This can't

be true." "But it is, my student... that chapter is almost an exact copy

of Commander Philip's report to then General Darius. On his way to

rescue you he came upon and killed the Captain of the Tower, Melissa Arkridge, the woman who protected you for so many years. It was done because it was the only way Philip knew to ensure your rescue, something that Melissa was willing to give her life for. Now tell me, what do you think of our Centurion cousins now?"

"I..." Jason whispered as his face began to turn red. He then

began beating Melkior's large desk with the book as he yelled;"I hate, I

hate, I hate everything!" He then dropped the book, slowly backing out

of the room before darting out of the Academic's office, fleeing down

the stairs and out of the Cube.

"I thought you would," Melkior sighed, resting his forehead in both gnarled hands. He suspected that Jason had been hiding the rage of twenty years of abuse. He never let it show until now. That of course had been Melkior's intent. Jason had faced love, lust, fear, and doubt and survived. To be a whole man however Jason needed to deal with his rage, something he would never face if not pushed. The Academic's desire to forge Jason into a great man overrode his strong urge to protect him. He did not fear Jason wouldn't recover. His main concern was Philip. Would Jason's moment of anger scare the Centurion off or would Philip stand fast and endure Jason's wrath knowing his rage would only be temporary, and like a smithy's flame, temper Jason into a stronger man. This Melkior didn't know. Centurions could be such cowards when it came to love. Very few took rejection well as the death of Horn showed. Melkior hoped Philip's qualities would see him through this storm and wait for the prize just beyond the horizon. The old Legatio tried to hope at least. After so many centuries waiting for a man like Jason to rise from his fellow Legatio, Melkior did not believe he had the strength or years in him to wait for another.




It did not take long for word to spread in the Academy of what Jason learned today or the terrible mood the news had put him in. Even Alex and Gideon kept their distance, afraid the Legatio's rage would turn on them. While Philip cowered in his bedroom, Varrus went searching for Melkior, finding the old man hobbling down the stairs of the Cube, toward his quarters. "So we have you to blame for today's tension."

"I know what I am doing. If Philip doesn't see that he's more of

a fool than I took him for," Melkior grumbled. "Right now Jason is in the sparring square turning the dummies

into mangled shreds of cloth. The whole area is littered with straw."

"Then maybe you should go there and give him someone to really spar with."

"And let him get mad at me?" Varrus scoffed.

"You Centurions are such cowards when it comes to love. The moment any of you think you're about to be rejected you either challenge the person to a duel or go off having as much sex as possible with as many men as you can just to prove you're still desirable."

"And to make the other man jealous," Varrus pointed that.

"Of course, that too, but why must it always be that way. Jason is furious right now but what about tomorrow or a week from now when his anger has died down? He will come looking for Phillip, you, and his other friends. Will you still be there for him as a mentor should?"

"What would you have me do?"

"Go to him since Philip won't. Show him he's still loved that what happened to Melissa was not his fault."

"His fault? It was Philip who killed her."

"But he killed her in order to save Jason."


"So you thickheaded Centurion, Jason believes the only reason Melissa died was because of him. He might be angry with Philip but the reason he's out on the sparring square right now is because of the rage he feels toward himself. He can't forgive himself you see... that is a lesson he's never learned. You Centurions are trained from birth to feel no regerts."

"One's enemies might one day become our friends... carrying a

grudge is therefore pointless."

"Have you never known a Legatio to hold a grudge?" Melkior chuckled.

"Well Legatio are Legatio. They're infamous for waiting centuries before getting revenge."

"Shall we wait that long until Jason strikes, at himself most likely?"

"No, I would not wish that on anyone. Even if I might long be dead I would still not want Jason to do anything to hurt himself let alone others."

"Then you must go to him, convince him that what happened was not his fault and, if you can make him believe that Melissa's death was her choice, her last gift to him."

Scratching his chin Varrus let out a sigh before speaking. "I do not know if I can do that but I will try."

"Good, but be careful. You might be asked to pay a high price in order to convince Jason of the truth but it must be paid. Do this and you will prove you are a worthy mentor." Melkior said, patting Varrus' arm before walking away.

"What price might that be?"

"One that your heart has been desiring to pay but one your honor can not afford."

Knowing what Melkior was hinting at Varrus let his shoulders slump even as his heartbeat quickened. Making love to Jason had long ago become his obsession. With only three months until his twenty-first birthday when he would be circumcised and recognized as a true man among the Centurions, Varrus had been counting the days pass at a painful pace. He was more than willing to wait however until the day he could claim Jason honorably, though it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Now, with the wisest and greatest of all Legatio practically giving him permission to take Jason now, Varrus felt as if his mind and heart were at war with each other.

On reaching the straw covered grounds of the sparring platform Varrus saw the young man's 6'4" frame striped to his white loincloth, sweat causing his pale skinned body to glisten under the moon's light. For Varrus, he had never seen a sight like it... not that Jason's moves were perfect, but that it was a Legatio... a strong Legatio, who was not afraid of physical pain, yet so emotionally fragile. It was as if Varrus were watching liquid porcelain, waiting with dread for it to cool and shatter.

Stripping down until he too was only wearing his loincloth, Varrus picked up one of the staves on the rack and approached Jason. "Shall we spar?"

Jason, his face a mixture of confusion and rage, nodded his head and went to one of the corners and made a short bow. Varrus, more calm than Jason, took a deeper bow only to rise up to block a furious blow from the youth.

"Why did Philip have to kill her?" Jason screamed. He made

blow after blow, all of them out of control and simple for Varrus to

block. "He did it to save your life."

"But why my life? Why couldn't he have saved Melissa's? She was... she was the only person who... who loved me." Jason wept his eyes becoming blind from the tears.

Seeing he could not even aim his staff, Jason threw it aside

and tackled the blur that was Varrus. This was what Varrus had been

waiting for, for he was a near master of the "fist" having learned over

seven hundred of the thousand exercises.

It did not take the Staff Master long to pin Jason down on the straw mats of the practice floor. It took a long while for Jason to calm down however, allowing Varrus to relax his grip.

"Jason... you said Melissa loved you?"

"Yes." Jason nodded slowly, his voice very hoarse.

"Well, did you know that she was willing to die so you could live?"

"But Philip murdered her!"

"No... Melissa ordered Philip to take her head. It was the only way he could save you, for your mother would not have sent down the elevator without proof that Melissa was dead."

"That makes it my fault. I should have been the one who died, not her! She was a good person."

"And you are not? You must love yourself better than this if

you wish to follow the path of a Centurion. Anyway, that was not your

choice to make... nor was it Philip's... it was Melissa's. You say you loved her, then respect her sacrifice and do not blame Philip and certainly not

yourself for what happened."

After a long silence Jason spoke. "I'm sorry if I am not good enough. I'm sorry I got mad. I've never felt this way before."

"Sure you have been angry before... only your mother never let you express your anger. I might be a Centurion and you a Legatio but we are both still men. You just need to learn how to use your emotions

and be able to forgive yourself."

"Is that why Philip keeps on asking me to stop saying I am sorry?"

"Exactly... especially when it is not your fault. Live without regret... a good Centurion motto, no?"

"I do not know if I can, but I will try." Jason said, resting his head on Varrus' chest.

"That's all you ever need do," Varrus cooed, kissing the top of the Legatio's head.

"Please hold me tighter," Jason pleaded softly.

Tightening his arms around the young man, Varrus rolled on

top of him unprepared for Jason's desperate kisses. "Be calm Jason, we

can stay here as long as you need."

Looking up into Varrus violet eyes Jason touched the man's perfect face. "I don't understand what I am feeling."

"Yes you do. You know all to well. All young men experience

what you're feeling."

"Sometimes I think it will take me over," Jason said as he

continued to stroke Varrus' face.

"It has taken you over, my student," Varrus laughed as he felt the young man's stirring against his body.

Expecting Varrus to roll off him but not wanting him to Jason wrapped his arms back around the Centurion's neck. "I'm sorry."

Laughing Varrus rolled both of them over so Jason ended up on top. "You say no with your mouth while your actions say otherwise. Go or stay, it's your choice. Just make sure it's what you need."

"What do you mean?" Jason asked, raising himself up on his

elbows which were pressed against Varrus' chest.

"What do you need Jason. What will take away the pain I see in your eyes?"

"It's forbidden."

"But it's what you want?" Varrus offered spreading his arms apart, offering his body to Jason.

"More than anything right now." "Then I will give it to you." "But?" Jason protested. "It is what you want Jason, as you said, more than anything right now."

"But your honor?"

"My honor is in serving you."

"A Centurion serving a Legatio," Jason laughed sitting up.

"I am no ordinary Centurion and you, lovely, are like no Legatio I've ever known," Varrus said taking hold of Jason's pale hips. "Ask me anything and it's yours, even that which is forbidden."

"And if the Commandant finds out," Jason whispered, his heart now racing.

"Let me worry about Oktor but, if this is what you want, we should not stay here. I know a grove in the Jacobite Woods where we will not be seen."

"It is what I want, more than anything," Jason replied, lying

back down on top of Varrus, his head on the man's broad chest.

"So all is forgiven? Varrus said as both of them stood up and started gathering their discarded clothes. "You are no longer angry at Philip?"

"I wish he'd told me the truth," Jason replied, slipping on his


"You do know why he didn't, though?"

"Yes, he must have been afraid the truth would hurt me... and it did."

"But now?" Varrus asked.

"Did Melissa really ask him to take her head?"

"That's what the book said. In Domus it is a crime to falsely record an event in history, especially one of such importance as the fall of the Labyrinth Tower."

"Then the fault is mine." Jason whispered as the two of them starting walking towards the forest.

"It's not. Melissa made her own choice."

"Only because she loved me." "Would you have no one love you? Do you think you can order

Philip, Alex, Gideon or even me to stop loving you? You can't Jason so don't even try. There is only one reasonable choice you can make and

that is to forgive yourself."

"I do not know if I can do that."

"Not tonight, the wound is still fresh. The most I can ask of you is to forgive for not being able to forgive yourself today."

"And tomorrow?" Jason asked looking up at Varrus as the Centurion took hold of his hand as they walked together.

Going to the nearest large tree Varrus pinned Jason to it. "Tomorrow has yet to come. As we are taught when we are young it is a waste of time worrying about the future when there is still the present to enjoy," he said before kissing Jason's neck several times, moving his lips up until they were against Jason's mouth.

"The bond Varrus," Jason whispered, seeing the blue anima as

it dripped down Varrus' face. Grinning, Varrus placed a finger into his mouth, drawing it out

coated with the blue elixir. "I know, I can taste it. I do not need to ask to know you want it."

"I want to give you mine as well, Philip Alex and Gideon too." Jason said as Varrus brushed the Legatio's lips with anima using his coated finger.

"But it can only be given once. As your mentor I am telling you my student, but you are not yet ready to make such an important decision. As a Centurion I can give my anima as many times as I wish, on a whim even. As a man who loves you more than anything however I am giving it to you with the same commitment you will make the day you decide which of us will receive your bond." Varrus said before giving Jason a very deep kiss, letting his anima flow into the young man. This time anima didn't make Jason fall asleep but ignited his passions further. Soon the two were rolling among the fallen autumn leaves, Jason pursuing months worth of the dreams and fantasies he had had since first laying eyes on the staff master. Varrus did his utmost to meet if not exceed them. When dawn arose the next day the two were still naked and in each others' arms, woken only by the shouts of the Centurion students as they went through their morning run.

"We must dress,' Varrus said as he shook Jason gently before searching for his discarded clothes.

"When?" Jason asked as he crawled back onto his feet.

"You mean when will we do this again?" Varrus asked.

"Yes, that is if you want to?" Jason said with a hint of nervousness as he pulled on his trousers.

"I'm ready right now but we must take care. What we did was forbidden, not for you but for me."

"I have destroyed your honor."

"You have given me new life, more important than I could ever have from victory in war." Varrus said, kissing Jason on the forehead as the Legatio pulled his arms through the sleeves of his shirt.

"I love you Varrus. I don't even want to be apart from you."

"Nor shall we... in three months time you will be a man. Nothing

will be able to keep us apart after that. It makes me glad to see the guilt

and anger out of your eyes."

"I have not forgiven myself... I guess for now all I can do is forgive myself for not being able to."

"And does that make you feel any better?" Varrus asked, as he buttoned Jason's shirt for him.

"It does actually," Jason nodded.

"Good... so where are you going to first?" "I guess to Philip. He probably thinks I'm still mad at him."

"Knowing him he probably does," Varrus nodded. "Will you tell him about tonight?"

"I should but do you think that will make him angry?"

"Not at you, or me for that matter. It will make him angry at

himself if anything. Like you, he has an important decision to make as

well. You know he loves you?"

"More than anything," Jason nodded.

"Just as I do," Varrus agreed.

"Why does he hold back?" Jason asked as the two of them, now dressed started walking out of the woods.

"Because he's confused by his love for you." "I don't understand."

"That is because you grew up without a father. In many ways that is how Philip sees himself, as your father. He also sees himself as me, a man who both loves you and ‘loves' you," Varrus chuckled, reaching to squeeze Jason's hand.

"He can't be both?"

"No, by any custom your father can not be your lover. That is

why he's confused. To fulfill one dream he must be willing to surrender

the other. Now you answer me this, why have you not pursued Philip with the same tenacity you show me."

"I do not know. I guess it's because he reminds me of Melissa."

"He should. Melissa was more of a mother to you than the queen ever was. Philip is the closest thing to a real father I do not doubt. From what I know you were not as you are now... strong, tall, and confident. When he rescued you, you were but a mere skeleton, starved of food and love. Things have changed and you have grown into a wonderful, handsome young man. Philip knows that. Knowing however is not so easy as changing."

"He wishes to be my lover?" Jason sighed.

"He wishes more than that. He wants to have your bond, for him to be the center of your life just as you are for him."

"I do love Philip." Jason whispered. "More than all others?" Varrus asked.

"I love him... more than anything." Jason said after they were halfway back to the Academy, just coming to that realization.

"I know," Varrus replied. "I have always known. If only you could see through my eyes and see yourself when Philip is near. I can draw out the desire in you but Philip has always had your devotion."

"Should I bond to him?" Jason asked, feeling confused.

"That is something only you can decide. I doubt me telling you will summon the anima from your core. It must be your own decision, one that leaves you with no doubt that your choice is the right one," Varrus said as the two left the woods.

Chapter Nine:

Jason's Challenge

It was during his eleventh week at the Academy that Jason passed a wall on the way to the student dining hall. On it was a message painted in red paint. "Jason... Whore of Qul Tos."

"Don't mind that Jason," Gideon said as he tried to push Jason along.

"Who wrote it?" Jason demanded.

"Just look for anyone with red paint on their hands," Alex grunted as he looked around the hall.

"I think I have found our culprit," Gideon said as he pointed to a Legatio student with red paint smeared on his white shirt, wearing it with pride.

Before Jason knew what was happening, Gideon grabbed the

offending student and dragged him back. "You want to try that again,

Felix?" "Let me go!" Felix squirmed.

"No... I don't think so. Jason, this is the guy responsible for me losing my arm. I can't challenge him but you can," Gideon grunted.

Jason, caught up in the moment, responded before he gave it a good thought. "I challenge you, Felix."

"You can't... Legatio never duel," Felix snickered "Yes they can," Staff Master Varrus said, walking determinedly

toward them, taking charge of Felix from Gideon.

"You can't force me," Felix insisted as he struggled to get free of Varrus' strong grip.

"You saw what I did on the first day of lessons... I can make you do whatever I want. You can either duel Jason or I will let Jason beat you until he is satisfied."

Jason did not like the sound of that so he spoke up. "Sir..." Jason

started to say but was cut off by a glare from Varrus.

"At the start of class... you will face Jason in a duel or you will

be flogged in front of the entire Legatio class. Do I make myself clear?"

Varrus said in a threatening tone. "Do you know who my guardian is?" Felix said in disbelief.

"Yes... Senator Perils. Does that make any difference?"

"He will see you punished for this. He will have you made into a private and sent to the war front," Felix promised.

"I very much doubt that... the Commandant is my commander, not Senator Perils."

"You'll see... YOU'LL SEE!" Felix said in near hysterics. Varrus had had enough of Felix's threats and waved over two

guards to take the boy away. "Let him eat his lunch but he is not to leave the dueling ring. I will be very disappointed if he is not there to face the son of Agamemnon," Varrus told the guards.

Both guards saluted before dragging Felix off, followed by his

many Famulus servants.

"Jason, you better beat him," Varrus whispered into Jason's ear

before leaving the dining hall.

"I didn't see this happening," Alex chuckled.

"Jason... you don't have to fight him if you don't want to," Gideon said, now in better control of his temper.

"I want to fight him... he hurt you... both of you," Jason said, but without conviction.

"I have to warn you, Jason... beating Felix will not earn you any friends with the rest of the Legatio. He sort of leads the Legatio students around by the nose just like his father does the Senate," Gideon warned.

"You and he were once close," Jason remembered. "He had to have liked Centurions at one time."

"It was more like a political marriage. After his Centurion father died, my father became Felix's guardian. I was the only person near his age so it was only natural that we became friends. I think my father hoped we would like each other, as he wanted Felix to become his protégé and me to become a general. We started being intimate with each other at age 15, but after we joined the Academy Felix changed.

"My father, Senator Perils, is the wealthiest and most politically connected man in the Empire. If there are two things that the Legatio students are impressed with it is wealth and power. Felix felt he didn't need me any more as a friend with most of the Legatio students fawning over him in hope of earning a high government position later after graduation. Every now and then he would invite me to his bed but he acted more like he was doing me a favor. I had enough of it when he asked me to join him in bed with another Legatio student. Being ignored by me was more than he could stand however... me being a lowly Centurion. You know how he got back at me."

"Yes," Jason said filling with the same anger both Alex and

Gideon felt.

"Lunch is already halfway over. Let's eat. You don't want to fight

on an empty stomach," Alex said, leading them to their usual bench.

They finished the meal Kristen had prepared, very little of

which Jason was able to force himself to eat. Being nervous, Jason went

to the dueling ring and practiced his staff exercises. Watching him were Alex, Gideon, and a restrained Felix. With each graceful move Jason's made with his staff, Felix sunk deeper into despair. That still did not

stop Felix from shouting out threats to all around him.

As the time for class came closer, more and more Legatio students gathered, as did the Commandant and several of the other weapons masters. Alex was happy to see his own weapons class and teacher present, as that meant he could also stay. Gideon, though, had to leave as his Legatio linguist teacher was not someone he expected to excuse his absence over a duel.

The last to arrive was Varrus, stripped of his shirt again and carrying two staves. He nodded to the guards, who let go of Felix, whose face was red from shouting his protests. Varrus threw one of the iron-shod staves to Jason, who once again caught it in the air despite its weight. Felix's hit him in the head, knocking him down on the ground.

"You are not getting out of this that easily!" Varrus cursed.

Varrus took a small vial from his belt. He opened it and held it

under Felix's nose. In a matter of seconds Felix jumped up wide-awake,

his eyes opened as wide as possible.

"Get up and fight!" Varrus ordered, embarrassed that Felix was

supposed to be one of his students.

Felix stood back up and picked up the heavy staff, struggling with its weight. But eventually he was able to do a poor copy of the same guard position as Jason had taken up.

Both boys armed, Oktor ordered his shield-carrying green-cloaked guards to surround Felix, Jason and of course Varrus, who would act as referee.

"Shields!" the Commandant then ordered. The guards stacked their large rectangular shields so that a wall, ten-foot square, surrounded the participants.

"You have nowhere to run," Varrus warned Felix. "Fight Jason to the best of your ability and earn some respect."

The sound of many sandals slapping against the stone floor began to echo across the hollow cube. Looking up Jason saw that the Commandant, teachers and students were now looking down on them from upper levels of the Cube.

"Bow!" Oktor ordered from the second floor.

Jason made a deep bow, but Felix, scared out of his mind, did not move an inch. Varrus, demanding that tradition be maintained, went over to Felix and punched him in the stomach, causing the boy to double over.

Silence fell over the courtyard, only Felix's gasps for breath echoing in the hollow structure. When the Commandant felt that the boy had recovered enough, he drew a short sword and dropped it into the ring signifying the start of the duel.

Jason straightened up first, but it was Felix who made the first attack, thinking that so long as he did so, Jason would only be able to

defend himself. Yelling his own personal war cry derived from panic-driven

fear, Felix charged Jason with his iron staff as if he held a lance. Jason responded by sidestepping Felix's attack before hitting the side of his opponent's ribs, knocking his fellow Legatio to the mat.

"Get up!" Varrus ordered when Felix remained down. "No!" Varrus pointed to the dropped sword. "You will get up and fight or I will cut you open!"

Presented with the greater danger of being skewered, Felix scrambled back onto his feet. As Felix went to pick up his staff again, Jason waited in the far end of the ring for his rival's next move, he did not have to wait long. Just as Varrus let the staff fall back down on the floor, Felix took hold of one end of it. Spinning around like a top, Felix ran toward Jason, the iron staff circling his body.

Jason moved back, waiting for Felix to become too dizzy to keep

it up. But, instead of that happening, Felix let go of the staff, which shot

out like a giant bolt right towards Jason.

To Felix's credit, his aim was good, Jason had to throw himself down on the ground, landing hard on his own staff producing a loud cracking sound as Felix's staff passed over him and rammed into the shield wall.

In a great deal of pain now, a spot of blood growing in his chest, Jason heard a low moan coming from the shields wall. Looking behind him, he saw that Felix's staff had broken through the shield and was embedded in it. Whoever had been holding that shield must have had his arm smashed by the force of Felix's throw.

Knowing that once again he was involved in an innocent person being hurt, Jason was filled with rage. Felix was supposed to fight him, not hurt other people. Getting back up, his chest burning with pain, Jason moved in on Felix to give him a lesson in honor.

Felix, now completely unarmed, saw the hate filled look in Jason's eyes. With his staff now out of reach the only weapon he could see was the dropped short sword on the ground. Diving to pick it up, Felix got back up just in time to see Jason swing his staff in his direction. He tried to block it, but with the combination of his lack of skill and the force of Jason's blow, his wrist was shattered when Jason's staff came down on it. Jason then made to hit him again. Felix, now on his back, tried to protect his body by raising his legs. That did not matter to the enraged youth. Jason simply struck and broke both of them. He was about to attack again when another object was thrown into the ring... a sword sheath, indicating the end of the duel.

"That's enough, Jason," Varrus said as he took firm hold of Jason's staff, stopping Jason from giving a fatal blow.

"Aaaa..." Jason said as he struggled to catch his breath, letting

Varrus disarm him. Soon the shields started coming down and the onlookers returned to the ground floor. Jason saw one of the masked guards

cradling his bloody arm, the bone sticking out at an odd angle.

Jason then did something unheard of, at least by Centurion and Legatio standards. He went over to the wounded man and hugged him, asking forgiveness. Jason blamed himself that his duel had caused the other man's injuries. The Centurion looked shocked, not just that the boy was blaming himself, but that he, a Legatio, felt concern for him.

"Can you help him?" Jason asked Varrus when he came close.

"He is a Centurion... in a week he will be healed," Varrus said

to ease Jason's worry. "I will be fine." The guard smiled through his pain. "You can

visit me at the healers if you want"

"I will... every day," Jason promised.

Jason then saw Alex run over to him. "Jason... you were great!"

"I was...?" Jason at first smiled, but it then faded when he heard Felix scream in pain. "I really hurt him."

"He had it coming," Alex brushed aside. Jason felt guilt growing inside him.

"Yes, but he really didn't stand a chance." "You could have died if his staff had hit you when he threw


"And I dodged it. I should have tried to block it. The guard would not have been hurt if I did that."

"Jason... don't blame yourself for what happened. You fought honorably."

"I still feel bad."

"I know," Alex sighed as he hugged Jason tight.

Soon two stretchers were brought to pick up the soldier and Felix. The guard grinned in silence while Felix screamed, switching between pain and anger.

Alex, on seeing the Felix's condition, took Jason's face and buried it against his chest so he would not see what he had done. Once Felix was out of sight, Alex let go and kissed Jason on his forehead.

"Will I always be shorter than you?" Jason asked, looking up at his tall friend.

"I hope so." Alex grinned. He was a good four inches taller than Jason, making Jason the perfect size to hold. "You are a Legatio... Legatio are suppose to be smaller than us Centurions... it is one of the things that make Legatio so cute."

"I just want to take a bath and rest," Jason said before coughing on Alex's white uniform. When he looked at where he had coughed he saw a splatter of blood.

"Jason... what is wrong?"

"Blood..." Jason exhaled, touching his lips to find blood on them

as well. Looking down he saw that his shirt was also soaked in it.

