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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. 

The Centurion Cycle - 3. Book III: Angels Ascending

Prelude

Of What Has Gone Before

     

     

Kristen carried the heavy weight of Rondus's stout body like a man carrying a full cask on his shoulders. Dumping the unconscious body near a pile of blankets in the camp he had carefully set up twelve miles from the old coots cabin he looked at the result of a week's worth of backbreaking effort. Everything looked perfect, well as perfect as the agent from the dark lands of Mordel could manage from the gear and supplies his former master had left behind.

If Erik had still been alive he might have looked upon the camp scene with pride but the Grau was now dead, by Kristen's own hand. Even after a week Kristen could not believe he had betrayed his masters and those they served, the terrible and vengeful Dominus, who ruled the blasted lands of Mordel and its underground city.

That was all in the past now, along with so many other things. It amazed him to think that only two seasons ago he and Erik had been mere observers, spies checking for any signs of weakness among the warrior Centurions and the Domus Empire they rule.

Whenever they saw a wooden wagon being pulled, or people lining up around a fountain to drink, Kristen and Erik would give each other a knowing smile and laugh at how primitive the poor naïve people of Domus and the rest of Ares were compared to the technological might of Mordel and its great rulers.

Yet, if they were honest with one another, they would have admitted they loved being free of the underground city with its recycled water, air, and even food. Here in Ares the air was clean, the rays of the sun warm and free of most deadly radiation, and the people went about their lives never knowing that it could all be taken away if the Dominus so desired it.

For Kristen, the fear that he could have the freedom he enjoyed in Ares taken away from him at any moment if their mistresses wanted it was what had led him to fire his gun at Erik. It had become clear that the telepathic Grau agent had every intention of taking them all back to Mordel now that they had finally found the angel; the prize all Mordelian agents were trying to find.

Kristen had believed an Angel would never be found; that the gulf between the Centurion warriors who fought for the Empire and the Legatio who wrote poems about it would never be breached. Then again, the young man for whom he had become a body servant was unlike any Legatio born in thousands of years.

Jason, sweet, innocent, and very naïve had lived most of his life as his mother's hostage during the long siege of the Labyrinth Tower in the Kingdom of Qul Tos, famed for its silver and jewels. Jason, the result of a shared night of pleasures between his mother Eleanor, Qul Tos' queen, and the famed Centurion general Agamemnon, should have been raised in Domus like any proper Legatio.

It was a miracle that Jason even reached the age of twenty-one under his mother's harsh care for, while Legatio, were always sired by Centurion warriors, they were born in frail health, suffering from a terrible form of hemophilia that could make the slightest cut deadly. Yet if a Legatio could manage avoid cutting himself, he would be blessed with nearly a thousand years of life. His Centurion cousins, on the other hand, were the greatest warriors in all of Ares but died at the age of forty.

Since a Legatio could never become a warrior, or a Centurion live the long life of his cousins, the two races ruling the greatest empire in all of Ares had a natural dislike for one another. But not Jason. Raised outside the empire, without the company of men, Jason had no bias against either group and knew nothing of his own heritage other than the hateful things his mother had told him.

Looking to where Jason was sleeping under a pile of goat furs, Kristen could hardly believe that the handsome young man he saw had once been the short, near starving youth he had come to serve and love. He wasn't the only one to love Jason. Rescued from the Labyrinth Tower by an army of Centurions, Jason gave love and respect to his saviors. Most of all, however, he worshiped Commander Philip Helios of the 7th Centurion Eastern Legion, the first man he saw and the man most directly responsible for his escape from the tower.

Kristen touched the young man's pale white face, wishing he were the one who had finally earned Jason's heart out of the countless men who had gone after it. But, Jason and Philip had loved enough to share their anima - the living essence that gave the Legatio and Centurions their unique gifts. The unique bonding had transformed Jason into the Angel of legend and Philip into his demon. Philip was a good choice though. The Centurion was a warrior but, more than anything, he was a protector. With Jason's gentle heart the former Legatio would need the power and the passion of his Demon lover to protect him from the dangers the land of Ares held and from the Dominus' redheaded Grau agents. Kristen, after all, was just a man, a genetically enhanced and very handsome one, but still mortal.

Knowing that the sleeping drugs he had been giving Jason, Philip, and all their followers wouldn't wear off for a while, Kristen stripped down in the cold morning air and joined Jason under the furs. He was supposed to be Jason's official bed warmer. Wrapping his muscular body around Jason's equally strong frame the Mordelian let a warm tear run down his face as he wondered if he had really done the right thing.

Having dealt with Erik, he had used his gun to knock everyone out and then drugged them all, causing them to forget about Erik and the stunning transformation Jason and Philip had undergone. He used a Mordelian device to replace the memories of their flight from the Imperial Academy in Domus with ones that would better hide Jason and Philip's true nature from the Grau agents who would eventually descend upon them once Erik failed to make his regular report.

Kristen knew the memory blocks wouldn't last forever; that eventually the drugs hiding Jason and Philip's transformed bodies would run out. When that happened he knew there would be hell to pay, and not just from the Dominus.