Chapter Ten:

A Field Marshal's Bond

"Healer!" Alex yelled, realizing Jason had to be bleeding. He

reached over and peeled Jason's shirt off to find a broken rib sticking

out of the skin.

Erik came running over and used his own black tunic to cover the wound. "I need to get him to the healers!" Erik said, worried.

"What's wrong with him?" Alex asked panicked.

Erik face took on a worried look. "His bleeding is out of control.

If we can't stop it he will die."

"No!" Alex screamed in fear, shaking Erik violently.

"Don't go all panicky on me," Erik ordered as he led the three of

them out of the sparring ring and to the nearest gate.

Soon Jason was coughing up more blood, his face becoming pale. By the time they arrived at the healers, Erik and Alex were carrying Jason, now weak from loss of blood.

"Another one!" the chief healer sighed on seeing Jason dragged in.

"We need anima!" Erik demanded as he helped Jason onto a bed.

"I'm sorry, we only have one vial here and I was about to give it to master Felix. Legatio are not supposed to get injured like this. What was Varrus thinking?" the healer said, holding the glowing blue vial in his hand. "Jason needs it more!" Alex yelled, almost taking the blue vial

away from the healer only for the Famulus to jerk his hand out of

reach. "Healer Yadish... Jason is bleeding to death. Centurion bones

will not stop it. He needs anima fluid now or he will die," Erik explained

as calmly as he could.

"Well, serves him right. He broke both of Master Felix's legs and cracked two of his ribs," one of Felix's Famulus said, as he fawned over

his Legatio master. Seeing that the healer was about to go back to Felix with the

vial, Erik grabbed the black hood of the man's robe, pulling him back.

"Felix is not bleeding. He will live until more anima can come from Domus. Jason will not last more than an hour if he is not treated.

As if on cue, Jason went into another fit of coughs, spraying blood everywhere. "You're right..." Healer Yadish agreed. "But you promised my master the anima fluid!" Felix's Famulus

protested. "He is not dying!" Yadish shouted back.

"But he is in pain! It is the son of Agamemnon's own fault that

he is dying. My master never wanted to duel him." Yadish removed the crystal stopper from the vial as he brought

it to Jason's lips. "Sorry... I have no choice... Jason's life is more important than Felix's comfort."

"My father will have your neck for this!" Felix yelled from his bed.

That last comment froze the healer in place when he was just about to tip the vial's contents into Jason's mouth. If he treated Jason he would save the boy's life but it might cost his own life in the process.

If he let Jason die, Yadish was sure he would face the wrath of the Commandant and many of the other Centurions. Seeing that the doctor did not know what to do, Erik spoke up.

"Whose anima fluid is that?" "Field Marshal Gorr's... he willed it to the Academy.

"Very valuable anima indeed then..." Erik nodded. "But it still belongs to the Eastern Army does it not?"

"Yes..." the man admitted.

"Alex, go as fast as you can and find your brother and bring him here," Erik ordered.

"Why?" Alex asked confused.

"Just do it!" Erik ordered.

"Yes," Alex said as he darted out of the building.

Not sure what was going on, Yadish returned the stopper back in the vial. "Do we really have time for you to bring another opinion?"

Erik gave the healer a dead serious look. "Are you saying you will agree to give Jason the anima?"

"No..." Yadish was ashamed to admit.

"Then I think I need to bring someone who can order you to make the right choice," Erik said before turning back to check on Jason.

"Fine," Yadish said as he took a seat.

Felix's Famulus servant took out ten large chains of gold coins that had been tied to his belt. "My master will pay you ten thousand gold standards if you will give him the anima."

"I..." Yadish said stunned.

"Twenty thousand," the servant offered.

"Well..." Yadish started, trying to hide the growing smile on his face.

"I would like to remind you, Yadish, that Jason is the Commandant's favorite. If he learns you sold Field Marshal Gorr's anima fluid to the highest bidder, what do you think he will do to you?" Erik warned.

Yadish forced his gaze from the small fortune Felix's servant was holding up to him. "I think I will wait to hear what Commander Philip has to say."

They did not have to wait long. Within ten minutes Philip came bursting into the room. "Give Jason the anima fluid," he ordered, his voice deep and menacing.

"What about Felix?" Yadish asked.

"He will heal," Philip replied, stressing each syllable.

"The problem is that I might not," Yaddish replied, eyeing the adoptive son of Perils.

"Show him your ring," Erik said calmly.

Philip took his right fist and shoved it near Yadish's face. On that fist was a gold ring capped with a large blue sapphire.

Erik let out a deep sigh. Sometimes Centurions could be so dense. "The other ring."

Embarrassed Philip exchanged fists, showing a gold ring with

the family mark of Field Marshal Darius engraved on it, an ax behind

a field of wheat.

"Do you recognize this ring?" Erik asked the chief healer.

"Yes..." the healer said nervously.

"That is the bond ring of Field Marshal Darius, leader of the Eastern Army. It not only marks Philip as his lover, but also his spokesman. Do you know what that means?"

"No..." Yadish admitted, not able to take his eyes off the gold


Erik face took on an evil smile. "It means that Philip speaks for the entire Eastern Army. Gorr had the right to say where he wants his anima stored but it still belongs to the Eastern army. Therefore, Philip, as spokesman for the Eastern Army, has the power and right to say how Gorr's anima is to be used.

Yadish's shoulders slumped in defeat. "I see."

Erik turned his attention back to Philip. "What do you want done with Gorr's anima?"

Philip moved in closer to Yadish, his face taking on a threatening expression. "Give it to Jason."

"But my life!" Yadish said nervously, looking at the wounded Felix.

"I think you want a transfer, Yadish... how about you join the Eastern Army. I promise that they will keep you safe," Philip offered.

"I don't think I have any other choice," the healer replied. He went over to Jason's bed and poured the bright blue anima fluid down the young man's throat. Philip and Alex then went to Jason's side and placed their hands on Jason's stomach, triggering a red glow. Soon their blue light mixed in with the red, turning purple. The light spread throughout Jason's body, healing him. Like the last time he had received anima, Jason began to grow. Not as much as before... only two inches, but he did bulk up. His chest began to stand out and the faint outline of hard abdominal muscles showed. His arms and legs also thickened and became more sculpted.

"If we keep on feeding him anima fluid, he might just turn into a Centurion." Alex grinned, impressed by Jason's new body.

"Give him some time to recover." Erik smiled. "He lost a lot of blood... anima does not restore that."

"But can we take him home... he won't need any more medical care?" Alex asked.

Erik turned and looked at his master and saw the lustful look he was giving Jason. "That depends on Philip...?"

"I would like him to stay with me," Philip said as he ran his fingers down Jason's chest, longing in his eyes. Jason was even more beautiful than he had been before, as his body seemed to have taken on the best attributes of both Legatio and Centurion and combined them to form a perfect body to match his spirit. Waiting for Jason's 21st birthday was becoming a form of slow torture.

"He will go home with you, Alex," Philip decided after knowing

he could not hold back if he had Jason in his bed.

"I'm sorry, Philip" Alex replied, seeing the internal struggle in his brother's eyes.

"Do you need me?" Erik asked, as he saw Philip's hardening under his uniform.

"No... I'll go find Varrus... Jason has picked him as his mentor," Philip decided on the spot. Varrus was the only person he knew whose feelings for Jason seemed to run as strong as his own.

"Very well..."Erik nodded, letting Philip leave the hospital.


While Jason slept, Alex waited for the Famulus to get a stretcher ready to carry Jason home. While he waited, Gideon came running in. "I just heard... is Jason alright?"

"He will be," Alex replied, not able to take his eyes off Jason.

"What happened to him? He looks... different," Gideon said, in

shock on seeing Jason. "He was given more anima...," Alex explained.

"He looks almost like us now... only better," Gideon replied, his

own eyes now focused on Jason.

"I must say I find him..." Alex looked up from Jason to see the giant grin on Gideon's

face. "Yes... Philip felt the same way... that is why Jason is coming home

with us."

"Why?" Gideon asked confused.

Alex raised his eyebrows and gave Gideon a questioning look. "Do you think you could keep your hands off him?"

"No, but I don't have to. I only have to worry about one hand," Gideon joked.

"Philip feels the same way. Until Jason is twenty-one, Philip

can't offer his bond to Jason." Gideon nodded. "You're right. Did I miss anything else?"

"My brother now has the bond ring of Field Marshal Darius." Gideon pulled Alex back from the hug and looked into

his friend's eyes, excited. "Really... that makes you a fairly political connected person... the brother of a Field Marshal's lover."

"I do not think Philip knew what he was getting into when he and the Field Marshal decided to take their relationship further."

"Should be interesting," Gideon agreed.

"We are ready, sir," a Famulus and his partner bowed, carrying a stretcher in their arms.

"Are you going back to class?" Alex asked Gideon.

"I should. It is almost time for my fencing lesson."

"Then go... both the Commandant and Varrus know what happened. They will excuse my absence without too much punishment."

"Keep an eye on Jason while I'm gone." Gideon grinned as he made for the door.

"I plan to keep both of them on him." Alex chuckled as he watched Jason transferred to the stretcher.

"I love you," Alex whispered as Jason continued to sleep. "I love you and am going to marry you someday. Everything will be perfect then. I will have a purpose in life... protecting you. Not even being Field Marshal would equal that."

Tears running down his eyes... Alex rolled Jason over so that

the Legatio was on top of him. Looking into Jason's closed eyes,

Alex wished for them to open so he could see the rich emerald green underneath. They did not open, however. "Please, Jason... please say you love me more than Gideon... more than Varrus, more than my brother. Compared to all those others I am willing to give you so much more. I am willing to give you everything and forsake all others."

Jason remained silent however, deep in an anima-induced slumber.




"Philip you can't keep going like this," Varrus almost shouted

as the two argued while soaking in the heated pool.

"I don't know what you are talking about," Philip insisted while

Erik stood behind him, massaging his back.

"Yes you do. Jason loves you more than anything but he won't

wait forever."

"Then all you have to do is wait and you'll get what you


"But it's not what Jason wants." "Forgive me Varrus but I still have my honor. I'm not going to

destroy that over a moment of weakness."

"This is not about what Jason and I did. This is about you. You have to decide what you want more, a child or a man."

"Leave us Erik," Philip ordered before dipping his head underwater. He did not surface until Erik was gone and when he did he rose beside Varrus.

"Well," Varrus asked, turning to face Philip so he could wrap his arms around him.

"Can't we do what we always do?" Philip sighed.

"You mean have sex after our usual fight over Jason. No, I'm a little tired of you living through me. Jason deserves better. He needs to know what kind of relationship you are going to have with him."

"I think he already has everything he needs. All he needs is you and me."

"All he really needs is you," Varrus insisted.

"I'm sorry Varrus, but I can't. I can't get the image of that starving

boy I found so many months ago out of my head."

Wrapping his fingers around the back of Philip's neck Varrus leaned back into the water, letting his legs ride up Philip's thighs until they were wrapped around the man's waist. "He is almost a man now. He lacks only one thing, for you to acknowledge he is a man."

"I'm afraid to," Philip said closing his eyes, lowering his head in embarrassment.

"Because you would do what I did, honor or not," Varrus insisted, their sex now lined together under the water.

"He has grown... with your help." Philip admitted, feeling

himself stir.

"And yours are as well. You both have admitted to me what you

two really want but too afraid to tell each other."

"And what does Jason want?" "He wants you to decide if you really want him." "He doubts my love for him?" "No he knows you love him. He loves you more than anything

as well. Just like you however he is confused." "Yet he let you seduce him." "No you misunderstand," Varrus laughed. "Jason can be

aggressive when he wants something. He wanted me so he had me. The

same is true about Alex and Gideon. You are different however. You more than saved his life but gave him his first taste of true love. That is

why when he is near you he can not help but go back to becoming the desperate child you rescued. Since that is the way you still treat him, he dares not pursue you."

"So you are saying I should pursue him?"

"No, just treat him as you would any man who loves you." "I can't. He isn't just any man who loves me," Philip replied. "And you're not just any man loved by him." Varrus said,

leaning forward as he moved his hands up from behind Philip's neck

to the back of his head. "You wish for me to seduce him?" "No, I want Jason to know you could seduce him." "And you and I?"

"We've pretty much seduced each other, haven't we?" Varrus laughed. "I better be careful, I wouldn't want to incur the wrath of our

beloved Field Marshal." "He knows the extent of our relationship. You should be more

worried he will attempt to seduce you, Varrus." "Seduced by a Field Marshal, that's an honor I wouldn't mind


Chapter Eleven:


Field Marshal Lukas walked across the domed hall of the council chambers on the island of Sol, the heart of the Federation, two officers holding pots of gold paint following him. "Not much of a fight... would you not say?" Lukas laughed.

"Yes sir." G-7, General Prat, nodded, followed by his brother, Commander Aegis, fresh from the Academy.

"You handled this fight brilliantly... captured most of the ships

in port as well as the Federation treasury."

"They did not expect us to come here in such numbers... that proved to be their undoing," Prat said with a hint of sarcasm. Everyone knew what a fool the Field Marshal had turned out to be as a war leader, leaving a third of his army stranded on the Island of Eb.

In most cases Lukas would challenge and kill such an insolent man but Lukas dared not to kill General Prat as things were. Prat was his most successful general and he could not afford to lose him... just yet. But just as dusk was eventually followed by dawn, so would General Prat's star set... then, Lukas would have his revenge for such an insult.

"Where to now, Field Marshal?" Commander Aegis, asked.

Looking at the tiled floor of the main conference room of the Federation, Lukas saw a map of the known world, the Federation kingdoms made of pure white tiles, the empire in Gold, while the Confederacy was in red. Lukas took a thick brush out of the paint pot and began coloring the white tiles until nearly a third were the same gold color as the Empire. "These are the lands we have so far conquered... Freen, Yelding, and Dorsa. By controlling Sol we control

the rivers that lead from the interior of the Federation to the sea, cutting them off from support from Jadoor. From here we will..."

"Excuse me sir... but do we even know where the main Jadoorian army is?" Prat asked concerned.

"Still in Jadoor for all we know," Lukas said dismissively.

"But sir... Jadoor is made up of religious fanatics... it is rumored that their church has armed hundreds of thousands of men and woman. My question is why have we not faced them... except at Eb that is?"

"What are you suggesting?" Lukas asked peevishly. With his failure at Eb, Lukas was sure that the other Field Marshals doubted his leadership and might attempt to remove him if they knew of a viable replacement... a man such as Prat.

"Sir, right now we only have 70,000 Centurion on the field of battle here on the mainland and, while we have conquered three kingdoms already, it was mostly without the resistance we had expected. My question is... when is the enemy going to strike its own hammer blow?"

"And do you have an answer?" Lukas asked impatiently.

"My brother Aegis does, sir." Prat nodded to the commander standing next to him.

"So tell me, Commander...what is the enemy planning?"

"Sir, by looking at the map, my guess is that the Jadoorians have already moved their armies from their home island and are based in Draktor and Gladmore."

"Why so far north... we have not even invaded Uul or the Rapa States?" Lukas asked, "Can it be possible that Jadoor is too scared to face us in open battle?"

"I do not think so, sir."

"Then why are they not defending their allies?"

"Sir... Uul and the Rapa States are basically made up of empty plains. There is no way to defend such territory without spending a lot of time building forts which neither they nor we have had time for."

"Your point being?"

"My point, Field Marshal, is that they can't defend such lands from us."

"That is my point exactly! They are too scared to face us."

"Or they might be too smart," Prat argued, receiving a fast armored blow from Lukas.

"Insolence... I will not have insolence in my army!"

"Sir, if you will please listen..." Aegis begged as he tried to help his brother up from being on his armored back like an upside down turtle.

"I have heard enough... it is quite clear to me now what the two of you want. You think I rushed into things at Eb, well, I might have. That does not mean you stop chasing the enemy when you have him on the run. Now you will go back to your Legions and prepare them to march... Uul is waiting for us and general... I demand you follow MY

plans to the letter. Do I make myself clear?" General Prat was just able to give a nod of the head when Lukas

stormed out.

"He is going to get us all killed," Aegis spat once the Field Marshal was gone. "Word from Eb is that the Famulus rowers revolted and escaped with most of the ships. They must have known Lukas had given Admiral Urrak permission to slaughter them to save on rations"

"Hush your voice... he is still our Field Marshal," Prat scolded his younger brother. "It is true, I was in the command tent when the message reach Lukas. The rowers might have betrayed us, or they might not have. I know for a fact that none of the supply ships were taken."

"So, all they were trying to do was save their own lives. Maybe we should heed their actions and do the same. If you want my opinion..." Aegis said before being cut off by his brother.

"I do... but not when it comes to insulting a superior officer," Prat said before storming out after Lukas.

"So be it... but if you end up dead, don't look to me for blame," Aegis grunted before following.

Chapter Twelve:

Honor and Revenge

It was in Horst's class that Jason received the first of his marks... Passing out small slips of paper, Horst dared to spit on Jason's before handing it to him.

Written on it to Jason's shock was the mark of zero, crossed out and replaced with a five, the top mark one could get. Stamped over the mark was the sigil of the sickle and the shield, the family mark of Commandant Oktor."

Showing it to Kristen, Jason received a rewarding smile in return.

"Well, I hope you know that you did not earn that mark... only a slutty boy like you could seduce the Commandant into giving you such high marks."

On those words passing Horst's lips, Kristen's fist flew and hit the Academic right below the jaw.

Once he had recovered from the blow, Horst's face went red with anger. "Traitorous Famulus... I will have your head for this!"

"I would like to see you take it... are you sure that my master will not challenge you to the ring to stop you?"

"I've read the law... a student may not challenge his teacher. No, my dear Famulus... your head is mine!" "Is that not for me to decide?" Oktor stepped in looking fairly

angry at both Jason and Horst." "Famulus... you will be flogged before

the rest of your kind tomorrow at dawn. Horst... you are now under suspension. Academic Landis will take over your class while you serve

in the Famulus quarters. Jason... to my office... at once!"

Sullen faced, Jason left his desk and followed the Commandant out of the classroom to the top floor of the Cube... He was led to one of the corner rooms. Inside there was no desk, or chairs, just straw mats, pillows and a low table.

"Please sit," Oktor said, more calmly than he had in the classroom.

Jason sat on one of the large pillows and waited with apprehension as Oktor sat across the table from him.

"When I learned you would be joining the Academy, I knew that things here would change, and for the most part that change has been good. What I do not like, however, is the aura of chaos that seems to surround you."

"But..." Jason tried to protest. He did not know what he had done wrong this time."

"Jason... I am not saying all the things that happen around you are your fault, but you are a nexus... when people come in contact with you the very path of their lives changes."

"I'm sorry..."

"I know you are," Oktor said with some sympathy. "I am also sorry for hurting all those other students." "That you should. I know that Alex is your deepest friend and

that he has been helping you master the staff, but you are making the

same mistakes he makes." "But Alex never loses."

"That's right... and that is because he always fights as if his honor is at stake. When you spar with a person you don't have to fight as if you are about to be murdered... That is what the teachers are for... to see that no one gets hurt. Varrus, though, has been allowing you to lose control. Do you know what has always happened when you lose control?"

"Someone gets hurt," Jason said guiltily.

"Correct... so no more dueling... understand? Everyone already knows you are the best. You send any more Legatio to the healers, people are going to think you are as crazed as Alex is."

"Alex is not crazed."

"Oh yes he is... and that worries me."

"How can you say that... he is one of your best students?"

"Only because he is obsessed with being the best in everything. Best in academics, besting our own teachers in combat, and wanting the best bond-mate, or have you not noticed?!"

"Who is the best bond-mate?"

"That would be you, my troublesome Legatio. Not that already half the Centurions in the Academy want to bond to you, but Alex has already gotten into several duels to make sure that none but he and Gideon can get close to you."

"I didn't know."

"I thought so," Oktor nodded.

"But why me... I am a horrible person... My mother hated me; Melissa died because of me. I even hurt people..."

"Jason... you have consumed too much anima in such a short time. It is understandable if you are confused. You are, and always will be, a Legatio... inside where it counts. But your body - and sometimes your thoughts - are very much like a Centurion's. You will one day have to decide if ‘acting' like a Centurion is worth the emotional pain it will cause you when you fail at being one. Not to mention placing your very life at risk. Why do you think Centurions wear white when they

are not dressed for battle, while Legatio always wear red?" "I don't know..." Jason admitted.

Oktor took in a deep breath before replying. There was so much

that Jason just did not understand. "Centurions wear white when not

on duty as a sign of peace... so long as a Centurion wears white he is

committing himself to make no act of violence... to shed no blood."

"And Legatio?" "Legatio... well you know too well what happens when a Legatio

bleeds. The flow of blood does not stop unless anima or Centurion

bone is used to stop it. Legatio wear red to serve as a reminder of their fatal weakness. You, on the other hand, seem to use it to cover up your

injuries." Oktor laughed.

"I try not to get hurt."

"I know... it is your desire to be a Centurion that's causing this problem. A Legatio who tries to pretend to be a Centurion never lives long."

"But... I want to be a Centurion." "Jason... you are a Legatio. One day you will begin having wives

and dozens of Centurion children of your own. You can't get caught up

in this play acting you have taken on."

"I understand." Jason nodded, but left feeling heart broken. Not since the tower had someone told him what he could not do. It was hard to admit, but he had become spoiled, not to the extent that most Legatio were... but spoiled all the same. "I am sorry if my behavior has been dishonorable."

"Don't worry about honor Jason... I know you have a good heart and a clever mind so put them to good use. Now hurry on... I don't

want to make you late for your arithmetic class." "Yes Commandant." Jason nodded as he stood up to leave.

"Goodbye, Jason." Oktor waved, turning his attention to a letter from the Senate. For days now they had demanded that Jason be brought under control, with threats of a trial of expulsion if his behavior did not improve. Such interference in the management of the Academy so enraged Oktor that, once Jason was gone, he tore up the letter, including the Imperial Senate seal, a crime in and of itself.

"Damn if I let those bastards have the boy!"


At lunch Jason met up with Alex and Gideon at their regular spot on the Centurion side of the mess hall. "Can you fail out of the Academy?" Jason sighed. In history and arithmetic he had received barely passing marks.

"Only if you fail every course... which means you have nothing to fear." Alex laughed.


"Do you really think Varrus or Oktor will fail you... you're their

best student." Gideon grinned. "I, on the other hand, am barely passing

any of my courses but fencing."

"What about you, Alex?"

"I earned top marks in all my classes but the one that counts," Alex pouted.

"Dueling?" Gideon laughed.

"Yes... can you believe that Instructor Lorin took three points off my marks for winning too often?"

Jason... now aware of Alex's obsession to win, was not so

surprised... in fact it worried him. "Did you hurt anyone?"

"If I did it was their fault... I mean am I to blame if they can't defend themselves," Alex said a little too arrogantly.

"But you never have hurt me."

"Of course... you are a Legatio."

"That does not make it right," Jason said, becoming more upset.

"What's not right?" Alex asked confused, while Gideon looked


"I don't like you hurting people!" Jason shouted at the top of his

voice, before running the away from the table.

"Well now you've done it," Gideon groaned.

"Done what?" Alex asked, now mad himself.

"Oktor told me he was going to talk to Jason about his dueling..."


"Well, don't you think Jason has been a little too aggressive... like you are?"

"Not our fault."

"You might feel that way, but I am not sure Jason does," Gideon said before standing up and leaving. Before Alex knew it, he was sitting all alone, his anger fuming.

Chapter Thirteen:

Trouble Comes in Threes

Out of all the students in his staff class, Jason was the only one

to whom Varrus gave top marks. He loved his Legatio student. Jason

always listened, was eager to learn, and was a natural with the staff. In a matter of weeks Varrus was able to move Jason from his wooden practice staff to using the iron-shod dueling staff all the time. Since

none of the Legatio students ever caught up to Jason, the only person

he sparred with was Varrus, which suited both just fine.

"Very good, Jason!" Varrus grinned as he was forced close to the edge of the ring.

"You are only letting me win!" Jason laughed as he stepped back to give Varrus more room.

"I am giving you a challenging opponent for someone of your skill!" Varrus grinned.

"Well, make him more challenging!" Jason dared.

"You asked for it," Varrus replied, right before making a series of overwhelming attacks forcing Jason out of the ring. "Challenging enough for you?"

"Yes!" Jason said, eagerly jumping back in. "Alright... let me just lower it a notch. I want you to stand a chance." Varrus snickered. Soon the two were sparring again, Varrus throwing a series of

heavy attacks, which he was sure would push Jason back. They didn't. Jason was able to hold on... if only barely, and made a few attacks of his own. It was all going well, until they tried to attack at the same time,

their staves slamming against each other to the sound of cracking wood

with Jason falling down, holding the broken staff.

"Jason, are you alright!" Varrus asked worried, afraid that the sound was of the breaking of bone.

"Yes..." Jason said as he let go of the cracked staff. "I guess I

used too much force." "Hahahahaha... you really did," Varrus agreed. "If you can

swing hard enough to break a staff I think we need to move you up to

a heavier one." Varrus grinned, holding his own custom-made steel-

plated staff. "He has one!" Philip's voice boomed from the third floor


"He does?" Varrus said, surprised, over the shouting of his other students.

"It's here?" Jason asked eagerly, remembering the special staff

Logan the weapons smith promised to make for him.

"Yes... weapons master Logan finally finished it. It came with today's supply train," Philip replied.

"Yes!" Jason shouted.

"You have a Logan-made staff?" Varrus said, impressed. "We went to his shop just before coming to school here," Jason

explained as he headed toward the stairs to meet Philip.

Meeting on the second floor, Philip handed Jason a long, dark, polished wood case. Jason opened it to find a six-foot-long steel-plated staff, leafed in gold. It was carved to look like a well-lined oak branch. When Jason took it out and held it in his hands he was amazed that he was able to grab it firmly. He then moved his hands to the middle of the staff finding that it had perfect balance.

"It is beautiful workmanship." Philip smiled, his eyes sparkling

from the reflection of the gold. "It's perfect," Jason agreed.

"Want to bring it down and give it a try?" Varrus yelled from below them.

"I want to do the hundred exercises with it first!" Jason called back. He had learned all one hundred exercises of a staff master... he just had not done them all at once as required to earn the rank of master.

"Class is almost over and I don't want to earn Academic Melkior's wrath. How about after dinner? Then the commandant and

the other Centurion teachers can watch," Varrus recommended. "Alright," Jason said... he felt nervous knowing that the

Centurion teachers would watch his attempt at finishing the one

hundred exercises.


It was a nervousness that lasted into his class with Melkior.

"What is wrong, lad... you've not said a word all day." "I'm going to try and earn my staff mark today," Jason said


"And you were not going to tell me?" Melkior laughed.

"..." Jason only blushed.

"Oh, I see you are afraid of embarrassing yourself. Well, let me show you something," Melkior said as he got up from his chair, tossing off his cloak. He then slowly took off his shirt revealing a pale and frail body. When he turned his back to Jason, Jason saw that his back was covered with tattoos, including the mark of a staff master.

"You never told me you also had Centurion marks," Jason said amazed as he got up from his chair and moved closer so he could see

the marks better. "I thought I was the only one." "You never asked." Melkior chuckled. "You didn't think you

were the only Legatio to have earned the marks, did you?"

"From what everyone's been telling me, I thought so." "Well you're not. All the first Legatio earnedmarks, but

eventually accidents became too common. Too many Legatio wanted to master the sword... something that resulted in many of them dying. Then many of the older Legatio began to feel they were superior to

their Centurion cousins... They saw the tattoos as something to be

embarrassed about. When the Centurion father dies, the Legatio child

moves into an old Legatio's household, just like Felix did. The Legatio

guardians put pressure on their charges not to get the marks even if they earned them. Within a few centuries no Legatio child allowed himself to be marked."

"I see. Things are changing now though."

"Yes, and you're the one responsible for a lot of it," Melkior said

in a warning tone.

"I know, the Legatio don't like what I am doing, but it makes the Centurions happy."

"Yes it does... you have become very special to them, but it has also earned you enemies. You do know that?"

"I know the teachers give me a lot of extra work because I have Centurion friends."

"That's nothing... it is the senators you have to worry about. With your popularity I would not be surprised if the Centurions don't try to elect you as head of the Senate. There are many senators who would not like that."

"I know someone wants to kill me."

"Yes, I've talked to Caleb about it," Melkior sighed. "I don't

know who wants you dead, but I am sure it has to be a Legatio Senator

and a powerful one."

"There can only be a few that powerful," Jason realized.

"Yes." Melkior grinned, happy that Jason could see that.

"You don't know, but you have a guess?" "I do," Melkior replied, returning to his seat without putting his

robe back on.

"Who?" Jason asked, wanting to put a name to his foe.

"Who would want you dead and has enough power and influence to get away with it? The only person I know who fits that

description is Senator Perils." "But why?"

"Well, you did beat Felix... Perils is the boy's guardian and had big hopes for him. Your humiliating Felix damaged those plans. You are also good friends with Alex... the boy who made his son Gideon a cripple. Finally, there are only two things Legatio senators respect, money and influence. Perils is rich in both. In fact, there is only one person who can threaten him in those areas. Do you know who that person is?" Melkior said, pointing a finger as he gave each reason.

"Me..." Jason whispered, his heat pounding in his chest.

"Yes... you."

"How is he going to kill me?" Jason asked, afraid of the answer.

"Well, right now Perils believes Caleb will do the deed... triggering a war with the Eastern Confederation," Melkior said,stopping when he saw Jason's worry. "Don't worry Jason, Caleb will

not kill you. He has his own goals, goals that require that you live, at

least for now."

"What does he want of me?"

The ancient academic leaned forward on his desk. "He wants to help you rule Qul Tos and bring it to new glory... that is what he wants."

"Will I ever go back to Qul Tos?" Jason asked, nervously.

"One day you will... you are the king," Melkior pointed out.

"I don't know if I ever want to go back there," Jason stammered before continuing. "I don't have any happy memories of my home. Domus is my home now."

"That only means you need to go back. You need to face those memories and conquer them. In the last message Caleb received from the master of the Legatio baths, he has been told to hold off killing you, at least for now. With a third of the Western Army trapped on the island of Eb, Horace's employer is not eager to start another war. Still, Field Marshal Darius is keeping a close eye eastward and is very busy trying to seal a peace agreement with the Confederacy. If he is successful, he and the Eastern Army will return to Domus where they can influence the government. I am sure Senator Perils would not like that."

Jason did not understand why the senator would not want Darius in Domus. "Why would that be bad?"

"Because the Eastern Army follows the old traditions while the Home Guard is more loyal to their pockets and the Senate than the empire. They and Field Marshal Xavier are nothing more than puppets of Perils. My guess is that Perils wanted both the Eastern and Western Field Marshals out of the capital fighting wars. That would make the Senate and Xavier supreme, able to pass any laws they wanted, including closing the Gate to Domus. They could even order the deaths of the other two Field Marshals on some trumped up charge of treason."

"But their men would never allow that?"

"Yes it would mean civil war," Melkior agreed. "With control of the mountains on Domus' border, the Home Guard can withstand any siege. Perils knows he only has to survive a dozen years for the Eastern and Western armies to die out. He would then be supreme."

"How can we stop him?" Jason asked.

"What is this about ‘we'?" Melkior laughed. "You are already in

enough trouble as it is, my boy."

"But I want to help."

"The best way you can do that is to keep your nose clean." Melkior then leaned over his desk to whisper. "No one but the teachers know this so I don't want you to go tell your partners in crime..."

"Partners in crime?" Jason asked as he leaned forward to hear


"Alex and Gideon of course. I think you would get into a lot

less trouble if those two clowns were not putting ideas into your head."

Melkior chuckled.

"They are my friends," Jason pouted.

"Yes I know. Still, they get you into enough trouble as is. Do I have to remind you of your last two duals?"

"They told me that those two Legatio were beating up one of my friends."

"And now both of them are with the healer."

"They are getting better."

"Like Felix?" "..." Jason gulped guiltily.

Chapter Fourteen:

One Risk Too Great

"The Senate is sending a delegation to investigate these injuries. It is more about an attempt to have the Commandant removed than you. We have had to use more Centurion bone this year than we have had to in ten years... thanks to you." Melkior said as he put his shirt back on.

"It's not my fault none of them can fight."

"I know, but if those two friends of your keep on pushing you to fight so hard only trouble and heartache will result. You must hold yourself back from injuring your fellow Legatio. You are a good fighter Jason, but you still lack the control that a true weapons master has."

"Like Varrus?" Jason said, remembering how his mentor always held back.

"Yes, after you've earned your weapons mastery mark, you

should try sparring more with your fellow Legatio instead of Varrus all

the time. See if you can gain some control over yourself."

"Alright..." Jason pouted.

"When the investigators come, they will want to interview you. Make sure you don't act like some bloodthirsty Centurion."

"They are not bloodthirsty."

"Oh yes they are. Centurions love to kill. They wouldn't have their backs covered in marks if they didn't. You seem to enjoy your

victories as well young student." "You also have a lot of them," Jason pointed out.

"Yes, I was a little rambunctious in my youth... But look at my father, he was the first Field Marshal."

Realizing he was standing before one of the founders of Domus,

Jason's head filled with questions. "How did the Centurions and Legatio

come into existence?" "That is a secret my father took to his grave as did his lover,

Constantine, the first Speaker of the Senate."

"So no one knows...?" Jason said disappointed.

"The gods might know, but they are not talking to me." Melkior laughed.

"When are the Senators coming?"

"In three weeks. I have sent a letter to all three Field Marshals begging them to come to the Academy and put a stop to this nonsense. Xavier would have come even without the invitation. Darius, I hope, will see the danger the school is in and will come. Lukas, though, has his own problems. A third of his army is trapped on the island of Eb. The rest are being pressed hard near Gladmore... Jadoor is already moving its army to the mainland and will soon be able to counter our advances"

"Will we be forced to retreat?"

"Not if Lukas has anything to say about it. He has captured three kingdoms. Winter is fast approaching. If he can hold out until then, he will be safe until after the spring rains and the roads have dried out."

"What if Jadoor attacks during the winter."

"That would be suicide... the mountain passes are unreliable, a whole army can get trapped in them if a storm hits at the wrong time. In early spring the roads are nothing but mud... an army moving down them would be a perfect target for ambush. No... both the Western Army and Jadoor will have to wait until the roads dry in late spring before engaging each other."

"So we are safe."

"Yes... don't worry, Jason. Never has a Centurion army been

defeated." "No one thought the Labyrinth Tower could ever be taken," Jason reminded Melkior. "Yes, you are right... there is always a first time for everything," Melkior agreed before finally starting Jason's lesson.


Asking Oktor to be able to practice his staff during hand combat class, Jason followed Varrus into a wooded grove where the two could duel in private

Near the end of practice, Jason was still having problems with his jumps where he had to use his staff to pole vault toward the imaginary opponent. It took a lot of strength and speed to perform the move but, with his new staff, Jason found he was having more success at it.

Varrus watch his pupil with great interest... Jason had added to the muscles he had gained from Gorr's anima. He looked almost as strong as any of his Centurion students, only shorter and a little more slender.

Varrus was thinking of all this while Jason finished going through the last and most difficult of the hundred exercises. He watched as Jason planted his staff on the ground... jumping and flipping over it before lifting the staff over his head, bringing it down hard with a bang.

"Yes!" Varrus cheered, seeing Jason do the most challenging maneuver. He wanted to run over and hug his student but there were still seven more maneuvers left to finish the one hundredth exercise. Varrus waited while Jason spun the staff around his neck a few times, pole-vaulting followed by striking low in a crouched position. Jason then stood up and spun the staff around his waist, followed by an upper block, a lower block and finally back to the guard position, finishing the exercise. Jason held the pose as he tried to catch his breath. Then he felt two arms wrap around his waist, taking hold of his staff.

"That was beautiful," Varrus whispered into Jason's ear.

The rich timber of Varrus' voice sent a shiver down Jason's spine. He let Varrus take the staff out of his hands and drop it to the ground. He then leaned back falling against the Centurion's body. Jason could feel the hardness of Varrus' manhood pressing against his back, moving up and down it as Varrus thrust his hips back and forth. Soon Varrus' hands slipped down Jason's pants, running down his thighs. Varrus then pulled the young man's shirttail out and lifted it up. Jason responded by raising his arms up, letting Varrus take his shirt off. Varrus lowered Jason down on the cool grass before climbing on top of

Jason's body, their hard stomachs pressed against each other, giving off

red and blue light.

"Remember the first time I brought you here?" Varrus sighed as he ran his finger though Jason's hair.

"I remember each time perfectly." Jason moaned as his body continued to shudder with excitement.

"I don't know." Varrus smiled kissing the top of Jason's head.

"That is a lot to remember."

"It's been eight, eight times too few," Jason said, no force behind his words. He wanted to make love to Varrus. His body ached for it. Each time he had made love to Varrus his love for the Centurion grew that much stronger

"Jason... please." Varrus begged.

"I want this," Jason insisted, not stopping.

Varrus lowered his body down Jason's so he could look into Jason's eyes. His mouth was watering and some of it dripped onto Jason's face. To Varrus' surprise what fell on Jason face was bright blue... his anima fluid, coming forth once again for Jason.

Varrus pressed his lips against Jason's, letting his vital fluid pass to his student, his body taking on a blue glow. Soon Jason's body glowed purple, the two Anima's mixing together. In the process of their passions, both men ended up naked, their sex dripping. When their lips finally parted they entered into full lovemaking, kissing each other as they pressed their manhoods against their bodies.

Varrus lifted up Jason's legs, and began pushing inside him, the flow of anima in Jason's body blocking the pain of penetration. All Jason cared about was the feelings Varrus seemed to bring out of him... love... lust... longing.

Varrus pounded against Jason hard, not caring that doing so carried severe punishments. With the bond, Jason was now a part of him. As he made love to the Legatio he was making love to himself. At the same time Varrus reached the pinnacle of his passions, Jason reached it himself, his seed shooting over his chest. Exhausted, Varrus then collapsed on top of Jason, nuzzling his face against his student's.

Just as the two lovers were beginning to calm down an angry

voice startled the both of them. "Hope you enjoyed that." "Oktor!" Varrus said, panicked. He climbed off Jason to see the Commandant and two of the other teachers present.

"Consider yourself under arrest," Oktor said darkly as the two teachers took hold of Varrus.

"Please... Oktor... we both wanted it. I gave him my bond, you can't take him away from me."

"The law is the law... your punishment is clear... exile or death."

"No!" Jason cried. He ran over to Varrus and clung to him. The

fear in Jason's voice sent a shudder down Varrus' spine. "Jason, don't be scared. I'll be alright." Varrus said as he tried

to calm his student.

"No, you won't be," Jason cried.

"Yes I will... I accept exile. I will leave tonight." "You have nowhere to go," Jason insisted.

"Yes I do. I'll go to Qul Tos. You are their king. One day we will

meet again."

"Please no..." Jason replied as he took off his blue sapphire ring.

"Show the people this... it is part of the royal crown."

"No, Jason. I can't take that. Philip made that ring especially for you. You would hurt his feelings giving it away. Don't worry, I will get the Tosians to understand," Varrus said with a forced smile.

"I need you."

"And I will be waiting for you," Varrus smiled even while the other teachers started pulling him away. Varrus then turned his attention on Oktor. "I have one request."

"What is it?" the Commandant said in a tone that warned he was in no mood to grant requests.

"I beg that I be allowed to watch Jason's staff mastering ceremony."

"I will agree to it under one condition."


"That you be stripped of your marks."

After a moment of silence Varrus spoke. "I agree."

"Go on your knees," Oktor ordered.

Varrus went down to his knees but looked at Jason scared face. "Please, let Jason go before doing this."

"No... this is to also be his punishment as well," Oktor grunted as he took out a sharp knife.

"Please... don't let him see this," Varrus begged.

"No... hold him!" Oktor ordered. One of the teachers let go of Varrus and took a firm hold of Jason.

"Now don't move... I might cut too deep if you squirm," Oktor warned as he took the knife to Varrus' skin.

Jason watched in horror as Oktor cut the tattooed skin of both shoulders off. Varrus screamed in pain and eventually passed out. When done Oktor left a bloody mass of fat and tissue on the ground.

"He will die!" Jason screamed while trying to break free.

"No he won't," Oktor muttered as he cleaned his knife using

the grass.

Jason watched as Varrus' exposed flesh pulsated and new tissue

and skin slowly grew back. Oktor made Jason watch the hour-long

process as two masses of scar tissue grew where Varrus' marks had

been. Slowly and with a great deal of pain, Varrus stood back up,

brushing the grass off him.

"You are to go to the Famulus quarters and dress yourself in black... you are no longer a Centurion," Oktor said as he sheathed his knife.

Jason broke free of the other teacher's grip and ran to hug Varrus wrapping his arms around the staff master's neck and gave him a kiss. In that moment a single drop of red anima passed from Jason to Varrus' mouth. Varrus' eyes went wide as he was dragged away. He did not know what had just happened but it made getting skinned worth it.

Before entering the woods and losing sight of Jason, Varrus mouthed the words... I love you.


It was true what they said about the plains of Uul... to see

more than one tree in the kingdom in one's lifetime meant one was

truly blessed. General Prat, leading his legions across the empty plains became lax, expecting as his brother did that nothing would happen until they arrived at the border of Gladmore.

Riding next to his bond-mate Commander Zophar, General Prat

rode out ahead of his escort to see if he could indeed find a nice tree

under which he and his lover could be intimate with each other.

"You see one?" Prat asked his love.

"Yes I think I do... on the hill to the west." Zophar laughed.

In the far off distance they saw the branches of an elm tree, leafless, and alone on the shallow rocky soil of Uul. Riding towards it, Zophar saw a glint of metal just before the crossbow was fired, hitting

Prat right through the neck, killing him instantly. In shock Zophar did something he would regret for the rest

of his life... he abandoned his lover's fallen body, his warrior instincts

telling him that so long as he was in range of the sniper his own life was in danger.

Racing back to where the Legions were marching. Zophar sounded the alarm. As the General's lover Zophar found himself in the awkward position of commanding the legion.

Knowing that there had to be more than one sniper... Zophar ordered his scouts to do a wide search of the surrounding areas. "I want you to search north, south, east, and west. I want every tree burned to the ground, and I want the general's body brought back. That is your

duty, men!" Three hours later the scouts began to make their return. The

first was the team sent to recover Prat's body. With them they dragged

along the dead corpse of the sniper.

"He's a Jadoorian sir... a Templar knight by the look of his black

armor," the scout reported.

Jadoorians... so the enemy was not going to wait until the Centurion army reached the boarder of Gladmore, that must mean that they had superior numbers to overwhelm the thin lines Lukas had set up. "Order a full retreat!" Zophar ordered at nearly the same time Aegis came forward to see his dead brother.

Aegis did not say a word but went directly to Prat's body, and taking his dead left hand pulled off the ring Zophar had given the General on the day of their bonding. He then placed it on his own hand. Finally Aegis gave Zophar a look that dared him to challenge what he had just done.

Going down on one knee Zophar bowed his head, "Your

brother's death was my fault... I should have protected him."

"My brother was a good man but a fool. With me as your bond-mate I promise to bring an end to all this stupidity.

"What would you have me do?"

"Retreat back to Yelding and the safety of the hills... save the lives of our men. Do these things, and I will love you." Aegis swore.

"Just as you always have..." Zophar said under his breath, triggering sad smiles on both men's faces.

Chapter Fifteen:

The Grau

The ceremony was very solemn... Jason looked into the audience and saw all of his friends and teachers watching... even a few of his Legatio ones. Alex, Philip, and Gideon sat in the front row where tradition held that his mentor should have sat. Jason tried to find Varrus but he could not see him. Not wanting to start without his staff master, Jason waited in still silence, dozens of eyes on him.

It took Philip walking up to him to get Jason out of his daze. "Jason... you need to start."

"I won't without Varrus." "He's here, Jason, you just can't see him?"

"Where is he?"

"Up there on the tenth floor balcony." Philip pointed up. "I can't see him," Jason said looking up into the darkness.

"He can see you." Philip grinned. "I believe you..." "So can you do this?"

"Yes I can... I'll be alright." Jason nodded. "I know you will, little one." Philip smiled, giving Jason a kiss on his forehead before leaving him.

After Philip went back to his seat, Jason took a deep breath...

looked up into the darkness looking one last time for Varrus. Not

finding him, Jason had to take Philip at his word. Jason then began the

hundred exercises.

One by one Jason went through all the moves, just as Philip and

Varrus had taught him. One hour passed and then a second... Into the

third and final hour. Sweat soaked the white shirt Jason was wearing, and he was getting weary while his fingers ached from holding the staff for so long, but he did finally finish. When he entered the final

guard position, his heart was pounding almost out of his chest, his eyes burning from drops of sweat. Breathing deeply, it was all Jason could do to not fall over from dizziness.

Jason did not know what he had expected when he finished but the dead silence did surprise him. He started to think he had made a mistake... that he had not done well enough and everyone was too embarrassed to tell him so. But then, two guards walked onto the platform, holding a wooden bench between them, placed it behind Jason. Philip, now staff master at the Academy came onto the stage taking the staff away from Jason. He handed it to one of the guards before going back to Jason and peeling off his shirt. Philip then guided

Jason to lie down on the bench on his stomach. Jason now knew what they were doing... as a bucket of cold

water was tossed onto his hot sweaty back. He could see the tattoo artist walk onto the platform waiting for Jason to be dried off.

It seemed that Centurions did not waste time in tattooing those who had just earned a mark. Already Jason had his first blood, first duel, and five duel victory marks on his back. Now the tattoo artist was drawing what would be the staff mastery mark onto Jason's skin, two staves, crossed together inside a ring decorated with scrollwork.

It took two hours of intense labor for the artist to finish. When done, Jason was splashed down again with water, dried off and the tattoo covered with a paste of Centurion bone. Then, each of the Centurion teachers came by and kissed the new mark on Jason's back.

Only when all of them were done did Philip lift Jason off the

bench. "Come home with me... we need to talk." "Alright..." Jason said nervously as he was led away into the

cool night air, scared by the serious tone in his guardian's voice.

"Did Varrus seduce you, Jason," Philip asked as they walked alone. "No..."

"Because he has a reputation of doing that... with the older students and teachers that is," Philip replied as the two walked together.

"I wanted to have sex with him. I guess it is something I wanted

the first time I saw him," Jason tried to explain.

Philip stopped walking and waited until Jason was looking at him, only the stars of the moonless night allowing both of them to see the shadow of each others' faces. "He is in serious trouble. You might never see him again."

"I know... I wish we never did it, but at the same time I'm glad

we did. Alex and Gideon..."

"I know. Varrus is the first experienced man you've ever been with," Philip whispered with regret, remembering Varrus' words to him.

When they arrived, Jason was so tired that Erik insisted he go straight to bed, not even taking a bath. While Philip dined on roast lamb and potatoes, Jason was led upstairs to the bedroom. Erik then took out his special ointment and massaged it into Jason's body, numbing the young man into sleep. Erik then collected another blood sample, pocketing it within seconds before Philip appeared.

"You can go now... I will watch over him." Philip yawned.

"As you wish... be careful, he is very tired."

"Don't worry I plan to take it easy with him." "Goodnight then, master." Erik bowed as he left.


Once Erik saw the lamplight go out in Philip's bedroom, he put on his black cloak and left the house into the night. As he walked down the stone streets he saw a cart heading toward the waterfall gateway. In the back of it was Varrus, dressed in a similar black robe.

On seeing Erik he waved and shouted. "Tell Jason I will wait for him in Qul Tos."

"I will," Erik shouted back.

Erik would not have minded taking a blood sample from Varrus but another of his fellow Grau would have to take care of that. Right now he had a delivery to make. He traveled deep into the forest... past the glen where Jason and Varrus had made love to a deep valley free of the pine trees of the surrounding region. There he took out six short torches and lit them but instead of glowing red and yellow, an intense blue light was released. Once Erik had made a circle of these lights he waited.

Around two in the morning a great wind picked up. Erik, who had been sleeping, stood up and waved his hands into the sky. The roaring wind grew louder and louder, nearly ripping out the nearby small bushes from the ground. Then, just as the wind reached its strongest, two bright white lights beamed down on Erik blinding him. By the time Erik recovered his sight he saw two men dressed in green uniforms. "Do you have the sample?" one of them asked in a harsh voice.

"Yes." Erik bowed as he took out the vial containing Jason's blood.

"Good... here are more sample vials and the medicine you asked for," the uniformed redheaded man said in a less stern voice."

"Thank you. Can I ask how the first sample turned out?"

"No you may not," the man who had not spoken yet said. "You only need to know what the Dominus want you to know."

"Yes...of course," Erik meekly bowed.

"Do you have anything else to report?" the first man asked Erik.

"There was an incident... the boy and one of the teachers were caught bonding."

"Do you have a blood sample from the teacher?"

"No... he was under guard and being sent into exile outside of the empire."

"Fine... we will have to find another Grau to track him down. Do you know where he is heading?"

"Yes... the ruined city of Qul Tos."

"Excellent... we have three agents in the region and have received reports that people have already started moving back into the ruins. It will not be hard to find the exiled Centurion. Good job, Erik... the Dominus will receive a favorable report."