Still, fleeing the Academy had been the right decision. Sly Senator Perils and his co-conspirator Field Marshal Xavier would not have left poor Jason alone until they had used him for the war they wanted to start against the allied Confederated Kingdoms of the East. There Lord Varrus, one of Jason's first lovers and mentors waited for them in the Kingdom of Qul Tos and the Tosians waited for their Legatio king.

Holding Jason even tighter, Kristen worried about how Varrus would react to learning that Jason and Philip were now bonded lovers. He doubted Jason would deny his bed to the most handsome man in all of Ares. Then again, Kristen very much doubted that Philip would give up his hedonistic ways even though he now carried Jason's bond. He was, after all, a Centurion Commander and Centurion officers made it a matter of honor to seduce each one of their men, not to mention their superiors.

Though Jason had often strived to mimic his Centurion heroes, Kristen worried his gentle heart would not be able to bear Philip's lecherous ways.

Thinking of such things filled Kristen with a new doubt. Not everyone had fled the Academy with Jason and Philip. Philip's younger brother, Alex, a stubborn, reckless youth, the same age as Jason had loved the Legatio as well. In fact he loved no other. Unlike most Centurions Alex saw no honor in sexual conquests. All he ever wanted was one man, the ideal man, to be his one and only lover. It had just been a terrible trick of fate that the man turned out to be the same person his brother loved: Jason.

While Kristen, Philip, and many others loved Jason with all their hearts, Alex had been the one willing to sacrifice the most for that love. But instead of rewarding such love, Philip and Field Marshal Darius had forced Alex to remain at the Academy to finish his officer's training. Kristen feared it was going to end up being a decision everyone would come to regret.

Feeling Jason stir in his arms the Mordelian knew that time was running short. Soon Jason and the others would begin to awaken and Kristen would have to be ready for them. After putting his clothes back on he went to the campfire he had carefully prepared and fed it some more dried sticks as he began preparing breakfast for what he knew would be a hungry crowd.

With the sizzle of bacon and a pot of beans boiling, the rising sun began to fill the narrow mountain pass as a new chapter in the lives of the people of Ares begins.

     

     

Chapter One

     

The Awakening

     

When Jason awoke the first thing he noticed was the sharp pain in his back, it seemed that some time during the night he must have rolled over onto a sharp stone that was now pressed against his spine. Standing up, he stretched out, working the kinks out of his back. He then looked down at his goat-hair clothes and tried to figure out how he had gotten them. Slowly, it came back to Jason like a dream. He remembered arriving at Rondus' cabin, sick with fever and then, when the rest of the party had joined them with the bad news that Erik had drowned in the underwater cave. Jason recalled that he had cried a lot after being told. Things had gotten better, though. When he had celebrated his 21st birthday, and had been circumcised, Jason thought he was enough of a man to tell Philip he loved him. He was still amazed at how fast he had healed from being cut and how his relationship with Philip had changed.

Feeling hungry, and smelling garlic in the air, Jason made his way to the campfire where Kristen was stirring seasoned potatoes.

"Did you sleep well?" Kristen smiled warmly.

"Yes..." Jason grinned, ignoring the pain in his back. As he made his way closer to the fire he tripped on his own feet.

"Be careful!" Kristen laughed, catching Jason before he fell into the fire.

"Sorry... I've been pretty clumsy lately." Jason blushed. He knew he had, again, grown several inches and getting used to his longer legs would, again, take some time.

"Morning!" Gideon yawned as he, too, got up.

Jason smiled at his friend and went over to hug him. Something was not right: Gideon did not feel the same in his arms, as he could now see the top of the blond man's head.

     

"Come on now...time for you two to eat." Kristen grinned, filling two bowls with potatoes.

Slowly, the rest of the party woke up and filled their bowls. All of them seemed to be in a daze, but happy. Jason, for his part, could not keep his eyes off Philip. Each time his gaze met his guardian's he blushed a deep red. Today was especially bad, as Philip was wearing a solid black tunic. For some reason, seeing Philip in black sent a shiver down his body.

Philip, seeing the man he loved blushing, smiled back at him. He liked how he looked in his white goat-hair outfit. He gave Jason a reassuring smile and a wink. His Legatio lover, not failing to notice, put his face deep in his bowl to hide the redness of his face.

Sitting next to Philip was Darius, his bond mate. Philip could remember the fool trying to chase after one of Rondus' goats, only to slip and fall on his chest. He knew that under Darius's clothing were the remains of a giant bruise. By the end of the day it would be gone, however.

Jason...the stunningly handsome Jason... now fit into a completely different category of love and lust for Philip. For the life of him, he didn't understand why his feelings for Jason had undergone such a change after the young man's circumcision. Yes, Jason was now an adult and, as such, could take part in the Centurion world. But it was as if Jason had undergone a transfiguration from boy to man in a single night. Of course that was just impossible.