"Thank you," Erik groveled again.

"We will be back soon."

"I will be here." Eric bowed.

The two men in green then left. The two white lights disappeared just as the wind picked up again, forcing Eric to close his eyes to avoid the dust. He did not open them again until the wind was gone.

His mission complete, Erik picked up the remains of the six blue torches and buried them in a shallow hole he scrapped with his bare hands. With the coming of winter he would soon need to bring a shovel to break what the hard ground, but that time had yet not come.

With his hands and robes covered with dirt, Erik made his

way back to the Academy, arriving at Philip's house an hour before

dawn. Eric then took a quick bath and changed into fresh clothes before starting breakfast.

Soon Philip was downstairs getting ready to take the Centurion

youths out for their morning exercises. He saw that Erik looked tired

and worn as if he had not gotten much sleep but he shrugged it off, thinking Erik must have joined his fellow Famulus for a midnight

tryst. He never suspected that Erik had been out doing things that were beyond his understanding.


"So that was Erik," Thomas said chuckling from the tree he was hidden in. Ever since he had found himself aboard what had become locally known as a zephyr his eyes had been wide with excitement as he had watched the ground below him turn from a reddish-brown to a shallow sea until they finally stopped at the barrier... the barrier that separated the wastes of Mordel from the living lands of Ares. There the

zephyr had been forced to land, not able to cross the field. After being stripped of all metal, Thomas had walked through

the shield. He knew he should not feel a thing but still Thomas believed he sensed a tingling sensation. Once across the barrier, he found another zephyr waiting to take him and the small furry package he carried the rest of the way to Domus.

There, while the other Grau, Erik, was blinded by the lights of

the aircraft, Thomas had dropped off the other side of the craft, running

into the forest with his package. He did not know why Erik was not to know of his presence, only that it was the will of the Dominus. Not

even a Grau, The Dominus' most favored servants, dared question

them. Now all Thomas had to do was wait for a chance to deliver the package to Jason.

He did not have to wait long.







The day after Jason earned his master's mark, the staff class was

taught by one of the older Centurion students instead of Varrus. It was

then that it finally hit Jason that his teacher was not ever coming back.

With tears running down his face, he ran away from class and into the woods where he and Varrus had made love.

"Why!" Jason shouted. "Why does everyone I love have to leave me?"

Falling onto the ground where Varrus' blood still stained the grass, Jason curled up into a ball and continued to cry. Wishing that all that had happened had only been another of his nightmare.

Jason did not know how long he was like that, only that the sun had set when he was brought back to reality by the feel of a wet tongue on his ear. Turning his head to face its source... Jason was surprised to find a small grey wolf pup staring at him with yellow eyes.

The animal looked so cute, pawing it's snout that Jason could not help but let his lips form the first smile he had all day. "Hello."

The wolf pup formed a smile with his lips, its tongue hanging

out as it jumped over to lick Jason's face.

"Hey... stop that!" Jason laughed.

As soon as Jason said those words the wolf stopped, and began to whimper, its head hanging low.

Thinking that he had hurt the wolf's feelings, Jason quickly apologized. "I'm sorry... but your licks were tickling me."

The pup still looked sullen and began to walk away.

"Oh no you don't," Jason said as he jumped to grab the wolf only to miss and land hard on his face. Before Jason had a chance to recover, the pup was on top of him licking the back of his neck.

Laughing as the wet tongue continued to tickle him Jason rolled over and took hold of the wolf. "I love you." Jason grinned, not knowing the reason why.

At that moment... Jason heard his name being called. Standing up with the wolf pup in his hands, he saw torch lights moving in his direction.

"Jason!" Philip's voice rang once he came in sight of his charge.

"Philip, look what I found!" Jason laughed as he held up the wolf.

"Jason put that animal down before its mother shows up!" Kirsten said, panicked. "But ..." Jason protested.

"Jason, don't look at me like that. King or no king, you can't

have a wild animal as a pet," Philip said.

On hearing that the wolf jumped out of Jason's arms and ran over to Philip where it tried to bite the Centurion's heels. Philip, not one bit amused, picked up the wolf by the scruff of its neck and held it, giving it a hard look. "Jason, you can't have a..."

"Yes he can!" Erik spoke up from behind. "What an adorable

little creature the boy has found."

"Erik, this is not your place to argue with me!"

"But look how cute it is!" Erik grinned as he petted the gray

furry animal.

Between licking Erik's hand and trying to bite off Philip's nose, the rest of the search party had a good laugh at Philip's expense. It seemed that the animal was friendly to everyone but Philip, which annoyed the Centurion greatly.

"Well, I say if the boy wants a wolf for a pet... let him try," Oktor spoke up.

"I am not letting that animal near my house!" Philip insisted, just as he dropped the pup when it succeeded in biting a finger. The pup then ran right to Jason, jumped in the air and landed in the Legatio's

arms. "What are you going to name him?" Erik asked.

"I don't know what kind of name the pup would like."

"Let me have a look at him..." Erik said, picking the wolf up from Jason's arms. "Well first of all, it is a he... so you better not give him a girl's name."

"So we will give him a boy's name?" Jason asked, curious.

"Yes... or you could name him by his appearance."

"I could call him Gray... he is a gray wolf," Jason suggested, only to hear a whimper from the wolf."

"No... I don't think that the pup likes that name... think of another one."

"What is the name of this forest?" Jason asked.

"Why, it is the Jacobite Woods."

"Then can I name him Jacob so I can remember where we first

met?" On hearing the name Jacob, the wolf let out a happy bark, jumped out of Erik's hands and back into Jason's.

"Yes... I think Jacob would be a good name for him." Erik grinned.

"Uhmmm, Erik... the Jacobite woods are said to be haunted?" Philip pointed out.

"Oh hush... it is a good name," Erik pouted. He did not know how or why one of the Dalf was here, and with Jason, but he did not think it was an accident. Not when the great barrier stood between here and Mordel, homeland of both Grau and Dalf.

That night, though neither Alex, Gideon nor Philip were in his bed... Jason slept contently while basking in the unconditional love of the wolf pup which only wanted his love in return.

Monitoring the situation was Thomas. Miles away, he had looked on with a smile as the Dalf had been taken into the Academy and directly to Jason's room.

Chapter Sixteen:

Closing the Trap

A Jadoorian Hymn:

Praise... sing her praise! Praise the Mother who gave birth to us all.

Extol, Extol! Extol the Mother who protects us all

Bow down, bow down! Bow down to the light and warmth of her soul

Her sons, her sons! Her sons, High Priest and King they rule us all

High Priest, High Priest High Priest guides us in worship and singing

High King, High King, High King, rules Jadoor and over the seas

Praise... sing her praise! Praise the Mother who gave birth to us all.



Unlike the poetry and songs of Domus, Jadoorian poems rely heavily on syllable patterns... in this case 4-10. Other patterns include 2-6-4, and 7-3. The first and last lines are always repeated so that the song can be repeated over and over again as a chant, prayer beads often used to keep track.


"The Kingdom of Jadoor is a very peculiar place..." Melkior started to explain to Jason. "With the war going badly for the empire there is greater need to understand our enemy, for I have long believed that with understanding comes mastery."

"Is it not like the other kingdoms?" Jason asked as he looked at

a map showing the group of islands under Jadoor's control.

"No... far from it. Yes, they have a king, but he is only one of three leaders of their government. There is Aidan III, their king... High Priest Niles IX, and Prime Minister Diana, head of the Merchant's Guild. The king controls the Army, the High Priest the clerics and their religious fanatics, while the Merchant Guild controls the kingdom's purse strings.

"Who has the most power?" Jason asked.

"Well, like here in Domus... he who controls the sword controls the empire, which makes King Aidan the strongest. He also has the power to appoint the Prime Minister as long as a majority of the guild members accept his candidate. When the High Priest dies, the king can select his replacement but once made, he cannot remove him. As for the people, it helps that he is looked upon as a living god."

"A living god?" Jason said not understanding.

"Yes, it is a bunch of foolishness in my opinion but the people of Jadoor believe that their King and High Priest are reincarnations of two of their three main deities." Melkior laughed.

"Why do the people believe that?"

"Because that is what they are taught from the moment they are born. I must say it has been an effective tool in keeping down revolts. Why would the common folk rebel if it means they will be damned to hell for all eternity. As I said, foolishness."

"Who is the third god?"

"Goddess..." Melkior laughed. "Can you believe it... their chief god is a woman... The "Mother" they call her. The King and High Priest are supposed to be her offspring."

"When the king dies, though, how do they explain the new king calling himself a god?"

"I don't understand it as well as it is kept as a state secret. When the old king dies the crown prince goes to a sacred part of the temple and undergoes a special ceremony. Supposedly this ceremony infuses the new king with the spirit of the old one. I don't believe that really happens of course."

"Is that why they are winning the war... they have gods on their side? I thought the Centurions were the best army?"

"We are, but things are more complex than a single battle. The

Domus Empire has always been strong on land but not on sea. Most

of the Western Federation is made up of islands of different sizes and

importance. It would be considered treason if a Centurion said this, but

Field Marshal Lukas messed up in sending the whole fleet to capture a small and relatively insignificant target."

"Is that the only reason?" "No... we are also outnumbered 5 to 1... which would not make

much of a difference except we are fighting Jadoorian troops."

"Are they that good?" "No... they are that insane. First of all, they are all slaves. What

civilization would arm their servants? I don't have a clue. It would be

like us arming the Famulus and expect them to protect us Legatio and Centurions."

"Why don't the slaves revolt?"

"Because they are raised into believing it is their role to serve the King of Jadoor and the Church as slaves. The only free people in Jadoor are the royal family and the priests. Even the wealthiest merchant is considered a slave. Everyone is a slave except those who have earned

freedom through courage in battle. "So they fight us instead of their enslavers for their freedom?"

Jason asked, confused. "Yes... that insane."

Admiral James, head of the Jadoorian fleet trapping the

Centurion army on the Island of Eb, was bored. His only purpose being

to prevent the Centurions' on Eb from rejoining their comrades on the


The role of jailor did not fit well with the admiral's view of himself. He was famous for his daring attacks against Qopo pirates, not blockades. He would have been much happier if the Centurion fleet had tried to escape the blockade or, even better, King Aidan gave the order for him to sack the Domus main port city of Aquanos. As it was, his fleet had been cut down to three hundred ships, new ships coming in each week as replacements, to allow some to go back to port for rest and resupply.

Admiral James, though, did not have such pleasure. As commanding admiral he was forced to spend each boring week guarding the still wreckage-blocked harbor. After the Famulus had escaped with most of the Empires warships, the commanding Centurion, a man by the name Urrak, ordered most of his remaining warships to scuttle themselves at the mouth to the harbor. Now neither James's own ships or Urraks few remaining supply boats could enter or leave the harbor.

James had just laid himself down in his hammock, intending to take an afternoon's nap with one of his officers approached him. "Sir... we have a situation," Commander Kyle reported.

"What is it... another drunk sailor drowned falling off my ship?" James sighed.

"No sir... something more serious."

"What is it then?" James asked, trying to get out of the tangled net he had been lying in.

"The Centurions are about to put to sea."

"They are? That's wonderful. How soon until they clear the

wreckage from the mouth of the port?" "They are not trying to leave the harbor... they are trying to

launch their ships from the other side of the island," the officer said,

hoping not to insult his superior commander.

"And what are they trying to sail in... palm tree canoes?" James laughed.

"No sir... modified supply ships." "What do you mean, modified," James asked, suddenly getting

serious. "Sir, it might sound amazing but the Centurions are porting their supply ships over to the other side of the island."

"What?! Tell me. What did the patrol ship see?"

"The Captain was scanning the shore line as you ordered when he saw a movement in the forest that caught his eye. He moved his spyglass to see what it was, and was surprised to find it was the mast of a ship moving among the trees. I do not know how many ships they are trying to move but their purpose is clear... to reach the wide open beaches on the northern coast," Kyle explained.

"This could be a trick..." James mumbled to himself, but deep in his heart he knew that was unlikely. The time and effort to portage a few ships over five miles would be too costly for it not to be a serious attempt to escape the blockade. "Send the order to the fleet that all but fifty ships are to strike anchor. We need to go to the other side of the island and cut them off," James ordered, while reaching for his sword and hat.

"Yes sir." The officer saluted.

"Finally, a challenge," James chuckled. He looked down at a map of the island and saw that the other side was clear open beach, no choke points like here at the harbor. The Centurions could launch their fleet from anywhere on the 30 miles of coast. This was definitely going to be interesting.

His Majesty, Aidan III, wearing his white robe of state, strolled down the black marble halls of the Temple of the Mother, home of High Priest Niles, the thorn he had never been able to remove from his side. Walking with him was the Prime Minster Diana, the daughter of a former slave who had risen to become one of the wealthiest men in Jadoor. While older than the king, she was also Aidan's lover, something which had started as a seduction of convenience. Diana, needing Aidan's support to rise to the post of Prime Minster of the Merchant's Guild, gave him the funding the king required to wage his war against the Domus Empire. Right now though, both were worried about the growing independence of the High Priest, a man who had been selected by Aidan's father for his conservative views instead of his loyalty to the royal family.

At the doors to the High Priest's office, two Templar guards

stood watch in their black armor, holding a pair of sharp pikes. When Aidan and Diana approached, the guards clicked their heels, the metal of their armor making a loud banging sound that echoed down the stone hall. "Your majesty," one of them bowed.

"I am here to see Niles," Aidan said in a demanding voice, he

refused to rattle off the long list of the High Priest's titles. He had no

time for it.

"I'm sorry your Majesty... his Holiness is in conference with his


Aidan was about to draw his sword but was stopped by the much calmer Prime Minister. "Please inform his Holiness that we are at his door."

The guard looked like he thought hard about it, as if worried that his partner would not be able to handle the King and Prime Minister on his own, but seeing the angry look Aidan was giving him he relented and slipped into the High Priest's office. It was twenty minutes before the guard returned, followed by several of the Templar's highest officers. Finally after all had passed, the guard led the King and Prime Minister into the office of the High Priest. The room was decorated with thick black carpets and drapes. The desk of the High Priest was made of mahogany wood, twelve feet long and five feet wide. Behind the desk was a throne-like chair, leafed in gold with hundreds of black pearls embedded in it. On the wall behind the throne was a giant white marble statue of the Mother holding two infants in her slender arms, one white the other black. The High priest, though, was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is the bastard," Aidan smoldered... his anger rising.

"Don't worry, your majesty... he is most likely preparing for a grand entrance." Diana chuckled.

"We have no time for ceremony," Aidan said as he paced the room.

"Just sit down," the Prime Minster recommended as she sat herself on one of the black cushioned chairs.

"Fine!" Aidan pouted, dropping himself in the chair next to Diana... his arms crossed.

The two of them waited in silence for the High Priest. Diana then looked out the window toward the setting sun and moaned, just as the church bells rang... calling for mass. "He won't be coming anytime soon," she sighed.

"Oh yes he is, even if I have to drag him down from his pulpit to get him here," Aidan fumed as he got out of his chair and headed for the door.

Diana jumped out of the High Priests chair and grabbed Aidan's arm. "Wait, I have an idea"

"What," Aidan said impatiently.

"You know... we will not be disturbed for a good hour."


"So... when will we get another chance to have sex in the office

of the High Priest? We could even leave a surprise for him," Diana

smiled while eyeing the High Priest's throne-like chair.

Soon one of Diana's slender hands was down Aidan's pants, her fingers running down the king's sex. She stood on his toes as he reached over the chair to meet Aidan's lips, both with an arm wrapped around the backs of each other's necks. It did not take her long to bring the king to climax, letting his seed land on the black cushion of the throne.


After giving his closing blessing, Niles went to his private quarters and changed from the gold and black robes of the High Priest into the military uniform of Chief Commander of the Templar Guards, even strapping on a sword. Then, the sixty-year-old gangly man opened the private door to his office, steeling himself for the fight ahead.

There, waiting for him, not looking as impatient as he expected, were the king and Prime Minister. Both remaining in their seats, refusing to bow let alone stand in his presence.

"Glad you can join us," Aidan said sarcastically. "I have responsibilities to my flock your majesty. As High Priest

I must make sure that the Mother receives the respect due her."

"I'm very sure the Mother enjoys how you tell women that it is the husband's right to beat them."

"No woman is equal to the Mother... that is why they need their husbands to instruct them in humility, " Niles said as if giving another sermon.

"I disagree, but that is not why I am here. I want you to call your thugs back."

"The Templars are the holy defenders of the church and the loyal servants of the children of the Mother."

"You mean one of the Sons of the Mother," Aidan grunted.

"Unlike you, your majesty, I am not an abomination. The Templars follow me because they know that only I speak the will of the Mother," Niles said as he moved toward his chair.

"I will tell you again... call back your troops."

"No..." Niles said in what started off as a smirk but just at that moment he sat down on his throne and felt something cool and wet soak his tunic. He almost stood up to see what he had sat on but Niles knew he would look ridiculous doing so. "No... I will not call my army back. They are doing the will of the Mother, something not even you, your Majesty, can oppose."

Aidan held back a laugh, seeing the uncomfortable expression Niles' face took on. Only his hatred and anger at the High Priest's presumptive attitude kept him in check. "They are not doing the will of the Mother... they are only throwing away their lives to feed your ambitions! Sending them through the mountain passes this late in the year is suicide, one that my own armies will take no part in."

"I beg to differ... Tomorrow I will declare our war against the

Domus Empire a holy war... a great crusade to free the Famulus and

bring them the blessing of the Mother's teachings."

"You would not dare!" Aidan threatened. Such a declaration

would give Niles command of his armies. "You can't declare a holy war

without the approval of me or the Prime Minister."

This was the moment Niles had been waiting for as his face took on a sinister grin. "By tomorrow Diana will no longer be Prime Minister."

"What!" Diana said, jumping out of her chair.

"While you have been waiting here, the Merchant's Guild has gathered to have a vote of no confidence. I guarantee the Prime Minister

will lose that vote." "Still I get to choose any replacement."

"If you can find one who can receive a majority of the vote.

None will but my candidate. During the time you waste it will only

take a majority of the Guild to vote in my favor for them to declare a

holy war" Niles snickered. "Admit it... I control the merchants now. By

law, your majesty, you only have five days to pick a new Prime Minister who can pass a vote of confidence. If not, then the Guild will have the

right to pick a temporary minister... my minister." Aidan looked at Diana... the once cheerful woman already looked broken. "You will not get away with this!"

"I already have. The new prime minister will vote with me to declare a holy war. As High Priest I will become head of all Jadoorian forces, your majesty," Niles said with an insincere bow before

continuing. "You still need me to agree." Aidan pointed out.

"But you will your majesty. While waiting here in my office I was giving an important sermon."

"On what?" The king demanded.

"On the abominations that you and the faggots like you commit in our holy city," Niles spat.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Aidan insisted, reaching to take Diana's hands in his.

"Do you think me a fool your majesty? Yes it was quite clever of you to use the scandal of your relationship with the Prime Minister to hide your true crimes. Nothing escapes the eyes of the Mother however." Nile said in a chiding tone.

"So I sleep with both men and woman, why should you care?" Aidan demanded.

"In truth I don't care. It is the fact that our enemies, the Centurions, act in a similar manner that has given me the knife I now have placed against your throat."

"Must be a pretty dull knife," Aidan laughed.

"Tell that to the mob that is now rioting across the city, destroying those places where men like you lurk. Tell it to the Inquisitors who at this moment are arresting all your friends on charges of heresy. Now ask yourself my heirless king, would you prefer that I hand you over to the High Inquisitor or will you join the rest of your people in declaring our conflict with the Centurions for what it is, a holy war to free our people from the tyranny of Domus." Niles demanded, taking the declaration out of his desk and handing it to Aidan.

Only after Aidan had signed the document did Niles continue. "We will not wait until late spring to launch our counterattack. We will attack now when the Centurions will least expect it. At the same time, I will order the fleet to attack the port city of Aquanos, preventing the Centurion Home Guard from giving support to the Western Army. I have also sent a detachment of Templars disguised in Centurion armor to attack a few villages in the Eastern Confederacy. This will break up any peace deals between Domus and the East, adding a third front to the war. By attacking Domus on three sides, I am sure that within a year we will be at the gates of their capital."

Nodding, Aidan had to admit it was a daring plan. His goal had only been to beat the Centurions back so that during peace talks he could end the centuries of tribute the Western Federation had been forced to pay to Domus. At least few soldiers would have been lost his way. What the High Priest was aiming for instead was the outright defeat and conquest of the empire. It was a risky plan, with many chances to fail, and certain to cost tens of thousands of lives in the effort. There was only one thing he could do now, something none of his ancestor's had done in hundreds of years. He would have to speak to the gods directly and plead with them to act on his behalf.

Leaving Diana at the doors to the temple Aidan rode to the far western side of the great square where that the Temple of the Mother stood to the royal palace. Using four of his strongest servants he unlocked the ancient gold door that stood directly behind his throne, using the men to force the heavy door open with crowbars and ropes. With a torch in hand he walked down the stairs the door protected, deep down into the catacombs beneath the royal palace until he enter a large cavernous hall. On reaching the end he found himself standing in a triangle made up of three stone thrones. All were empty but one where a skeleton of a man dressed in the gray rags of what remained of his robe sat as if made of stone himself.

Going down on his knees Aidan prayed before the man for what felt like hours before the ancient man spoke. "Why have you disturbed my sleep Son of the Mother?" The man asked in a hoarse voice, his eyes opening to reveal two black opals.

"I seek your wisdom and blessing, First King of Jadoor."

"You came for that but five years ago King Aidan, third of that name, after your father died and you assumed the throne. What more can I give you?"

"High Priest Niles has declared a holy war against Domus."

"He will fail as your ancestors did thousands of years ago," the First King replied.

"Please Amplexor," Aidan begged, daring to speak the god's

forbidden name. "He has stripped me of my armies and most of my

power. It is only a matter of time before he tries to remove me as a

threat for good because of my debaucheries." "Debaucheries?" Amplexor ask with a hacking laugh. "It has been long since my eyes have seen such sights. What kinds of sin can the High Preist accuse you of that has frightened you so?"

"I sleep with men." Aidan whispered.

"What, say that again? A sin is not committed with such a timid

voice. Say what you have done with the same force by which you

committed your crime," Amplexor demanded, his voice now much stronger, standing halfway off his stone throne.

"I sleep with men!" Aidan this time shouted, his voice echoing throughout the catacombs.

"I thought so," Amplexor chuckled, sitting back down. "And you wish me to protect you from the High Priest's persecution?"

"Yes holiness," Aidan said, pressing his head down on the stone

cavern floor. After a long moment of silence Amplexor spoke, his voice this

time sounding very weary. "Bring me a Centurion and I will give you

my aid."

"A Centurion?" Aidan asked, confused.

"Yes," Amplexor said his black opal eyes closing, appearing once again to be nothing but a statue.

"A Centurion," Aidan sighed as he stood back up. He did not know how to go about finding a Centurion, at least one that would not want to kill him as well. There was also the matter of capturing the Centurion once found. Most Centurions would rather take their own lives than be made a prisoner. As he made his way out of the catacombs Aidan became infuriated. The Son of the Mother was supposed to help the Kings of Jadoor in their time of need. Amplexor might as well have asked him to go to the Temple and cut Niles head off. That would have been a far easier and more obvious solution to his problem than trying to cage a Centurion. Still, his god had spoken. Tomorrow he would leave for the port city of Koor and take a ship to Gladmore. If he was going to find a Centurion he hoped he could find one who had already been taken prisoner... if there were any that is.

Chapter Seventeen:

The Storm of Injustice

With Jacob helping replace the hole left in his heart by Varrus's exile, Jason found he had a new best friend...though a troublesome one.

"Jason Argot... you will remove that filthy creature from my

classroom at once!" Horst demanded when once again Jacob had found

some way to slip inside the classroom and jump on Jason's desk. "I'm sorry, sir, but nothing I do seems to work."

"Have you tried tying a chain around his neck and hooking it to

a post?" Horst suggested between gritted teeth.

"That would be mean!" Jason almost shouted to the supportive cheers of some of his Legatio friends.

"You don't have to... I so happen to have brought a chain just for this situation." Horst grinned menacingly as he opened a drawer and took out a choke collar.

"No!" Jason shouted. Jacob went flying, jumping from desk to

desk. Horst, Felix and his gang of goons tried to catch the pup, but

Jacob was too fast for them. In the end, the chasers ended up battered and bruised from falling on the stone floor too many time and had to be sent to the healers while Jason and his "pet" were once again sent to

the Commandant's office.

Oktor... looking tired, gave Jason a bemused look once the youth

entered his office. "Please sit." He waved to a pillow.

As soon as Jason sat down, Jacob curled up into a ball in his lap.

"Jason... what am I going to do with you?"

"I try, sir... I've told Jacob not to follow me to class but he gets

lonely and comes anyway."

"Jason... Jacob is a wolf, a wild animal. You can't talk to it and

expect him to listen. I might as well ask Jacob to roll over and play

dead." Just as those words passed Oktor's mouth Jacob did exactly that. Now curious, Oktor tried a different command. "Sit." Nothing

happened. Jason then spoke up;"Sit, Jacob."

This time Jacob went from lying on his back to sitting up on all


Seeing now that he had to say the wolf's name to get its attention,

Oktor tried out a dozen commands. Each one Jacob followed on the

first try.

"Jason... this is not a normal wolf you have. Wild animals are not supposed to be so obedient."

"He doesn't always listen to me. He won't stay home like I ask

him to nor will he stop growling at Philip."

"Well, I think I have a solution for the first and an explanation

for the second. When you are in class I will keep an eye on Jacob; that

way he will stop interfering with the other students' learning."

"Alright... what about Philip?"

"To be honest, I think Jacob is actually jealous of Philip."


"Jason... have you never been jealous before?"

"I want to be like you and Philip... be a Centurion, but everyone keeps on telling me that is impossible. So I guess I have."

"Good... now your wolf here sees how close you are to Philip and acts the same way you do about wanting to be a Centurion."

"You mean Jacob wants to be Philip?"

"Yes." Oktor nodded.

"But I have never tried to bite a Centurion," Jason said, confused. "Hahahahaha... no you have not. But different people or, in this case animals, express their jealously in different ways. You express yours by being reckless while Jacob expresses his by being hostile to Philip."

"I see," Jason nodded.

"Good... now go back to class, while I watch Jacob here."

"Yes Commandant... Bye, Jacob. Please don't cause anymore trouble," Jason waved as he stood off his pillow and made his way out of the office.

Once Jason was gone, Oktor gave Jacob a curious smile. "Now

let's see how smart you really are."

Taking Jacob up in his arms, Oktor took the wolf pup to the Centurion obstacle course and had Jacob run through it at a pace no Centurion could keep up with. By the time class was done for the day, Oktor was jealous as well, jealous that Jason had such a fine wolf for a

companion. "Wait until you are old enough to breed... then I will show you

a new trick." Oktor laughed as he carried Jacob back to his master after

classes were over.


Finally the day of the inquiry arrived. Jason, dressed this time in his red Legatio uniform, was sent to the Academics' conference room to give testimony and possibly face judgment.

When Perils, Field Marshal Xavier and the Senate investigators

arrived at the cave to the Academy they were surprised to find both

Field Marshals Lukas and Darius already there. "Good to see you have

finally arrived." Darius laughed... seeing Field Marshal Xavier riding

in a carriage like a Legatio.

"I don't see why the Senate is so upset. So what if a few accidents

have happened?" Field Marshal Lukas grumbled.

"The Commandant has failed to look after the welfare of the school. That is what is wrong," Perils declared as if his statement should end the debate.

"All he has done is given the Legatio a few sticks to play with," Lukas replied, unimpressed.

"He's forcing them to fight!" Perils yelled, shaking his fist at Darius. "Something totally improper for any Legatio." shaking his fist at Darius.

"I've heard there have been numerous injuries," one of the

senate investigators said, also from the carriage.

Darius took Perils' fist with a firm grip and returned it back to the senator's side. "There have been injuries, but that is always common when you are first teaching a student how to fight."

"The POINT is that these INJURIES are totally UNNECESSARY!" Perils shouted at the top of his voice, loosing control of his anger. "LEGATIO are NOT to use WEAPONS!"

"I think it would give the Legatio better understanding of their cousins. Is this not the reason why we built the Academy in the first place?" Darius said calmly, enjoying the senator's rising temper.

There was a long moment of silence before anyone spoke again. "That is for the investigators to decide," Perils grunted eventually when none of the other senators spoke up.

"Yes... but it will be we Field Marshals who will make the final decision." Darius smiled as he stepped out of the way of the carriage as it made its way to the Academy.


Gathered in the large meeting room, all the teachers could tell that the investigators were well prepared. They already had a list of those students who had been hurt or had not taken well to the weapon classes, as well letters of protest from several of the Legatio Academics. They called in all the healers and had them tell about each of the Legatio injuries and the amount of Centurion bone that had to be used in recent months. Finally they called their two main witnesses. The first was Felix.

When his name was called out, Felix came in walking on a cane, hunched over and faltering as if he were a frail old man. Halfway to the witness chair he let himself fall to the ground, giving out a scream of pain. Perils - out of concern or more likely as a part of what all the Centurions and healers knew was an act - lifted Felix up and offered his arm for support for the rest of the slow walk.

Perils, his own back hunched over as if the weight of Felix's pain was on his shoulders, began what would be his master performance. "My fellow senators... Felix, an honorable Legatio youth who is in my own charge, was crippled ... crippled not in a simple sparring accident but in a duel... Is that not true?"

"Yes..." Felix said in a near whimper.

"As you can see the poor boy is still frightened from his ordeal so I will summarize for him," Perils said with a wave of his hand. He did not trust his charge's acting ability enough to let him act as witness for himself.

"That is fine, Senator Perils... we can see the boy is still disturbed

by what happened to him." The chief investigator nodded.

"Thank you." Perils bowed to the investigating committee before continuing. "Felix was an innocent bystander when one of the Centurion teachers pushed his favorite student into issuing a challenge to Felix. When Felix refused, the teacher had Felix taken out under guard to the dueling ring. Even after he tried again to escape the duel, he was given the choice of fighting or being tied to a post and whipped. Under such conditions, what choice did the boy have?"

Perils then stopped to take a drink of water. After placing the glass back on the table, the Senator straightened his back as if it had been infused with the power of his indentation. "Felix..., a boy who had only had a few weapons classes, was then surrounded by a wall of Centurion guards... left to fight another Legatio student with more experience, one who had already fought in a duel, one who had already made first blood! What chance did this victim have against a veteran?" Perils finished, pointing at the whimpering boy.

Seeing only a poor act, several Centurion teachers guffawed. Jason was good but no veteran. The laughter, breaking Perils' concentration, delayed continuing by taking several more drinks of water to allow silence to return.

"Felix's opponent was more skilled. The poor boy found himself

disarmed soon in the duel but instead of declaring victory, Jason, his

attacker, proceeded to break both of Felix's legs in addition to two ribs," Perils said, waving his arms as if in exasperation as he finished while Felix gave off a pathetic wail.

"We will recess until this poor lad has recovered himself.

Then we will question this poor boy's attacker," the chief investigator

declared, ending the session with a hammer.


"This is going to be rough," Philip warned Jason next to him.

"Even I would declare myself guilty," Jason said sullenly.

"You did nothing wrong, Jason... at least by Centurion standards."

"That's the problem... I'm a Legatio."

"Jason... you might have been born a Legatio, but your heart is Centurion. Not one of the Centurion teachers is going to let you be harmed."

"I'm scared..." Jason sighed as he rested against Philip's arms.

When Perils continued his speech, bemoaning what happened to Felix, Philip took his hand and covered Jason's far ear, pressing Jason's head closer, so that the closer ear was blocked by Philip's body. He hoped that it spared Jason anymore pain on being called everything from a butcher, a monster, and a traitor to Legatio society.

When Felix finally left the witness chair to hobble out of the room, there was a lot of grumbling from the Legatio investigators and teachers. Perils waited until the noise of protest and shock died down before calling Jason to the witness chair.

Jason walked to it, his head hanging low. He could feel the hatred in the Legatio investigators hard gazes. He tried to be strong but it was not until he took his seat that Jason looked up at the investigator's faces. He expected Perils to start declaring him a criminal but instead Perils took a different approach.

"I can see the anger in your eyes, my fellow senators... this boy has committed an evil crime for which he should be punished. But this is no ordinary boy... he is the son of Agamemnon, just rescued from the Tosian savages. He has only been with his people for less than a year. Yes... he should have known better than picking up a weapon, but who were the ones to take care of him? Yes, Jason crippled poor Felix... but who pressured him into the fight? Who could have put a stop to it? It was none other than the Centurion teachers who are under the command of Commandant Oktor who let this travesty happen. Commander Philip was the first to lead Jason astray. It was Oktor who demanded that all Legatio take combat classes. Varrus, the staff master, was the one who demanded that the two boys fight. Yes, Jason is guilty, but if he is guilty so are his teachers!" Perils said dramatically as he pointed to where the Centurion teachers were sitting.

"No!" Jason shouted.

"Show us your back!" Perils demanded, his finger pointing now

at Jason.

Jason hesitated.

"You will do as the Senator says," the chief investigator, dressed in red and gold robes spoke from his chair.

Nervously Jason peeled off his shirt and stood up, showing his

back to the senators. "As you can see..." Perils said intensely as he pointed at marks

on Jason's back. "Jason has not just had his first duel and blood mark...

something unheard of for a Legatio to have, he has several duel marks on his right shoulder as well. You can also see that this youth has already

earned his staff mastery mark. Could such an inexperienced youth earn

such marks without help if not pressure from the Centurions? But,

wait... that might be due to the fact that even with so many tattoos there is a mark missing from Jason's back."

"His back seems pretty marked up as is," the chief investigator said with disgust.

"But yet there is a mark missing for I do believe that Jason is no longer a virgin... is that not correct, Jason?"

Jason... on being reminded about Varrus, began to cry... just as

Perils hoped for.

"As you can see by Jason's tears... the poor boy was manipulated by his Staff Master and mentor. Varrus, a Centurion well known for his sexual exploits, took pleasure in using Jason to take his revenge on the Legatio," Perils said, turning his once angry voice to one of sympathy.

Some more grumbling came from the investigators before the chief senator spoke again. "I hope this Staff Master was punished?"

"He should have been executed, but once again our dear Commandant chose a different rout... he sent that criminal into exile instead of letting him face true justice," Perils said spitting out bitterly.

Not much more was said, and soon Jason was dismissed but

he did not get up and leave. He was too upset to lift himself out of the

chair, his chest rising and falling rapidly while his arms hang uselessly. Philip in the end had to come and pick Jason up, carrying him in his arms out of the room.

Perils watched this with a smile he could not hide... it was going so perfectly. Now all he had to do was wait for the senators to come to a decision.

Chapter Eighteen:

The Judgment

"There is no question that crimes have been committed here. The only question is who should bear the punishment for them," Senator Brakis spoke up, opening the debate.

"In my opinion the full blame lies with Commandant Oktor. I think the time has come for a Legatio to run the Academy... Any of our own people would have managed the situation better than the present leadership," Perils offered.

"No... not now and not ever will we see a Legatio as Commandant!" Lukas barked.

"What the commandant did, he did with our authority. The Senate has no place in challenging our orders," Field Marshal Darius agreed more calmly than his comrade.

"Then we should punish Philip... he is the boy's guardian!" another member of the Senate jurors spoke up."

"If you are suggesting we punish my bondmate, then I think you are greatly in error. Second... when at the Academy, the Commandant is viewed as the guardian of both Centurions and Legatio. We have already said we will not see the Commandant punished," Darius replied. At that moment, an ancient-looking Legatio rose from his chair.

"Then the punishment must lie with the person who committed the

crimes... Fellow senators, I am afraid we must see to the punishment of one of our own... we must see that the Legatio boy pays for his actions."

Seeing his fellow Field Marshals nod in agreement, Darius rose up in anger. "If it is the decision of this body to see an innocent young man punished, then I refuse to sit here and take part in it!" With that, Darius stormed out of the room.

While he was gone, the Senate quickly reached a decision,

issuing a decree... Jason was to be publicly flogged. He was then to be

healed but as soon as he had recovered, expelled from the Academy, to live in Domus under the guardianship of Senator Perils until such time as he learned to control himself.

For Perils, nothing could have been better.

For Jason, nothing could be worse.


Philip, back at home and in bed with Jason, held the crying young man in his arms. The trial had been too much for Jason, especially with his already great burden of self-guilt and self-hatred.

In the middle of Jason's crying, when Philip was beginning to

believe nothing would stop it, there was a loud banging on the door,

followed by the howling sound of a young wolf. Philip attempted to climb out of bed to see what was happening but was stopped by Jason's

iron grip on him. Still, he did not have long to wait, as Erik and Field Marshal

Darius burst into the room followed by Jacob, who jumped onto the

bed and pounced on Jason, startling him enough for him to let go of Philip.

"What's wrong!" Philip demanded.

"We need to leave!" Darius yelled as he threw Philip his clothes.

"Why... what happened?

"Perils was running out of people to blame so he turned on Jason. The senators are sentencing him as we speak."

"But... for what?" Philip said in shock. "You would never agree to such punishment."

"No... but both Xavier and Lukas did. My guess is that Lukas still holds a grudge against Jason over what he did during the riots."

Philip jumped out of the bed and began dressing. "I won't let

them do this." "Nor will I," Darius sighed as he wrapped an arm around his

bondmate's waist and pulled him into a kiss. "I'm taking both of you

with me back east."

"I will go get Kristen," Erik said before running down the stairs.

Within minutes Philip was able to dress the still stunned Jason and pack a few bags. Soon he heard the sound of a horse and a wagon driven by Kristen, holding both Gideon and Alex, arrive outside Philip's home. "We must leave this place!" Darius yelled as he threw Philip his clothes.

Philip carried Jason down and put him in the wagon, covering him with a thick blanket, with Jacob curled up in a ball next to him.

"What's wrong with Jason?" Alex demanded on seeing Jason's

traumatized face.

"He's in shock," Philip replied. "Perils brought up Varrus during the investigation. It's torn him up inside."

"Where are we going?" Gideon asked.

"You two are going nowhere. Darius and I are taking Jason away. That will get us in enough trouble.

"You are not going anywhere without me," Caleb spoke up. Instead of being dressed in black, he wore chain mail coat, a helmet and a short sword.

"Where did you get that?" Darius demanded reaching for his own sword.

"I borrowed some of Alex's white clothes and took these from

the armory," Caleb explained.

"You do know that it is a crime punishable by death for a Famulus to carry a weapon?" Philip warned as he moved himself between Caleb and the wagon.

"I am no Famulus! I was born a citizen of Qul Tos!" Caleb retorted.

"If you are neither Centurion nor Legatio you are Famulus," Darius insisted.

Philip drew a dagger from his belt and moved closer Caleb. "Tell us why we should not kill you?"

"Because I can help you... I know the Eastern Confederacy better

than any of you." "We knew enough to beat you," Philip said darkly.

"Then how do I know of an unguarded mountain pass just fifty miles away that leads from Domus to Qul Tos, and you don't."

Darius smirked in disbelief. "There is no pass." "Yes there is... Qul Tos has been scouting your boarder for years

trying to find a way into the Domus Empire other than the Gate. It took centuries to find, but we did discover a way through the mountains."

"Then why did you not use it?" Philip demanded.

"It is too difficult to take an army through. We have only used

it to send in spies."

Darius placed a hand on Philip's knife hilt, pulling it back. "Take us to this pass. But you'd better not be leading us into a trap."

"I'm not leading you into a trap," Caleb swore.

"Alright, you can join us but take off that armor and sword. Until we are out of Domus you will continue to be a Famulus," Philip demanded.

"We are coming as well!" Alex insisted.

"No you are not... you will finish school!" Philip ordered. "I'm your guardian so you will do as I say!"

"You are not my guardian." Gideon spoke up.

"No... your guardian is the Commandant. Do you think he would appreciate you joining us?" Philip asked. "You need to stay here."

"Why... I have no future with the army... I'm a cripple," Gideon said while waving the stump of his arm. "If I come with you I will at least feel useful."

"You will get in a lot of trouble for coming with us," Darius warned.

"I know," Gideon said as he bowed his head.

"All right you can come," Darius said as he put a hand on Gideon's shoulder.

"Really!" Gideon grinned.

"What!" Philip said shocked.

"The boy is right... if he stays here he will be nothing more than a secretary or interpreter. This might be his last chance to do something important," Darius explained. "You should not deny him his chance at glory."

"Then why can't I come?" Alex demanded.

"You still have have a very bright future ahead of you, Alex, and will have many chances to do great things. For any chance of that to happen, however, you need to finish your officer's training," Darius said as he placed his other hand on Alex's shoulder.

"I understand," Alex relented, bowing his head.

"Good, now get home... and try to act surprised when the guards come looking for Jason.

"I will," Alex grinned going to where Jason was laying in the wagon, still sobbing. "I still love you Jason. Nothing will change that. When I'm strong enough I will force the Senate to let you come back. We'll be able to be together then. Just promise you'll wait for me."

"Alex, you must go. The Academy's guards will be here at any moment." Darius ordered.

"But I just need to talk with Jason," Alex insisted.

Going to his brother Philip put a hand on the man's shoulder. "He's in shock Alex. He can't answer you. Do not force him to make a promise he can't keep."

"I love him Philip. He's the only man I will ever love."

"The same though is not true for Jason though. You know that Alex."

"One day he'll understand what I am offering him."

"But not today. You know where we must go Alex. You know who is there waiting for him."

"Qul Tos where Varrus is," Alex whispered.

"Yes, if there is a man in Ares who can heal Jason's wounds and cause him to smile again it's that man."

"Jason really loves Varrus," Alex said feeling his eyes begin to water.

"He loves us all Alex. One day I hope you will finally be able to

accept that." Philip said, the wagon almost completely loaded now.

"But I'm offering him the most. I'm willing to give him every

part of me."

Pulling his brother closer Philip embraced him, patting Alex on the back as he did so. "I know Alex and so does Jason. What Jason needs from you right now though is his freedom. Can you give that to him?"

"I do but I swear, one day I will punish those who have hurt him so. I will then be able to bring him back where I shall sit him on a golden throne." "Jason, Emperor of all Domus?" Philip laughed, not taking his

brother seriously. "Go now Alex, Oktor can only hold off Perils men for

so long."

"I understand. When Jason is better please tell him what I said." Alex said before running off into the darkness.

"A good lad, that one." Caleb grinned as he waved goodbye.

"Of course... he is my brother," Philip agreed. Erik then started the wagon moving forward toward the waterfall cave.

"Halt!" the Academy guard shouted when they approached the entrance.

"Get out of my way!" Field Marshal Darius ordered, stepping closer to the torch light so the guards could see his ceremonial red and black armor.

"Sorry, Field Marshal." The guard bowed. "There has been a lot

of traffic through the gates."

"Why, what has happened?" Darius demanded.

"First, the senators arrived. Then just an hour ago, a messenger

from the Western Army came barreling through. Moving even faster

than the messenger was Field Marshal Lukas and his escort after he

read the message, storming out of here in a real hurry. It seems his legions are being pushed back from Gladmore."

"Well, now I am in a hurry so open the gates!" Darius demanded, hiding the concern he felt.

The guards moved double quick, raising the iron bars blocking the passageway and letting the army pass. They were in such a hurry they did not even bother to see who was leaving with him. Darius then turned to Caleb for directions.

The former prince took them down the road for five miles before leading off to the east, across an empty plain of brown grass and toward the Jasper Mountains that made up the northern border of the Domus Empire. Off the roads, the wagon moved very slowly and was jostled by the uneven ground. Soon Caleb and Kristen got off the wagon and walked to avoid motion sickness. After traveling 15 miles off the road, Darius called for a halt to build camp. It would be three more days before they reached the secret passage Caleb promised.

Chapter Nineteen:

Fate of War

"Look at what they are trying now!" Admiral James laughed to his chief aid, Commander Kyle Crane, seeing the Centurion supply ships being pushed into the water."

"Sir... may I recommend we go below deck?" Kyle asked, looking at the rising waves with concern.

"Is this your first battle?" James asked the young blond man. "No sir... but it is my first one during a storm."

"Well follow me then." James grinned as he led the lieutenant to the central mast.

"What are we doing here, sir, if I may ask?"

"You are going to tie me to the mast." James laughed as the wind blew his hat into the sea as it began to toss and turn the ship.

"But what if we get boarded, sir?" Kyle asked with concern even as he did as he was ordered to, tying both of them together.

James reached for his belt and took out a dagger. "That is why I have this. I very much doubt we will be boarded however, not in this weather. It would be too hard to keep two ships lashed together."

"I see," Kyle replied. In the distance he saw ships almost fly

into the air as they crested over the rising waves only to come crashing down.


Soon, however, the rain began to pour, making walls of translucent water, blinding both lieutenant and admiral from anything beyond fifty feet.

Suddenly a Centurion supply ship came into view like a head

poking out of a curtain, moving straight for the flagship.

"Hard to port!" James shouted. But it turned out to be an unnecessary command as the Centurion ship was already sinking... the seams having been broken during the move across the island.

The last glimpse James had of the ship before it disappeared under the ocean was of a Centurion... tied to the mast like he was, giving a final salute.

Once the rain had stopped and the waves calmed down, James cut the ropes, and Kyle collapsed on the deck of the ship having lost all sense of balance.

"Lieutenant, you have permission to go below deck... I am sure that my cabin is a wreck by now."

"But sir... should I not help you out here?"

"Kyle... I need to be alone for a while."

"Yes sir..." Kyle nodded, looking sullen as he left the admiral to his thoughts.

Looking at the beach James saw that most of the Centurion ships now lay broken and stranded on the white sand. A few remained just off shore but were either sinking or being quickly swarmed by Jadoorian ships. They would not last long. Looking back through to the ocean beyond James thought he saw the pinpoint dots of three ships sailing away over the horizon.

On seeing those ships, James made a silent prayer to the Mother, wishing the Centurions on board a safe journey home. For men of such courage deserved better than the watery grave James had been sworn

to give them. "Speed well, Centurions... may the Mother guide you home."

"Where has this fool led us?" Darius demanded when Caleb had them stop by a dark pool of water on the edge of the Jasper Mountains.

"This is the way out," Caleb grinned as he began stripping down and entering the pond.

"I think your Famulus has lost his mind," Gideon said as he watched Caleb dive under the winter chilled water.

As Field Marshal Darius' men prepared the night's camp, Darius, Philip and Erik waited for Caleb's return from the pool while Gideon and Kristen looked after the near catatonic Jason.

"That bastard... he most likely drowned," Darius cursed as he spat into the water.

"Then where is his body?" Philip asked.

"Up here!" came a distant shout from above.

Looking up, Caleb was on the edge of a sheer cliff, dressed in an old, moth-eaten blue and silver Tosian uniform.

"How did you get up there?" Darius demanded.

"There is an underwater cave below the surface of the pond... it goes on for about fifteen feet before rising into a two-mile long tunnel. It ends up here at the top of a mountain pass."

"And you did not tell us this earlier?" Philip demanded... suddenly very suspicious of the man.

Caleb burst into laughter... "I wanted to see if any of you had the sense to go looking for me."

Under his breath so that only Philip could hear him, Darius said a few choice words about what he would do to Caleb once he got his hands on him.

"Do you think we will be able to use a rope to lift up supplies?" Kirsten asked looking up at the daunting height from which Caleb was perched.

"Not even if we tied all our clothes together..." Philip guessed, looking up as well. "Caleb, are there any supplies in the cave, like that uniform you have on?"

"Yes, but no food, none that is still edible that is and I don't think there are any uniforms that would fit you and the Field Marshal. Tosians are not built like Centurions, you know.

"Very well... so long as there is something dry for Jason to put on when we arrive. You come back now... we might need your help going through the cave," Philip ordered.

"Yes sir," Caleb mockingly saluted, fist over his heart.

"We might have to go without food for a while." Darius sighed when Caleb finally returned.

"All the food must have gone bad after all these years," Caleb agreed. "The swords are also rusted and the torches rotten. There are still a few oil lamps that work. It will take less than a day to get out of the cave. Then we can make a warm fire and dry ourselves out."

"What about Jason... can he handle being cold and wet for that long?" Philip asked worried.

"What I am more concerned about is the fact that he can't swim

all that well," Darius said as he took a seat next to his lover.

"I have a plan for that..," Philip started to explain when he heard a loud barking sound coming from the wagon. "What is wrong with that wolf?"

Then they heard Jason's yell, followed by Jacob jumping out of the wagon, whimpering all the way as if some great injustice had been done it.

Running over to the wagon, Darius was the first to arrive to see Jason holding his hand. Taking Jason's hand, Darius saw the small bite

mark, and the thin stream of blood coming from it. "There, there, Jason... it will be ok." Darius sighed. Soon he felt

Jason's tears on his neck.

"Damn... the wolf got away. I will skin his hide if I ever see him again," Philip cursed when he saw what had happened.

"I'm sorry." Jason whispered.

"Why, Jason... why are you sorry?" Philip said calmly, resting his chin on Jason's shoulder.

"I'm sorry I hurt Felix... I'm sorry that I got Varrus hurt... I'm sorry Jacob ran off. I'm a failure as a Legatio and only cause trouble pretending to be a Centurion."

"Yes, Jason, but we all love you exactly because you are a bad Legatio."

"Why?" Jason asked, his eyes red from his tears.

"You are kind, intelligent, and courageous, but most importantly you give your love freely," Philip listed.

"It hurts to love..." Jason realized.

"It can at times, but would you give it all up?" Philip asked as he nuzzled up against the back of Jason's neck while Darius kissed Jason's forehead.

Jason let out a deep sigh, his eyes opening wide for the first time in days. "No," Jason said with a weak smile. With one kiss, Jason passed a single drop of his red anima to Philip. Philip did not know what happened but he did notice the change and so did Darius.

"What's so funny?" Darius asked, seeing the wide grin on Philip's face."

"I don't know..." Philip laughed as he returned Jason's kiss fiercely.

"I can always leave the two of you alone." Darius chuckled.

"No... nothing is going to happen until Jason's 21st birthday just as I promised." Philip grinned as he stared into Jason's green eyes, knowing that time was fast approaching.

Jason smiled back as well before he nuzzled his soft cheeks against Philip's unshaven face.

"I think you'd better go and have dinner," Philip said as he tickled Jason's side.

"I will." Jason smiled. He had no illusions about what Philip and Darius were about to do. While he dressed, he could hear Philip and Darius laughing under a blanket. Jason then made his way to camp where every one else was feasting on a thick split-pea soup containing potatoes and thick chunks of ham, served with flat bread, and applesauce. They would still be leaving a lot of supplies but there was no helping it. Just as Jason was eating his applesauce Philip and Darius returned back to the camp, happy grins on their faces.

When they finished eating, Philip picked up what he had originally gone to the wagon for, a harness made out of the leather fastenings from the horses. He strapped it to his back and bent down for Jason to lash himself to his guardian's back so they were back to back. Philip then carried Jason toward the pool and told his passenger to pinch his nose before they both plunged into the icy cold water. Diving down in the underwater cave they traveled forty feet before surfacing on the other side. A small shaft of light shone down from an opening in the ceiling, revealing a stack of old supplies and four bunk beds.

"You alright, Jason?" Philip asked in the dim light as he removed the straps holding Jason.

"Yes..." Jason said as he kept on trying to clear his lungs.

"It sounds like you took in a little water."

Jason nodded. "I think I did too."

"Well, I think we'd better not try this again... until you learn how to swim better that is."

"What about the others?" Jason asked worried as he slowly stood up shivering from the cold.

"I will go back and tell them we will head out tonight for the mountain pass. I need to get you where we can get warmed up again."

"Yes... I'm freezing," Jason said as his teeth chattered together.

"Hmmmm..." Philip sighed. He saw a blanket on one of the bunks but when he picked it up it sent a cloud of mold into the air. So instead he went over to one of the oil lamps, found some flint and kindling and lit one of the lamps. "Hold this, Jason... it's not much but will warm up your hands at least.

Jason nodded his head while the rest of his body continued to shiver. Philip, not seeing what more he could do, dove back into the ice cold water and was gone. Ten minutes later Philip popped back up followed by Gideon. They found Jason stripped out of his cold, wet clothes still shivering.

"Good idea, Jason." Philip smiled, taking off all his clothes as


Soon all three of them were naked and huddled together, trying to warm up again. Then the sun began to set and the air in the cave began to get colder. "Gideon... we need to get moving... You carry the lamp and extra oil while I keep Jason warm," Philip said as he helped Jason dress in an old Tosian uniform.

It took them four hours to reach the mouth of the cave and the mountain pass, lightly covered with snow. By this time Jason had fallen asleep in Philip's arms, his body still shivering.

"What should we do?" Gideon asked worried. They were down

to their last jar of oil. "Makes as big a fire as we can. If Jason does not survive the

night then all we have done would have been for nothing," Philip replied. He could already tell Jason was burning up with a fever.

Using the remainder of the oil in their lamp and some of the dead branches around, they were able to start a fire and dry their clothes. By midnight Philip was able to wrap Jason in his thick red robes instead of the worn uniform. Still he worried when Jason did not wake up.

That night, while Philip watched Jason sleep, he saw something that disturbed him. From the spot where Jason had been bitten, a green glow began to appear, spreading through the Legatio's veins, until it arrived at the core of Jasons' anima core. There the red anima burst into life... attempting to fight off the green infection... a battle it was slowly losing turning from red to a mud brown.

Out of fear... Philip gave Jason his blue anima. The blue light consumed the green, changing the color from brown to purple, back to red. Jason though remained deathly ill, while Philip was left

exhausted. That night, Jason dreamed of wolves.

Hiding in the tall grass three miles from where Jason and his Centurion companions were camped, Thomas waited for Jacob to return to him, the Dalf's mission accomplished. "There you are little fellow. Did Jason taste as sweet as his personality?" He said when the Dalf appeared.

Instead of jumping up and down on seeing his old master again, Jacob let out a deep growl, deeper than one would suspect for such a young wolf.

"Now, now, Jacob, we have a job to do. No reason to get angry

about it. The Dominus would be most displeased if you were to disobey

them." Thomas said just as the Dalf jumped into the air, landing on Thomas' back where the wolf pup started biting and clawing the Graul

in the back of his neck.

"Don't you dare," Thomas shouted, reaching behind his back to throw the wolf off him, tossing the Dalf several yards away in the tall grass. Reaching the back of his neck with his fingers, he found them coated with a sticky green fluid. "Animus, you think you can turn me into your little pet with your animus! I will destroy you before I let that happen," Thomas said in a booming unworldly voice.


"Jacob, where are you?" Thomas demanded, his eyes now as red as his hair. "Do not make things harder on yourself by hiding." When he still could not find the Dalf, Thomas went down to his knees, clawing at the cold earth. "I will get you Jacob. No matter where you hide I will find you. No son of mine will become my master!"

"I will find you..." Thomas swore between gritted teeth as the sun set as Jacob's animus coursed through his body.

Chapter Twenty:

At Death's Gate

The next morning it was clear that Jason was sick and that not even anima could break the fever. Not having the strong stamina of

a Centurion, Jason was left weak and shivering, his voice sore from

coughing. Philip did not know what to do but he was sure that staying in the windy mountain pass would do Jason no good. "Should we wait for the others?" Gideon asked when he saw

Philip lifting Jason back over his shoulder. "No... we need to find better shelter... that means moving

forward," Philip replied as he started down the mountain path. As they make their way, they saw signs that once there had been

settlements here, mining towns digging for silver or gems... the great

wealth of Qul Tos. These mines, though, had been emptied of their treasures and the people who had once lived in this ominous canyon

had long left the area.

By the time that darkness made further travel too dangerous for the night, it was in another cave that Philip was forced to leave Jason

in Gideon's care while he went farther in hope of finding some sign of

help. It would be a long night.

Six horses, spurred near to the point of exhaustion by their riders, raced across the hilly valleys of northern Yelding in a mad dash toward the border with Uul. All the lands the riders had passed in the last month had been Centurion lands or land just conquered by the empire. Field Marshal Lukas, at the head of his men, could already see the long columns of his Legions moving towards him to the south, instead of pressing onward to Gladmore. The Federation led by Jadoor's Templar fanatics had allowed the Centurions to invade half their lands without much of a fight, only to wait until Lukas's supply caravans were spread over hundreds of miles and the Centurions were busy with the work of occupation before striking with their full force. South, in the Wort Mountains of Freen, the Dorsian pikemen and Rapa riders were attempting to cut the Centurion army in half, while in Uul hundreds of thousands of Jadoorian soldiers with their Drakor and Gladmore allies, were pushing what had been the Centurion vanguard out of Uul, back into Yelding.

Passing his bloodied and battered men, Lukas hurried onward until he finally reached the Western Centurion Army command tent, two hundred miles south of where he had left it. "Report!" Lukas shouted as the horse he had been riding fell to the ground, thrashing about as it entered its death throes, killed by the pace the Field Marshal had set.

"Sir, our forces consist of only fifty thousand men. We estimate that the Jadoorians have over a quarter of a million soldiers moving down on us from northern Uul. The rest of our legions are occupied holding Sol and the mountain passes leading from Dorsa to Freen."

"How can they feed such an army?" Lukas demanded.

"Their Church of the Mother controls a third of all farmlands on the Jadoorian Islands and they have vast stores of grain saved over many harvests. They are shipping it, using the entire merchant fleet, to feed their men. In addition, the kings of Gladmore and Drakor have seized the herds and flocks of every farm within their borders and have

donated them to the cause." "Can we stop them in Uul?" Lukas asked.

"Sir, the land is flat with no rivers that a few planks of wood couldn't bridge. It has no natural defenses we can use. If we had more time we could have built a line of sod forts but with the way the enemy is advancing..."

"Is there any place where we can stop them?" Lukas asked looking down at the maps.

"We believe there is, Field Marshal, here, in the heart of the Federation," officer Zophar said pointing to a small dot in the middle of a large lake that bordered four of the Federation kingdoms.

Lukas let his eyes drift down the map until it fell on the

small island of Sol in the middle of Lake Mahka. The island not only

controlled all traffic on the giant lake but served as the neutral capital

of the Federation. "I see, by holding the lake we prevent the Rapan and

the Dorsians from joining their forces with the Jadoorians in Yelding.

"Yes, the place where we have had the most success has been repelling the enemy from the passes in the Wort Mountains between Freen and Dorsa. If we can hold Sol and the mountains the enemy will remain split. Jadoor will then be forced to stop its advance so that Sol can be retaken, giving us more time," Commander Zophar explained.

"And will they succeed in taking the city?" Lukas asked his men.

"If they send a large enough army, which they can, they will. We are now in a race, Field Marshal. We must prevent the invasion of the empire itself long enough for the Federation to run out of food and men," the officer said frankly.

"Is that what you think this has come to... that the enemy would

dare to attack the Gate?"

"Sir, it is the only logical reason why the Federation would gather such a force."

"Very well, I agree with your assessment. I also see that you are the only man able to take charge of the defenses of Sol."

"Sir... I am only a commander. The reason I am at this meeting is that my general, the leader of the seventh western legion died in an ambush several weeks ago." Zophar insisted.

"Do your men follow you?" Lukas asked with a stern stare.

"Yes sir."

"Then that is all that is needed. The only unit I can afford to give

you to defend the island is your own legion." "But sir..."

"What is your name?" Lukas asked, becoming tired of the man's

protests. "Commander Zophar, 7th Western Legion, sir."

"Well you are now General Zophar. Tomorrow your men depart for Sol."

"Yes Field Marshal." The young man saluted, relenting to his superior's order. "May I be excused to see to the preparations?"

"Yes..." Lukas nodded, his attention now back on the maps on the table. "I better not see you again after tomorrow."

Zophar stopped at the tent's exit. He had suddenly realized what the Field Marshal had asked of him. The Field Marshal had just ordered him to die. His back still facing the interior of the tent, the young General replied;"Yes my Field Marshal," before leaving to find his men.

A week later reports of Zophar's bravery began flowing in. It was not long until Lukas was glad he was sending the young man to die... for the last thing a losing Field Marshal needed was another successful rival.

Under the escort of his personal guard, Aidan had made his

way to the vanguard of the Federation armies. Already two of the five

captured western kingdoms, Uul and Rapa, were back in Jadoorian

hands. But, instead of letting the original rulers back in power, High

Priest Niles was installing theocratic governments led by his own loyal clerics. Already, new temples to the Mother were being built in cities that had never worshiped her. With a new power base separate from the Jadoorian throne, High Priest Nile would soon be able to act

without the approval of the Guild or the throne well after this present

war was over. Back home, the raids on the secret places where he and men

like him met were on the rise. Several fires, set by Templar fanatics, had burned down many of the places. In one case, the fire had gotten out

of control and destroyed three blocks of the capital. Aidan had to use

a great deal of his own money to find homes for the displaced slaves

and merchants.

Another thing that was sucking the wealth of his treasury was the rapid rate at which he was building up his personal guard. The Royal Guard had had only ten thousand men to begin with. Now, with Diana's help, that force had ballooned to fifty thousand making it as large as the Templar guards. The only problem was that most of them were inexperienced and undisciplined. Aidan's commanders had been

forced to promote corporals and sergeants to the rank of lieutenants

and captains just to have enough officers.

That was the main reason Aidan went to the war front, not believing he would find a tamed Centurion no matter how hard he looked. As he traveled he searched for army officers who could be persuaded to ignoring the Church's edicts and follow their true king. So far, though, he had very little luck in convincing them, not with the presence of Niles' Templar Guards everywhere. So far the only one willing to promise his loyalty was Admiral James who had the fortunate luck of being at sea and free of the High Priest's agents.

Leaving another of the conquered cities, Aidan led his small force southward down the beach on the Coast of Uul. When the sun began to set, he had his men make camp on the far side of the dunes to avoid the cold ocean spray. After a good dinner, Diana pulled Aidan aside and led him away from the camp for a little lovemaking.

Since she was voted out as Prime Minister, Diana's behavior had become erratic. She had been sure that, without political power, Aidan would want nothing to do with her. That might have been due to fact that while Aidan was fond of Diana, he was not really in love with her. So Diana, afraid of losing the one person who made her feel special, worked hard to show her king how important she still was to him.

It was while they lay naked on a sandy dune that Aidan heard

the sound of weak laughter. "Who's there?" Aidan demanded thinking

one of his retainers had to be spying on them. Out of the darkness of the night came three of the sorriest looking

men he had ever seen. They looked battered, bruised and half starved.

What had been blue uniforms were now black with dried blood. Still, while these men looked half dead, they had wide smiles on their faces and talked in an animated language Aidan did not understand.

"Who... are... you?" Aidan asked more slowly, hoping they would understand them.

"They are Centurions," Diana said amazed.

"How do you know that?" Aidan asked in surprise.

"They are speaking Mord. I used to do trade runs between Jadoor and Aquanos," Diana explained as she went looking for her clothes to cover herself.

"What are they saying?" Aidan asked as the three Centurions continued to speak.

"Hahahahahaha... they want to know if they can join us!" Diana laughed.

"Horny bastards!" Aidan laughed as well.

Diana nodded. "All Centurions are!"

"You mean you've slept with them?" "No... I'm a woman."

"So the rumors are true... they really are all gay?" Aidan shuddered, wondering if the rumors of rape were also true.

"Yes... but I would not say that word around them. They tend not to like that title."

"Can you ask them why and how they got here?" Aidan asked.

Diana talked to the Centurions in their own language for a while before reporting back to her king. "They are survivors of the Centurion fleet that was trapped on the island of Eb."

"What... Admiral James told that they were still trapped on their island."

"What they told me was that they launched their surviving ships during a storm. It seems that three ships escaped."

"So there are three ships loaded with Centurions near by?"

Diana talked further with the Centurions. "Only two... one of the ships sank before they could reach shore."

"So how many of them are there?" Aidan said still nervous. He only had five hundred men with him.

"Let me ask... three hundred twenty seven," Diana replied.

"Three hundred and twenty seven..." Aidan thought to himself. Then he looked at these poor men. They looked tired, cold and desperate. They were also some of the best-trained men in the world. Maybe the Mother was looking out for her son... that is if he could control the situation. "Tell them they are now my prisoners... that they will be clothed, fed and taken care of."

"What!" Diana said shocked. "There are three of them and they are armed while we are naked!"

"Tell them," Aidan insisted.

"As your majesty wishes..." Diana sighed. Aidan looked at the expression on the three men's faces. Instead

of anger or shock... all three of them smiled, went down on their knees and lowered their heads to the sand. "I take it that they accept my terms?" "Yes... yes they do," Diana said amazed.

Then one of the Centurions stood up and talked quickly to Diana and the two other Centurions. When done, the two other Centurions

stood up and ran off." "What's happening?" Aidan asked concerned. He would have

to have Diana teach him the Domus language if he were to bring these men into his army.

"Well he was talking pretty fast but it seems he sent the other

two to arrange the surrender of the rest of the men. That... and remove

any men who would disagree with that decision."

"You mean kill them."


"Can you ask him if there is any other way?" Aidan asked... wanting every man he could get his hands on.

Diana talked to the man who stayed behind before answering Aidan's question. "It seems that this man is the last surviving captain of the Centurion fleet, making him the ranking officer. By tradition what he says is law but he knows that surrendering would anger some of his men. Those men he says no longer have the right to call themselves Centurions. You should be happy Aidan... you will get a command of your own army of Centurions."

"Fine... but can you ask him why he is surrendering to me?"

Diana asked and halfway into the captain's answer, Diana burst into laughter.

"What is it?" Aidan demanded.

"He says the only reason why he agreed to surrendering to you was that he was not adverse to you sleeping with him!" Diana laughed.

"What!" Aidan shouted flabbergasted.

"It is a Centurion tradition... all soldiers who surrender have to sexually submit to their captors. That's why Centurions usually fight to the death but I guess our little sex act impressed the Captain," Diana explained, her cheeks blushing.

"But I still have my foreskin... I thought Centurions don't have

sex with men who are not circumcised?"

Diana asked the captain that. The captain's response was less funny. "He says that the surrender is conditional," she replied nervously. "What condition?" Aidan said, afraid to hear the answer.

"You have to agree to being cut. The captain says that is the only way the other Centurions will recognize your leadership over them."

Not even giving it a second thought Aidan stood up and approached the captain. "How do I say ‘yes' in Domus?"

"Aidan, are you sure!" Diana asked, worried. "Tell me, merchant!" Aidan said angrily. "Aio... the word is Aio," Diana replied, well admonished.

"Aio," Aidan said firmly, looking the captain right in the eye.

The captain nodded his head with approval before taking a sharp gold dagger from his belt.

"Aidan, you don't want to do this!" Diana said panicked.

"Yes I do... and if you ever want to sleep in my bed again you will keep this to yourself. We need the Centurions to accept us, which means we need to take up their customs. Ampexlor demanded I provide him with a Centurion in exchange for his help. Now I have dozens."

"As I said before to waken the old gods is folly your majesty," Diane pointed out to Aidan deaf ears. Seeing he was not listening to her she swore an oath that she would bide her time until Aidan realized his mistake. On that day she would take great pleasure in reminding him of her many warnings and, if she was in a good mood, save him from certain disaster. Watching as Dorian lifted Aidan off his feet and spun him around, Diana could only hope she wasn't made to wait too long for that happy day.

Chapter Twenty-One:

Old Man Rondus

Jason's body was wasting away due to the fever that burned

inside him. No food and only melted snow for water was taking its

toll on everyone as their bodies burned what little fat they had to keep


Philip didn't know why Jason was still alive. Any normal boy in his condition would have passed on after the second day. Jason was a Legatio though, and they had even more fragile constitutions. He was unaware that the anima Varrus had given him was all that was keeping Jason alive.

With a great sigh of relief they found a cabin built on the side of the mountain pass, gray smoke coming out of its chimney. Not even concerned that they were not invited, Gideon pushed through the fur rugs that were being used as a door to make sure it was safe. Philip, carrying Jason in his arms, waited outside for Gideon to come back.

Three minutes later Gideon came out. "It's alright... someone does live here though. The embers of a fire are still warm."

"Well, get that fire going again," Philip ordered, looking down at Jason's pale face with deep concern.

"Yes." Gideon grinned for the first time in days. Philip brought Jason into the cabin, which was only slightly warmer than the outside. The cabin had a rock floor, a bed covered with goat skins, scattered pots and jars and a shabbily built table and two stools.

While Gideon threw a few logs onto the fire, Philip took Jason

over to the bed and covered him with the skins. Then thinking that was

not enough, Philip stripped himself down and joined Jason in the bed,

lying on top of him. "What would you like me to do?" Gideon asked when he had

the fire going.

"I thought I saw a smokehouse next to the cabin... go see if any meat is in there."

"I will," Gideon nodded.

Philip must have fallen asleep while Gideon was away, for when he woke up, it was to the smell of hot food. Looking around the cabin, though, he saw Gideon tied up on the floor, a piece of cloth stuffed in his mouth.

Panicked, Philip tried to jump off the bed but as soon as he

raised his head a heavy club smashed down on it. He did not pass out

as it was very hard to knock out a Centurion but he was left in such a daze he could not give much of a fight as ropes were tied around his

arms and legs. By the time his head had cleared, he was on the rock

floor lying next to Gideon.

"What are you Centurion scum doing in my house!" an old, burly looking man with a thick white beard demanded, holding his club menacingly.

"We needed shelter," Philip explained.

"That is what your fellow fool told me... that one of you is sick."

"Jason," Philip said trying to point his bound hands to the bed.

"Let me see," the rotund man said, turning his attention back

to the bed.

When he came back he had a more friendly expression. "Well you are not lying to me about that. Is he a Legatio...? He does not look like one... too built. All the Legatio I have seen have been as thin as sticks."

"..." Philip remained silent.

After checking on Jason, the old man made his way back to Philip, holding his staff menacingly. "How'd you get here? I've not seen your kind since the last great war."

Seeing no reason to lie, Philip replied honestly. "We came from the cave where the mountain pass ends."

"You should not have told me that," the old man grunted. "That cave is one of the oldest and most tightly held secrets in Qul Tos. The only people who are supposed to know about that are the royal family, the spies they send here, and me."

"Why you?"

"Because I was the darn fool who found that passage!" the old man shouted. The burly man threw down his club and marched over to the large trunk at the foot of the bed. He opened it up and started throwing out several articles of clothing until he took out a long gold scabbard and sword decorated with blue sapphires.

"You see this sword... it was given to me by the old king's

grandfather, declaring me a knight... a KNIGHT!" The old man


"For discovering the secret passage to Domus?" Philip asked.

"Yes... I am even a noble... Baron of the Jasper Mountains!" the old man said, laughing at the absurdity of it.

Philip also chuckled a little. If anything, he would have guessed that living alone in these mountains had made the old man a little senile.

After laughing for a good long while the old man's mood

darkened again and as quick as a dart he drew out the sword and

pressed the point against Philip's bare chest, just piercing the skin.

"Now tell me why I should not kill you."

Philip, in automatic self-defense raised his tied hands to deflect the sword. As he did that the blue sapphire ring on his finger flashed in the light of the fire.

As if blinded by the flash of the ring's sapphire, the bearded

man dropped the sword and took a few feet backwards and started

gasping for breath. "Where... where did you get that ring?"

"I was given it by the King of Qul Tos."

"What... are you telling me that the king ripped that sapphire off his crown so you could have it on some cheap ring?"

"How do you know that the gem came from the crown of Qul Tos?" Philip said amazed.

"When King Wiltor, King Daslan's father, asked me what I would like as a reward for finding the pass, I told him it was to wear his crown for one day. The king in his mercy laughed, stepped off his throne and offered the seat to me. I had to explain to him that I didn't want to rule for a day but just hold his crown. King Wiltor, being a generous man, handed it to me. For the rest of the day I examined that crown, memorizing the shape and color of each gem. It was all those sapphires you see. That is why I live here. The cave you passed through

is the mine where the jewels that adorn the royal crown were found.

No one has found any in centuries but that has not stopped me from looking. Holding that crown has been the closest I have ever come to

finding a sapphire. So I will ask you again... WHERE DID YOU GET


"It was given to me out of friendship from the new king."

"Anew king? You mean that witch Eleanor is no longer holed up in her Labyrinth Tower? I hope you are speaking the truth. She had me

thrown out of the palace during the last All Nobles Feast I attended." "The tower fell over six months ago. Eleanor's son was made


"Good! So you rescued the crown prince from that usurper. Do you have any proof of this?"

"Yes... his majesty lies in that bed."

"Really!" the fat man said in disbelief. He made his way back to the bed and pulled the furs off Jason, to find an identical sapphire ring on the boy's finger. "He does look like his mother."

"Yes!" Philip almost shouted, hoping that would end the debate.

"He does not look like his father though... Why did you Centurions attack Qul Tos?" the old man growled, his mood switching from giddiness to a more dark temperament.

"Jason is not the son of the old king... his father was General Agamemnon," Philip whispered.

"What! Can you speak a little louder?" The old man jumped up and down.

"Jason is the son..." Philip began to say louder but was stopped when the old man threw a clay pot at him.

"I heard you the first time! I just did not like how you said it as

if you did not want to tell me!" the old man fumed.

Philip, his head now bleeding, watched with great concern as the old man paced back and forth yelling and cursing the misfortunes of his kingdom. Half the time the old man would think of killing all of them. The other half he struggled with the tradition of a host... even when dealing with uninvited guests. It was between murderous rage and Tosian tradition of good manners that Philip, Gideon, and Jason found their lives hanging in the balance.

Chapter Twenty-Two:

New Recruits

If Captain Dorian had been back in Domus and King Aidan a Famulus servant, he would have spent every gold standard he had to buy him as a bed warmer. Now, however, a different opportunity had arisen. Surrendering, according to imperial law, meant exile from Domus, losing one's position in Centurion society and becoming a Famulus in the eyes of Domus. Dorian, though, still felt the lives of his men were worth sacrifices after enduring such hardships on the island of Eb. Seducing the man who would control their fate seemed like a practical way of ensuring his men were well taken cared of.

The morning the Centurion sea captain brought his men to the king's camp many of them looked just as tired as he did. But unlike him they still held suspicions about their Jadoorian masters. To ease those tensions, Dorian went over the Aidan and pulled him into a kiss. The captain then took Aidan's hand and placed it on his own ass, an act of submission. That seemed to relax the men.

Since he had been out on a recruitment mission, Aidan had plenty of the green royal guard uniforms. He had expected the Centurions to quickly put them on but instead they all stripped down and ran into the freezing cold ocean, including the captain. Confused, Aidan had to ask Diana what was going on.

"They are bathing, sir." Diana grinned.

"Bathing? The water is freezing."

Diana laughed, but kept her eyes on the Centurions' bouncing genitalia as the men played in the water. "It is a Domus tradition; they are a very clean people."

"Yes... I heard of their bathhouses. Are they really as big and elaborate as the rumors say?" Aidan asked, curious.

"Well, if the rumors you are asking about deal with the Centurions bathing in the blood of their enemies, I will have to tell you that you are wrong."

"But the steam rooms, the different swimming pools of hot and

cold water? The fact that you might spend all day there?" "Yes... all that is true."

Aidan had to admit he found the idea attractive - spending a whole day just relaxing with his friends. "I guess I will have to build one for them then!" Aidan chuckled.

"We don't even know how they are built," Diana said. "I'm sure our new allies will be able to give our engineers a


"You know that the High Priest will see this as proof of your debauchery," Diana warned.

"I don't care. I will build it on the palace grounds if I must. I'm tired of bathing in a copper tub anyway."

"How will you pay for it?"

"You know those four hundred Centurion warships Admiral James captured... they were taken before Niles declared his holy war, which means they are still property of the crown."

"They are war vessels, sir. All materials that can support the war now belong to the High Priest.

"Who says anything about using them as war vessels? I think it's time that I became a merchant. Yes, the ships will still be armed, to protect him from pirates mind you, but their main purpose will be trade with the southern islands."

"Very clever my king," Diana bowed.

"Good. Since you agree with me, I appoint you my agent. You will handle the trade side of matters while Captain Dorian will train

the crew. "And where will you obtain this crew?

"With the ships, I also obtained thousands of Famulus slaves."

"Yes, your majesty, but don't you think that Captain Dorian and his men will hold a grudge against the Famulus who abandoned them on Eb?"

"He might, but then I will order that he not be so harsh on them."

"A Centurion show restraint? That is something I would like to see," Diana said, pointing to the wet sea captain coming out of the ocean.

On learning that the Famulus traitors were now in his new

lord's custody, Dorian's mood darkened, but he promised he would

not kill them.

After all the Centurions were dressed in their new green livery, Aidan gave a speech. He promised that he would never ask them to betray their home country of Domus. Instead they would serve a different purpose: to fight against the growing power of High Priest Niles and the church of the Mother. They would become the weapons masters, training Aidan's large number of inexperienced soldiers. They would also act as a counterbalance to the High Priest's highly trained Templar guards.

When done, none of the Centurions asked any questions. Instead they went on one knee, including the captain. They then stood up and gave a loud Centurion battle cry that terrified all of Aidan's regular men down to their bones.

"Are you really sure this was a good idea?" Diana asked nervously.

"Don't worry." Aidan grinned as he hugged Diana while his

eyes focused on the sea captain. "This is only the beginning."

It had been four days since Philip and Gideon had been tied

up by old man Rondus. For all that time he had to deal with the man's

violent mood swings, changing from admiration for his beloved kingdom to down right hatred of Domus. It was his constant debating over what to do with his prisoners that worried Philip the most. From

the moans coming from the bed, Philip was sure Jason's fever was still serious, but tied up there was little he could do for the young man. All

he was able to achieve was convincing Rondus that Legatio or no, Jason was still his king. Therefore while Gideon and Philip starved, Rondus would at least spoon feed Jason during the short periods that he was lucid. When Rondus dragged in a slaughtered sheep that Philip tried once more to gain his freedom. "I could help you with that."

"Untie you, let you help me prepare my dinner and then snap my neck. I do not think so, my dear Centurion."

"Well, at least feed us... is that not the responsibility of a host," Gideon, who was also tied up, asked.

Rondus, using his bulky frame, lifted the sleep onto the table.

"You are a Centurion. If I do remember correctly you need only eat

once a week. Ask me again after a few more days."

Philip, now losing control of his temper, struggled against his bonds. "What do you plan to do with us then, you fat goat!"

"I am a KNIGHT. I am lord of these mountains! And you, I would kill if it was not for the fact that I do not want your filthy blood staining the soil of my birth!" Rondus shouted, waving a butcher knife around.

"Philip..." Gideon whispered afraid that the commander would push the old man into killing them.

"If you are a knight, then you must follow a king," Philip said more calmly.

"Qul Tos has no king... thanks to you Centurions. You left us with that Sithian bitch as Regent."

"And she is dead now," Philip said as if he had said it a dozen times.

"And as I SAID, we have no king, not until the nobles figure which of them is worthy of the title."

"The boy on the bed is the king... the true King of Qul Tos."

"I knew King Daslan, and that boy looks nothing like him. What he does look like is the old Legatio ambassador with his black hair and green eyes.

"You've seen his ring, you know it came from the royal

crown." "Loot stolen when the city fell," Rondus replied as he threw

the sheep's innards at Philip's face, leaving it smeared with blood and


Spitting the foul mix from his mouth, Philip turned his attention back to the code of chivalry. "Is it not the duty of a knight to protect children?"

"I might call him a boy but he is a man as far as I am concerned."

"He is only twenty!"

"We marry our children as young as fifteen here."

"In Domus the law is twenty-four."

"That is the sticking point. This is Qul Tos, not the Empire," Rondus cackled.

"It's no use," Gideon grunted to Philip as he struggled with his bonds. "He will never let us go. He enjoys tormenting us too much."

"Do you think I do not know that? The only reason I still talk to him is to make sure he does not tire of us and decide to cut our throats," Philip whispered back.

"But we have to do something... Jason."

"We only need to make it a few more days, Gideon. Remember the rest of the party will have to pass by here," Philip explained.

"Well, I wish they would hurry up, these ropes are rubbing my wrists raw."

Caleb, being the only person in the party who had any experience of traveling in the Jasper Mountains, enjoyed having the others depend on him for a change. He did not mind being called a Famulus, he just hated that both Legatio and Centurions seemed to think most Famulus were helpless children in need of close watching.

On their four-day race to catch up with Philip and the others, it was Caleb who found the plants and roots that could be made eatable and showed them the hidden caves to protect themselves from the cold night's wind. That did not mean Darius didn't complain about everything or warn Caleb that if he became to uppity he would face Centurion justice.

The main thing Caleb did, however, was comfort the others who were worried about Jason. They all knew that something had to be wrong, only two sets of tracks were seen leaving camps that clearly showed that three people had been sleeping there the night before. As the tracks were made by good-size men, that had to mean that Jason had to be the one unable to walk. Time and time again Caleb had to tell the rest of the party that they would soon be arriving at a cabin, where their comrades would find food and shelter and where he was sure the

others would be found. Finally, when a pillar of smoke appeared in

the sky, everyone started running to it, convinced that they would find

food, warmth and, most importantly, Jason.

"Who lives here?" Darius, Field Marshal of the East, asked as they approached the sturdy structure.

"Rondus... you will love him. He would come to the palace on feast days and take me hunting," Caleb grinned.

"You sure he would not mind having guests?" Erik, the Famulus servant, wondered.

"That is one of the strange things about Rondus; he hates all the ceremony and formality that comes with being a knight, but feels bound to live by the code. If guests in need come to his house in need, he takes them in whether he likes it or not. But to be safe you better let me go in first," Caleb explained.

On arriving at the cabin, Caleb poked his head past the sheep hide curtain. "Uncle Rondus?"

"Who dares call me that!" the old man shouted, turning around

to face the door, throwing a clay jug in Caleb's direction. "It is me... Calebos. Don't you remember me?"

"Calebos is dead!" Rondus yelled, trying hard not to look at

Caleb's face.

"It is me old man. You knew me back when I was a child in the palace. You even let me go to the cave and swim through the underwater tunnel to Domus so we could go spying on the Centurions. Don't you remember?"

"Calebos is dead. You are dead... dead," the old man continued to deny, turning his back to Caleb to hide his tears.

Caleb lifted off his shirt and walked over to the man he called uncle Rondus. He took the old man's hand and let it run down the scar on his side. "Don't you remember this scar?"

"I do..." The old man wept, reaching to touch it. "You know how I got that scar?" Caleb said calmly.

"Yes, one of my goats didn't take well to your teasing and rammed you with its horns."

"Yes... and we killed, roasted and ate that goat the same day." Caleb laughed.

"My prince!" the old man cried as he pulled Caleb into a bear hug. "No longer," Caleb smiled and he wrapped his arms around the old man.

"You should be king... not that usurper," Rondus spat, pointing to the bed where Jason lay.

"No, Rondus... he is the king."

"No, he is not... he is a Centurion bastard!"

"Rondus... am I still your prince?"

"Yes my lord," Rondus said reverently, going down on his knees.

A little embarrassed, Caleb lifted the old man back to his feet. "Then I want you to follow my last and final order as your prince."


"I hereby surrender all claim to the throne, giving it to Jason. Serve him as you would have served me."

"Never!" Rondus resisted.

"Then I order you as your king to treat him as you would treat me."

"That I can live with," Rondus grunted as he hugged Calebos hard.

"And Rondus... my name is just Caleb now. Calebos died when my need for revenge left me."

"Alright, Caleb... but tell me, what happened to you?" Rondus

asked as he walked past his tied prisoners and offered Caleb a stool.

Caleb told the old man, who had been his childhood friend, all that had happened so many years ago. He told him about being caught sleeping with his father's captain, his imprisonment and latter release to become a chef... a servant for his younger brother, who had assumed the throne in his place. He told Rondus of his thirst for revenge and how he overcame it after the capital fell, when he became the Famulus lover of the Centurion general.

Rondus was shocked, not by Caleb's homosexuality, but how in control Caleb was of his emotions. When the boy had been allowed to spend the summers living with him, he had been a moody, rambunctious, wild child, just as Rondus still was. Now Caleb was a calm and thoughtful man of middle years. He was still in prime physical condition, however, and still had his mischievous, charming smile.

"It is good to have you back, boy." Rondus smiled as he stared into Caleb's pale blue eyes.

"Thank you... now how about we untie my friends," Caleb asked.

Philip gave Caleb a suspicious look as he was freed. "Do you have any more secrets?"

"Just one more... I was hired by Senator Perils to kill Jason."

"What!" Philip swore as he dove for Caleb's neck but was unable

to reach him as his legs were still tied together.

"Don't worry... Jason, Alex, Gideon, and Kristen knew," Caleb said, holding back laughing at seeing Philip fall down on his face.

Philip spat the dirt out of his mouth. "And why was I not told?"

"Because we knew you would kill Caleb to keep Jason safe," Gideon explained.

"But why let him live in the first place?" Philip demanded. "So we could find out who hired him." "Don't you know?" Philip asked Caleb.

"I was paid by a Famulus named Horace... I very much doubt

he was the one who wanted the job done though. He was only acting

as an intermediary."

"Well, did you ever find out who it was?" Philip demanded as he worked on untying his legs.

"Melkior told Jason that Perils would have the most to gain if he died at the hands of an Easterner," Gideon told Philip.

"Perils... everything that has happened seems to have been arranged by that snake. I would not be surprised if he set up the attack on Field Marshals Lukas and Gorr," Philip said bitterly.

"Where is everyone else?" Gideon asked.

"I told them to stay behind. Rondus does not react well to uninvited guests, as you can see." Caleb laughed, looking at the old man fondly.

"I just like my privacy," Rondus grunted. "Can I have them join us?" Caleb asked.

"Yes Calebos... I mean Caleb. If you can trust them, then I guess I should be able to tolerate them.

Chapter Twenty-Three:

Anima's Lure

While everyone was warming themselves by the fire, Erik looked after Jason, his black bag of mysteries at his side. He had a worried look on his face when he went to Philip to report on the boy's condition.

"The poor boy is burning up," Erik reported.

"What he needs is anima," Darius sighed.

"Well, unless one of us volunteered to be cut open there is no way Jason can get it," Erik pointed out.

"I will," Gideon spoke up.

"Sit down boy," Darius commanded. "None of us are going to die to save Jason's life. The boy would never forgive us or himself."

"Then what can we do?" Gideon asked as worry began to overcome him.

"We do what we can. What chance does he have?" Philip asked Erik.

"Fifty percent, but I do have an idea that might raise the odds."

"Tell us," Darius asked as he wrapped an arm around his lover.

"We all know that Centurion bones can help stop the bleeding of a Legatio. What can Centurion blood do?" Erik asked.

"It's been tried... In the old days a Legatio would drink the blood of a Centurion, hoping to gain our strength. It had no effect," Philip said, holding back his tears.

"I'm not suggesting that Jason drink your blood. What I am

suggesting is that some of your blood be transferred to Jason... directly

into his veins."

"How will you do that?" Darius asked.

"Something that I learned while a slave in Jadoor," Erik insisted.

"It is worth a try... what do we have to lose," Philip said, hope reappearing on his face. "I of course will be the one to give him the blood."

"He might need more than one treatment," Erik warned.

"We can all take turns," Darius stepped in.

"Even I?" Gideon asked, hoping that the Field Marshal would not tell him to be quiet again.

"Even you," Darius smiled.

Soon Philip was back in bed with Jason, an amazingly flexible tube connecting their two bodies, letting Philip's blood flow inside Jason. It was a little awkward having to hold his arm above Jason's body but Erik told him it was necessary to prevent Jason's blood from flowing into Philip.

After an hour, Philip felt lightheaded but saw that the transfusion, as Erik called it, was having its effect. Some color returned to Jason's cheeks and his breathing became less labored. Erik reported that Jason still had a fever but it was down from what it had been before.

"It might be a few more days before he fully recovers, but I am now sure he will make it," Erik said as he removed the needle from Philip's arm.

"Good..." Darius grinned as he watched his bondmate and

Jason sleep on the bed. "You are a very remarkable Famulus Erik... I've

never seen one as trained as you.

"Thank you." Erik blushed.

"When we conquer Jadoor we will have to send our own healers to learn the same skills you have."

"That would be good indeed," Erik said, trying to cover his growing nervousness.

"Dinner's ready!" Kristen called out to them.

"Great... I'm starved," Darius laughed, dropping the subject to Erik's great relief.

"Smells good." Erik smiled as he joined the others at the table hoping that was the end of their questions, for if they ever found out about his real past it would not only mean his death, but most of theirs as well.

When Alex's twenty-first birthday finally arrived, none of the people he wished to be present were there, but to everyone's great surprise Field Marshal Xavier showed up. With him being the highest ranking adult present, it was his right to circumcise Alex.

"Do you know why the Field Marshal is here?" Alex asked Commandant Oktor.

"No... all he has told me was that he heard a promising student was reaching adulthood this year and wanted to take part in the ceremony."

"But why me... I did cripple Perils' son." "That did not stop you and Gideon from become better friends,

maybe the Field Marshal is here to honor that friendship." Oktor said

in reference to Xavier being Perils' toady. "The point is you should look

at this as an honor and not be so suspicious," Oktor chastised.

"Sorry sir... I guess I can't get over my suspicions. He did vote

to have Jason expelled."

"He is a Field Marshal. His orders are not to be questioned, especially by a Centurion who is not even a part of a legion," Oktor warned.

"Are you telling me I should be happy that Xavier has come for me?"

"I am ordering you to be happy," Oktor laughed. "Now go change into your robe. It is never good to keep a Field Marshal waiting."

Hurrying back to his barracks, Alex found a soft white robe with the golden sun of the empire embroidered on the back. Stripping down to nothing, Alex put on the robe and a pair of matching white slippers that had been placed under his cot.

Dressed for the ceremony, Alex walked to the officer's hall

where the Centurion instructors were waiting in a circle. Making his way toward the center Alex saw Xavier, dressed in a gold robe with a white sun emblazoned on the back, a gold knife in his hands. At the Field Marshal's feet was a pair of silver and gold bowls covered in

ancient Mord runes. Alex could not read ancient Mord, but understood

the ancient writing none the less. They were the five Centurion Oaths... loyalty to the Empire and it's Field Marshals, loyalty to ones commanding officer, loyalty to the men who serve under you, to swear

to protect the lives of the Legatio, and to swear to kill any demon, a Centurion who kills other Centurions and Legatio for their anima, who might arise among his people.

In the circle, Alex felt hands behind him remove his robe, leaving him naked as the day he was been born. His body was shaved, removing every single strand of hair. Then scented oils were rubbed over him, giving his tanned skin a glowing sheen. Finally came the time for him to be cut.

Xavier, down on one knee took hold of Alex's manhood with a firm grip. He then used the gold knife to cut around the loose skin, letting the resulting blood drip into the silver bowl below. When the foreskin was finally removed, it was thrown into the gold bowl. The bowl was then taken to the nearby fireplace and the skin burned. The resulting ashes were then added to the blood in the silver bowl in addition to a goblet of wine. The Field Marshal picked up the bowl from the floor and stirred the mixture of blood, wine and ashes with his right index finger. To finish the ceremony Xavier brought the bowl to Alex's lips, pouring the concoction down the young man's throat until the bowl was dry.

Alex was then dressed in a gold silk robe, just like the Field Marshal's. Handed his white one after being dressed, Alex took the robe, a mark of his childhood, and threw it into the fire where it burst into flames. Now emotionally exhausted, Alex was then led away to the room where he would await the coming of the man who would be his mentor.

In the room was a large bed built into the wall. Sitting down on it, Alex could feel the cool white sheets and the soft goose feathers that stuffed the mattress. As the sun had already set, Alex lay down and closed his eyes preparing to fall asleep when the door opened, letting in the soft glow of torch light. In stepped Xavier, naked, a mass of muscles, only a few inches taller but weighing twice as much as Alex. In his arms he carried a large wooden weapon case. "Field Marshal!" Alex said shocked, jumping out of bed and

saluting Xavier.

"Go back in bed, Alex... I will be joining you soon."

"What!" Alex said shocked.

Xavier gave Alex a sly smile. "You mean the Commandant did not tell you... I am to be your mentor."

Alex sat himself back down on the bed, feeling both bewildered

if not a little taken a back. "No... I didn't know that." "I can see by your face that you don't understand why I have

asked to be your mentor."

"Yes..." Alex agreed, biting his tongue.

"You have every reason to hate me. First I tried to force Jason to live with Perils. Then I voted for him to be punished for that silly duel he was in. I swear to you none of those decisions were mine."

"Yes..." Alex hesitated before really saying was on his mind. "You are also a lap dog of the Senate."

The accusation sent red flames of anger across Xavier's face.

He punched one of the nearby wood pillars, cracking it. "I was taken

advantage of by Perils... but no longer."

"Prove it," Alex demanded.

"First, I will give you this," Xavier, now back in control of his anger, said as he brought the weapon case onto the bed. He opened it and took out the double-bladed sword Alex had so admired many months ago.

"You cannot bribe me," Alex said while taking the perfect weapon in his hands. He could still remember when weapon smith Logan handed him the sword with its curved blades and how he had felt the strength of it flow into his arms.

"I see you like my gift." Xavier grinned as he wrapped an arm around Alex's waist. He wanted to get the negotiations over with quickly so he could move on to the seduction. "I also want you to look at this," the Field Marshal said, handing the young Centurion two thick scrolls.

"What are these?" Alex asked as he unrolled them, to seeing lists of names and numbers in what appeared to be ledgers.

"Do you know how Senator Peril's family came by its wealth?"

"His family controls most of the trade in Domus."

"Not most, just one single commodity, Centurion bones," Xavier


"Is that what these scrolls show, the price and the amount of Centurion bones his family sells to the Legatio?"

"Yes, one of the scrolls is the official one Perils gives to the Senate and Field Marshals, the other shows his trade in illegal bones."

"Illegal bones?" Alex asked confused.

Xavier leaned in closer to Alex before explaining. "Perils has been selling our skulls."

"But that is the only part we are allowed to keep after death. Destroying one is considered the greatest dishonor a Centurion can face," Alex said, his temper rising quickly.

"I see your anger matches mine. Hold on to that feeling. We will both need it when we see Senator Perils faces our judgment," Xavier said, taking a vial of precious anima out of his pocket.

"Anima?" Alex whispered.

"Anima can serve other purposes than healing," Xavier replied popping off the stopper with his thumb. "Considering we will be striking at the heart of the Senate we both will need to be strong. This anima came from a very strong Centurion."

Nodding his head, Alex let the Field Marshal pour half the vial into his mouth, Xavier drinking the rest. Within moments both men's bodies glowed with an inner blue light. As the anima spread throughout their bodies so did an uncontrollable wave of lust, something Legatio did not experience when given the same elixir.

After Alex let Xavier mindlessly ravish him and had fallen asleep, the Field Marshal slipped out of the bed and went to a trunk standing in a corner of the room. Opening it Xavier blinked, blinded by the bright blue light of dozens of vials of anima. Taking one into his hand he returned to the bed, this time pouring its entire contents down Alex's throat. Within seconds Alex's eyes were wide open, a mischievous grin on his face. As lust took control of the young Centurion again, Xavier chuckled seeing he now had Alex loosely leashed. With each additional vial of anima that leash would tighten.

Chapter Twenty-Four:

Of Demons and the Angels

"I have returned with what you sent me for great Amplexor," Aidan bowed once he had returned to the catacombs beneath the royal palace.

"I see that you have," Ampelxor smiled, giving Captain Dorian a polite nod before turning toward the stairs he had prevented Aidan from going down last time. "Follow me, I can now show you the answer you seek."

Aidan, taking Dorian's hand in his followed the Son of the

Mother down, deeper underground, into darkness, leading with his

hands, pressing them against the smooth, damp tunnel's walls. He then felt Dorian stop suddenly, just before the path ahead of them lit up with

a brilliant white light, blinding him.

"Behold King Aidan III, see your heritage and my true glory!" Amplexor declared. When Aidan could see again he saw the open door where the light was coming from, Amplexor standing in the middle of it, his dirty gray brown robes gone, revealing the man's pale marble-

like body and his pair of brilliant white wings. "Son of the Mother," Aidan said, his mouth falling open as he sank to his knees in shock and adoration.

"Now come to me Aidan, son of Darien, and down the line to Tristan, the last of my Saints. Come to me Dorian of the Centurions and meet the first High Priest of the Mother, my lover, Gladius. Come to me both and receive my blessing." Amplexor said in a booming voice.

Hand in hand Aidan and Dorian walked towards Amplexor, past the door which slammed shut hard with a metallic clang, returning the cave to darkness. Inside Amplexor showed the two the mysteries of Jadoor; putting both under spells of bewilderment and awe. Giving them no chance to refuse his blessings, Amplexor set his ancient plans into motion, preparing the way for the resurrection of his lover, Gladius... the lord of all demons, the one who had killed their very creator, the Mother.

The Academy exiles stayed two weeks at Rondus's cabin, allowing Jason to fully recover. During that time Rondus interrogated all of them, hungry for information about the outside world, strange for a man who preferred to live as a hermit.

Jason's recovery was slow. It was not until the third day of blood transfusions that he was able to stomach solid food or even talk coherently. But slowly and surely he did regain his strength until he was able to leave his bed on the ninth day.

Philip and Gideon took turns walking Jason outside to where the goats and sheep were penned near the cabin. Outside the smoky cabin, Jason was able to breathe the fresh air and regain some of the strength he had lost in his legs.

For Philip, those days of recovery changed him. The fear of

losing the young man exceeded any threat he had ever faced in battle.

Now that it seemed Jason would survive, Philip had reached a decision.

Jason's twenty-first birthday was fast approaching. As a Legatio that would mean little but because of almost losing him, Philip wanted

to bring Jason into adulthood the Centurion way and love him as a Centurion would, by giving him his full bond.

The morning of Jason's birthday, Philip woke as he had been for

the past few days, with Jason asleep on top of him. The commander let

his rough finger run down the Legatio's spine, triggering Jason to open

his bright green eyes.

Philip's gaze froze on those two wide spheres, becoming lost in the calm stare the young man gave him. "It's time for our walk," Philip chuckled as he gave Jason's shoulders a hard squeeze. Jason climbed off Philip and went to put on the goat furs Kristen had sewn together for winter clothing. Once dressed, Jason saw Philip was already waiting for him, carrying a basket and wearing his Centurion commander's uniform.

Instead of taking Jason down the path to the animal pens, Philip led him to one of mine passages Rondus had dug out in his youth. There he took out a wool blanket and laid it on the rocky ground.

"Let's rest here," Philip suggested after he had a swig from a wine skin.

Jason stretched out on the blanket, his skin a few shades lighter than the gray wool. Philip could not help but let his hand slip under the goatskin jacket Jason was wearing and feel Jason's warm smooth skin underneath

"Jason... do you know what I awoke to find this morning?" Philip grinned as he lay over the Legatio, hugging the young man close to him.

"What?" Jason asked as he nuzzled up against his guardian's

chest. "When I woke, it was to a sweet taste in my mouth. In fact it is

still there," Philip said with a wide smile, letting the blue sheen glowing from his teeth show for the first time.

"Anima?" Jason said surprised. "Yes." Philip nodded his head enthusiastically. "But how? You are bonded to Darius?"

"We never went through the final ceremony of exchanging anima."

"Then why?"

"Because you are the person to whom I want to give my bond, if you will accept it."

For a long moment Jason remained silent. Alex, Gideon, and Varrus had all given him their bonds yet he had yet to give his. More than any other lesson the Legatio Academics had given they had pressed one single fact into his head... he could only give his bond once. All the legends said a Legatio's bond to a Centurion would bring the greatest joy. They also said that the mutual bond would do nothing to stop the bitterness the Legatio would feel for the rest of his very long life once his Centurion was dead. Philip, already 32, had only eight years of life to offer him. They would be good years, the best of years, but would

they outweigh the pain Jason would feel once they were over? To love

Philip, or anyone for that matter, required that he sacrifice himself to a

future life of pain.

For any other Legatio this knowledge would have left doubt, the sole barrier the Legatio had never been able to overcome to give their bonds to the Centurions. Jason however having lived his life in a desert without love, knew what it was like to have none. During the short months he had been in the world of the Centurions he also knew what he wanted, and it was no longer to become a Centurion. For the first time in his life Jason was glad he was a Legatio for it now allowed him to do the one thing for Philip that no one else could... a Legatio's

love. It was not that Alex, Gideon or Varrus were any less deserving

of his bond. It was that this was the first time Jason had the choice to

accept or refuse the bond of a man he knew loved him more than life itself. Philip could be over protective, parental, and sometimes bossy. As a military commander that was to be expected, but at this crucial

moment he had left himself vulnerable to Jason's rejection. While Jason

had accepted the bonds of the others readily, each one had been given in a moment of passion, no time given to make an actual choice. Now, faced with the choice Jason had no doubts. Philip might not stir the same passions as he felt for Varrus, nor did they share the comradely he

had with Gideon or Alex but he had something they didn't. He had the advantage of being the first, the first man to ever show him kindness, the first to offer his protection, the first to show Jason that there was a

world beyond the Labyrinth Tower and the cruelty of his mother. He

was the first man Jason could say he had ever truly loved.

Free of all doubt, and having reached his decision, Jason

slipped a finger into his mouth, withdrawing it to show the coat of red

anima that now covered it. "I accept," he whispered, showing Philip

his finger. "I..." Philip stuttered, caught completely by surprise. Darius had

spoken to him for hours about the rituals that needed to be performed

if there were to be any chance of summoning Jason's anima. It was not

supposed to be this easy.

"I accept your bond." Jason said, strength returning to his voice. "But I'm not ready," Philip said , embarrassed. Laughing, Jason took hold of Philip's blue finger. "You're not


"I... I need to circumcise you first." Philip said as he dug blindly into his bag for Agamemnon's gold dagger.

"What about the bleeding?" Jason asked, continuing to laugh. He had never seen Philip looking so lost for words.

"You let me worry about that," Philip chuckled, licking his lips so that they were stained blue as he retrieved the dagger. "You really want to give me your bond?"

"I don't think I could have summoned my anima if any part of me didn't want to."

Overwhelmed by the thought of what was about to happen,

Philip couldn't hold back his tears. "I don't deserve this." Reaching out Jason wrapped his arms around Philip's neck,

pulling him into an embrace. "Only I can say who deserves my bond."

"But the others?" Philip cried.

"Do you think my love for them is gone? This is bigger than

love, Philip," Jason said showing Philip his red finger once again. "I don't understand," Philip whispered, shaking his head. Jason

was radiating a peace and calm he had never experienced before. He did not know how the young man had reached such wisdom. It was as if their roles had been reversed.

"Do you need to?" Jason asked, standing up to remove his goat skin clothing. "Does anyone understand something they have never experienced before?"

Waiting until his hands stopped trebling, Philip withdrew the dagger from its sheath and began the circumcision ritual. After both of them drank the mixture of wine and ash, he took hold of Jason's bleeding sex and wrapped his mouth around it, letting the anima that filled his mouth heal the wound. By the time he removed his mouth, the blood was gone, Jason's sex however had become engorged.

"Tradition says we should make love before exchanging bonds." Philip whispered as he removed his own clothes.

"How can there be a tradition for something that's never happened before?" Jason asked lowering Philip down upon his back as he climbed on top of him.

"I..." Philip was about to say he didn't know but was stopped by Jason when he pressed his lips against the Centurion's mouth.

As they rolled about the cave, their lips locked, their animas flowed between their bodies. Instead of the expected purple glow however, what little color Jason skin had was replaced by a brilliant whiteness that started from his abdomen before spreading to the rest of his body. As for Philip, his tan skin was quickly turning black, a darkness that went deeper than that of the Qopo in the southlands. It was an obsidian black, dark yet shiny. Where Jason's body touched his, veins of white lighting danced across Philip's skin.

Neither man noticed any of these changes however both being blinded by the passions their combined anima triggered in each other. As the hours passed each mounted the other, each tasted the flavor of the other's seed, and each passed even more of their anima to the other until both finally reached the point of exhaustion as the sun disappeared

behind the mountains. "Philip?" Jason asked, his white body wrapped around the dark void of his bondmate. "What have I become?" Philip whispered, looking at his clawed hands. "My lover," Jason replied contently, planting light kisses on

Philip's neck.

Looking at Jason, Philip saw a man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, more handsome than any Legatio or Centurion he had seen in his life, even Varrus. Jason, while still slim, looked more muscular than even the fittest Centurion. With a growing urge Philip placed a large hand on Jason's now strong left shoulder. On contact with his bondmate's skin, his claws retracted at once and remained so. His hand tingled with energy as he gripped and rubbed the now hard muscles. Looking at the spot, Philip saw the white veins of his skin glow brighter, while on Jason streaks of gray appeared under all that whiteness.

"Get the knife," Jason said excitedly.

Reaching for it, Philip handed it to his bondmate. He was shocked when Jason use the dagger to cut his thigh, releasing a dark, black blood. Before Philip could say a word however the wound healed itself.

"Why did you do that?" Philip asked confused.

"I needed to know," Jason replied, giving Philip back the black stained dagger.

"Know what?" Philip asked.

"That you wouldn't die," Jason whispered. "I don't understand."

"I am... I was a Legatio but as you saw I will not bleed to death. Maybe the same is true for you. You were a Centurion but given my anima. Maybe you won't die now." Jason said, gray tears running down his white face.

"If it gives you hope. I would feel better knowing you will not

look at me believing I will soon leave you," Philip said, squeezing

Jason's healed leg.

"It does," Jason nodded reaching to run his finger through Philip's hair its once straw yellow curls replaced by a white that matched Jason's skin.

Looking at both of their changed bodies and the pile of clothes they had brought with them, Philip couldn't hold back a deep chuckle. "It looks like we'll be going back naked."

"Do we need to go back?" Jason asked, placing a hand on

Philip's chest.

"I could feed from you till the world ends but our friends would miss us." Philip replied.

Jason stood up and offered Philip his hand. "Would they even

recognize us?"

"For you that won't be a problem. The moment they see you they'll be on their knees worshiping you. Me, they'll see as a demon."

"Then I guess I will just have to protect you my demon," Jason said, brushing his hand against Philip's chiseled face, watching the white lightning dance where he touched.

"You are not afraid?"

"They are our friends," Jason replied, guiding Philip out of the cave.

"I meant of me."

"Why should I be afraid of you?"

"Look at me!" His voice roared.

Raising his head, Jason placed a reassuring kiss on Philip's black

lips. "You are beautiful."

"I am a monster," Philip insisted his solid white eyes flaring

with life.

"No you're not. I will never let you become one." Jason said

sternly, gazing at Philip with his solid black opals.

To Philip's surprise he felt as if an invisible and previously unfelt leash had just been given a quick jerk. "If you say so." "I do," Jason replied, placing a hand on Philip's shoulder,

massaging it.

Letting out a cat like purr Philip let Jason guide him back toward the trail that would lead them back to Rondus' cabin. If he were indeed

the dreaded Demon of legend, at least he seemed to be a tame one.

Chapter Twenty-Five:

Of Mordel and the Dominus

It was past dusk when Philip and Jason were finally able to return to Rondus's cabin. Both of them had to walk back naked. As they approached the cabin they could hear laugher and the smell of roasting meat.

Philip, still not comfortable with his new form, felt that Jason should go inside first to explain things.

"It will be ok..." Jason said calmly, looking up at Philip with his solid black eyes.

He grabbed Jason's hand before the young man had a chance to go inside the cabin. "If they make a move to hurt you, run out as fast as you can," Philip warned.

"They won't hurt me," Jason insisted.

"Yes... seeing you, they just might only want to ravish you." Philip chuckled a little too loud.

"Hey, is that you Philip? Get back in here!" Darius's voice

shouted from the cabin. "I guess I should head in," Jason smiled nervously, the cold air

not affecting him at all. He walked into the fire-lit room where everyone was still gathered around the table eating. Darius was the first to look in Jason's direction.

"Who are you?" Darius demanded, reaching for his short sword.

"It's me... Jason." Jason replied, ready to run out of the cabin at the first sign of danger.

"Jason...?" Gideon asked confused.

"It is Jason," Erik said in awe, elbowing Kristen to look up from his meal.

"How do you know that?" Rondus yelled, he had already picked up his club and was making his way toward what he saw as an intruder. "There is a resemblance, but look at him... He is white as a ghost, tall, and built like a Centurion. I say knock him out, ask questions later!"

Gideon on hearing this jumped Rondus but was thrown off by the surprisingly strong man.

"Sit down, Rondus!" Caleb ordered.

"Yes Calebos," Rondus backed down immediately.

"Ummmm Jason, if that is who you are... who is that creature behind you?" Darius asked, a little scared.

Jason turned around and saw Philip, wielding a tree branch in his hands like a club. On hearing Rondus' threat, Philip had picked the first weapon he could find and rushed in, his eyes a white glow of

anger searching for any threat to Jason. Jason looked up at his counterpart with love in his eyes,

oblivious to the rage Philip was showing. "He's Philip." Jason smiled before kissing the ebony man's chest, sending the streaks of white aglow across Philip's black skin.

"Philip?" Darius said in disbelief. Philip tried to hold on to his anger but could not... not with

Jason's love and affection pouring into him with each touch. Wrapping

his arms protectively around his ward, Philip nodded his head to

Darius, a white tear dropping down his black face.

"How?" Gideon asked... stunned by what he was seeing.

"Jason gave me his bond and I him," Philip said as if that explained everything.

"But your skin? Nothing like this has happened before!" Darius said dumb struck.

"What does it feel like?" Gideon asked, very curious. He was back on his feet and moving closer to the couple, who now seemed more interested in each other. "It is beyond description," Philip grinned, his manhood already

hardening between his and Jason's body.

"Humor us," Rondus smirked. "Jason now feels as if he is a part of me. His heart, his breath,

his thoughts and emotions are all now mine. All we did after I took his

anima into me was make love and that is all I want to do for the rest of my life."

Jason too must have had the same idea as he moved his kisses down Philip's body, moving closer to Philip's manhood.

"No more sex!" Erik shouted, holding a strange metal device in his hands.

"Erik... what are you doing?" Kristen asked panicked.

"We need to get them to Mordel! Look at them... they are exactly what the Dominus are looking for!"

"What the hell is going on?" Darius demanded. Famulus were never supposed to give orders... ever.

Erik responded to Darius's comment by pointing the metal object at him. There was a loud bang and Darius went down.

Almost everyone was too stunned to respond, everyone except Philip. He did not know what had happened but it smelt of danger... danger to Jason. He raced to where Erik stood, smashing through the table, sending the food flying. Erik, though, remained very calm and pointed the metal object at Philip.

Right before Philip could reach Erik there was an even louder

bang that flung Philip all the way to the other end of the room.

Jason on seeing this went wild with anger and began to run over to Erik but stopped when Kristen tackled him.

"Jason, don't fight," Kristen said in a panicked voice.

Jason struggled to get Kristen off him but slowly he felt himself weaken and his eyes heavy. When Kristen was sure that the fight was out of Jason he stood up, revealing the syringe sticking in the middle of Jason's chest.

"What is going on?" Caleb demanded but not making any aggressive moves toward Erik and Kristen.

"I am a Grau... Kristen is MY servant," Eric explained as he pointed what was clearly a weapon at his partner before turning it on Caleb. "We come from a different country... a country more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

"Powerful... how?" Gideon asked suspiciously.

"Weapons, medicine, our entire civilization makes yours look like something from the stone age... all thanks to the Dominus of course," Kristen explained.

"The Dominus?" Caleb asked.

"Never mind..." Erik glared at Kristen.

"What are you going to do with us?" Gideon asked nervously.

"That is for the Dominus to decide," Erik snickered.

"Erik... why not let them go," Kristen said in a begging tone.

"They already know too much... I will ask the Dominus to let us bring them with us but if they say no, well we will have no choice," Erik said, disappointed in his underling.

"They would never agree to that!" Kristen said panicked.

"Then we will just have to make sure they can never tell anyone

about us."

"You mean kill us," Caleb said bitterly.

"Yes," Erik said, not disturbed at all by saying so. "Kristen...

give the subjects the inhibitor, I don't want their condition to progress

any further until we arrive back at Mordel." "Mordel?" Caleb asked nervously.

"You've heard of it?" Erik grinned evilly.

"Only in legends... it is also called the Valley of Death. It is a place of evil. Makes sense that you come from it," Caleb said accusingly.

"I am just a servant of the Dominus of Mordel... you don't know evil until you come face to face with them." Erik shuddered.

"Then why do you serve them?" Gideon demanded.

"I bet you would like me to say I had no choice but that would only be half the truth. I serve them for what they give me for my services. My reward will be great now that I have the specimens they have been looking for."

"Jason and Philip..." Caleb realized.

"Yes... a bonded pair of Legatio and Centurion. We have been looking for them for centuries. It has not been as simple as the Dominus had hoped. They thought all they would have to do was transfer the anima between the two symbiotic species to obtain what they wanted. It never worked. There was something missing... something the vast medical knowledge of the Dominus could not synthesize," Erik grunted as he watched his three prisoners.

"Love... they could not force a Legatio to fall in love with a Centurion," Gideon guessed.

"Exactly..." Erik smiled. "The Centurions were always willing but the Legatio would always get cold feet before a true bond could form."

"So you have finally found a Legatio who loves a Centurion... you should be proud betraying them!" Caleb said bitterly.

"Watch it! Erik warned, pointing his weapon at Caleb. "All I did

was stun Philip and Darius. I can also blow your head clear off."

"It seems that is what your masters have in mind for us anyway," Caleb spat back. "Is that what happened to Jonathan?"

"Caleb, don't make things worse!" Kirsten begged.

"Why do you care?" Caleb pressed, angry that the man he had been sharing his bed with was turning his back on him.

"He cares because he is not like me... a Grau, a true servant of the Dominus. There is no reward waiting for him back home. He is just a slave, a member of a tribe the Dominus conquered thousands of years ago. If he does not do as I say he and a hundred of his people will be executed."

"You are an evil man," Rondus growled menacingly.

"No, I just work for evil masters." Erik bowed his head, a wide

smile on his face.

"I'm done," Kristen said submissively after giving both Philip and Jason an injection.

"Good... it should take effect in no more than three hours." Erik

grinned. "Kristen help us," Gideon begged.

"I'm sorry I can't... my people," Kristen said, unable to look any

of his friends in the eye.

His head bowed, Kristen joined Erik at his side, looking ashamed. Then Erik did something very stupid, he handed his weapon over to Kristen so as to reach into his black bag.

Just as Erik pulled out another metal device, Kristen adjusted the setting of the weapon and fired on his superior. The rest watched in horror as Erik's body disintegrated in a burst of flame.

"I always hated that bastard," Kristen said, his back straight and head up, no longer the submissive man he had been pretending to be.

"Kristen!" Gideon shouted in surprise.

"Kristen... I am glad you picked us over Erik, but what about your people?" Caleb asked concerned.

"My people are proud and hate the Dominus. Since Dominus really want a bonded Legatio and Centurion pair it seems like a good idea to make sure they do not get one. If my helping you stops the Dominus from getting what they want, my people will be willing to sacrifice themselves."

"That can't be the only reason," Caleb pushed.

"No... you are right. I'm doing this for Jason. He reminds me of my own son."

"Your son?" Caleb said shocked. "You look like you are only in your mid-twenties."

"Part of my reward for being selected by the Dominus as an agent was they extended my lifespan. It had its costs though... I had to leave my wife and child behind to be trained and sent across the Barrier Ocean to act as a spy."

"How old are you?" Caleb asked.

"I will be one hundred and twelve in three weeks. My son... if he is alive, will be in his nineties. I very much doubt he is alive though, life in the mines is not easy," Kristen replied, trying to hold back his tears.

"Why do you say that... he might have become an agent like you?" Gideon said optimistically.

"Yes, there is that chance... but only one out of tens of thousands gets selected. For my people, being selected is considered a blessing... it is the only way out of the underground tunnels we are forced to live in," Kristen shuddered

"What sort of world is that?" Gideon asked.

"A barren one... Mordel is a land of death, just as Caleb said. From what I have been told, there is a toxic wind that our planet sails through. Your side of the planet... Ares is shielded by the Barrier while our side is hit constantly by this invisible wind, making life on the surface impossible. As a result, very few of my people have ever seen the sun."

"Sounds like a dreadful existence." Rondus smirked, not believing a word Kristen said.

Everyone watched as Kristen took out a syringe and make his way to Jason giving him an injection.

"What is that?" Caleb demanded. "Something to help cover up the physical changes his body went through when he bonded to Philip. It will take an hour to take

effect. We can't be running around with Jason looking like this."

"I guess we have to trust you," Caleb nodded.

"Not until he tells me who these Dominus are!" Rondus demanded his club back in his hands.

"Rondus, he saved us!" Gideon protested.

"Yes, but he kept the fact he was working for someone else from us." Caleb agreed with Rondus.

Kristen finished giving Philip his injection before taking a seat by the bed. "I don't know what the Dominus look like, as I have never seen one face to face. Only the Grau... like Erik, have the right to be in their presence."

"But what do you KNOW about them? Why are they so powerful?" Rondus pressed.

"For a reason my people forgot... our side of this world... Mordel, kept its technology while your side of the world lost it in an accident. Or, we think it was an accident, for while your half remained green with life, ours began to die, and dry up. It has something to do with the barrier. Since it was built travel between Mordel and Ares has almost been impossible until recently.

"So how did your people end up as slaves?" Gideon wondered.

"There was a revolt. My people did not stand a chance, and after a few years the war ended and my people were sentenced to work in the underground cities and mines. By then, however, all the major countries were armed to the teeth. Each felt they had the right and the power to claim the rich lands of Ares for themselves. A larger more destructive war started. Most of the great cities were wiped out. As irony would have it, my people were spared most of the death and destruction as we were safe, underground, digging their cities and mines for them. Things must have become desperate though because soon they started recruiting us to fight their wars."

"How could they run the risk of arming you... you had revolted earlier?" Caleb asked confused.

"They could because back then they didn't need to threaten our people to get us to obey." Kristen sighed.

"What ways?" Gideon asked.

"Things that not even I understand... they used to have a way of altering our bodies to serve their purposes. Centurions, Legatio, Grau, and others all have their origins from the war."

"So it was not a gift from the gods?" Gideon sighed, clearly disappointed.

"Gods?" Kristen laughed. "The Dominus who created you view themselves as gods or so they would like everyone to believe. "

"I must ask you again... what are the Dominus?" Rondus demanded angrily.

"The Dominus are the only great power that survived the wars, the victors so to speak. They are the keepers of all the technology that wasn't destroyed. During the war the barrier, which had been impenetrable for over a thousand years, started to fail. The Legatio, Centurions, Famulus, Jadoorians, and several of the enslaved tribes used that chance to flee."

"The Jadoorians... they are that old of a people?"

"They were one of the largest tribes and unlike mine were one of the last to be free of the Dominus. So when the Centurions and Legatio fled, the Jadoorians escaped Mordel with them."

"What about the Grau? Centurions are supposed to be great fighters, regardless that they are a bunch of fags. Legatio live practically forever even though they can die from a paper cut. What's so special about the Grau?" Rondus barked, not hiding that he was not impressed by either of the two engineered species of men.

"Rondus!" Gideon warned, not willing to let a man he saw as being an unclean Famulus disrespect his people.

Seeing that a fight was about to happen, Kristen continued talking in hope of distracting them. "The Grau are master spies and manipulators. They can take on almost any personality and be believable at it. That is why Erik seemed so charming before he took on his real personality."

"Then why don't the Dominus invade here if they are so

powerful?" Caleb demanded. If the Dominus were as strong as Kristen

claimed, Caleb couldn't see why they would remain on their side of the


"They are afraid to," Kristen said simply.

"Why? You have said how powerful they are... what do they have to be afraid of?" Rondus asked, not impressed so far by anything Kristen had said.

"The barrier... It affects different races differently," Kristen


"What do you mean?"

"Inside each of the Dominus is a core... not an anima core like what Centurions and Legatio have but one made of a substance called ‘animus'. The barrier that protects Ares is like a giant lode stone. When a person with an animus core passes near the field they are like iron, pulled into the field and trapped. That is why Legatio and Centurions were able to pass the field and why the Dominus are so interested in them."

"Still, none of what you have said explains why the Dominus are so interested in Jason and Philip. Why do they need a bonded pair of Centurion and Legatio?"

"I don't know how but my guess is that it is only from them that

the Dominus believe they can learn how to cross the Barrier, allowing

them to enter the living lands of Ares."

"And that would be bad..." Gideon guessed.

"Very bad," Kristen agreed.

"So what are we doing now?" Caleb asked, completely giving up on trying to control the situation.

"We need to leave this place as soon as possible," Kristen replied.

"Why... Erik is dead." Gideon shrugged.

"Yes, but he has been giving regular reports to other Grau agents," Kristen explained, pointing to the metal device Erik had reached for before his death.

"How?" Caleb demanded.

"It doesn't matter how, just take my word that he was and when he does not give his next report the other Grau will come looking for him. We need to be out of the mountain pass before that happens."

"I'm not leaving my home!" Rondus protested.

"Fine... stay here and be killed or worse experimented on," Kristen sighed. "We all have to leave. Right now the Dominus do not know about Jason and Philip. If any of us stay, however, they will find out."

"No... I won't go. Let them come and I'll kill them for you. They won't get a word out of me," Rondus said stubbornly wielding his club as if he were fighting off a horde.

"You wouldn't stand a chance against them," Kristen insisted.

"You seemed to handle Erik fine," Gideon said.

"That was because I knew Erik would be too busy with the rest of you to worry about me," Kristen said, getting a little tired of having

to explain things. "The Grau will come for us regardless. I can teach you tricks to hide things from them. If they look hard enough they will

find what they are searching for, but it is the best I can do. One day,

however, the truth will come out and I will die." "We will protect you," Caleb replied his anger toward Kristen

fading. "You can try but I doubt you can," Kristen shook his head. "How do we hide our thoughts from the Grau?" Darius asked. "By helping you forget them. You will not remember what I

have just told you. You will not remember that Jason and Philip are

bonded," Kristen said.

"Won't we notice that Jason has grown?" Gideon chuckled. "No... your mind will adjust and fill in the holes. It will just be my job to make sure that all of you fill them in the same way," Kristen explained. "When do we start?" Rondus grunted, thinking it had been a mistake to let all these intruders stay at his cabin for so long. "Now," Kristen said as he stabbed Rondus in the side with a syringe.

Copyright © 2011 JMH; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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