After breakfast, Philip watched as Jason and Gideon went off to scrub the pot and bowls in a stream around the bend. Seeing this as a chance to explore what he was really feeling, Philip followed after them.

There, by the flowing water, he saw Jason and Gideon splash each other, laughing, and the water making Jason's shaved head shine under the morning sun. Watching the two together, Philip was amazed at how much Jason had developed. When he had rescued Jason from his murderous mother, the boy had been small, thin, and frail. Now, though, he was taller than Gideon and had a physique that, while not as bulky as a Centurion's, was much more defined. The Legatio also looked older... more mature compared to Gideon, which was very remarkable as Legatio usually matured more slowly than their Centurion cousins. But then, Philip also knew of two times that Jason had been treated with Centurion anima. It was well known that Legatio who received such treatments were always very unusual.

     

"Gideon...can Jason and I be alone for a while?" Philip asked, coming closer to the two men.

"Alright..." Gideon nodded, giving Jason's head a rub before turning to leave. "I'll make sure you are not interrupted."

"Smart boy." Philip grinned as he watched Gideon run off.

"Philip?" Jason asked, looking at Philip with his bright green eyes.

Philip had wanted to say...'yes my love', but did not want to scare the young man. "Yes Jason?"

"Something is different," Jason said, not knowing what else to say.

"Yes... I have noticed it as well." Philip grinned, moving closer to Jason.

Jason looked at Philip's gray eyes and tanned face. Neither seemed quite right. Jason was sure that Philip did not always look this way... that he had a different, more attractive, appearance.

It would have surprised Jason to know that Philip felt the same about him. Jason's always pale skin still looked too dark, and the young man's eyes were not the right color. Even while these problems nagged at Philip, it did not stop his feelings from growing into overwhelming love and desire.

In a sudden darting move, Philip took hold of Jason, bending his head down so his lips could press hard against those of the young man. The two undressed each other, letting each article of clothing fall one by one into the stream and float away. Each had complementary desires and both fulfilled them on the muddy shore.

After they finished, Jason left to find fresh, dry clothing for both of them. While he was gone, Philip stared at his reflection in a nearby puddle. What he saw disturbed him to the core of his being. His skin, hands, and eyes all looked wrong, leaving him feeling alien in his own body. Striking at the puddle with his fist to rid himself of the image, it came back covered with dark mud. Philip's eyes froze on his hand. It seemed so much more natural, more true to the way his body was supposed to look, that he began to smear the dark gunk all over his face and body. By the time Jason came back, Philip was covered in mud.

Jason looked nervously at his lover, confused by what he had just done. "Philip?"

     

Philip returned Jason's worried gaze. "Jason... you're right. Something has changed."

     

Chapter Two

     

Elections and Compromises

     

Zophar watched from the distant hills as Saracill, the capital city of Yelding, went up in flames despite the snow covering the rooftops of the once great city. General Titus had successfully defended the city's outer walls for three weeks, but now that the Jadoorian army had built hundreds of catapults, the outer city was under a constant barrage of dragon fire. Zophar watched with sadness as the banner of General Titus, a mace on a field of green, disappeared behind the clouds of smoke. Before the sun set, however, it reappeared at the citadel on the hill in the center of the city. It would not be long now...maybe a day or two before the city was overrun. After a week the citadel itself would fall. The young general wanted to stay to witness the last moments of his Centurion brothers, so that their heroic actions would not go un-witnessed, but he knew that he needed to rejoin his men at Sol and organize the resistance there. Field Marshal Darius wanted Zophar's men to last three good months at Sol, giving the Field Marshal time to set up fortifications and rebuild his legions on the border of Domus.

Turning his horse toward Lake Mahka and the island fortress of Sol, Zophar knew that by the time he reached the capital of the Federation, General Titus would be either captured or dead.

After spending several days following the river, Zophar reached the lake village of Gish. Looking out at Lake Mahka, he could see large pillars of smoke rising from around the shore, proof that his men were following his last orders. All the ports and bridges were being burned, with Gish to be last. As he boarded the last of the boats, Zophar watched the thatched roofs of the houses and the oil-drenched harbor being set afire.

Standing on the boat's small deck, the general gazed at the domed roofs and high wall of the island of Sol. In the shape of a near perfect circle, the island was protected by a fifty-foot high brick wall that had only two openings. To the south was the main gate, connected to the mainland by a long stone bridge. Already Zophar could see that his men had destroyed several of the bridge supports, leaving twenty-foot gaps for the enemy to cross. To the north side of the island, where Zophar's boat was sailing, was the harbor. It was protected by a short seawall, leaving only a thirty-foot gap through which ships could enter and leave. Past the sea wall was the largest fresh water harbor in the known world. Two hundred and fifty ships, ranging from fishing vessels to trade barges and war galleys were tied up at the piers, every one of them outfitted for war.

Hopping off the boat before it came to a complete stop, Zophar ignored the salutes of his men and made his way to the center of the island, the capital city of the Federation and the center of the enemy's alliance. Not stopping to talk to anyone, the general entered the domed Grand Assembly building.

Seated around the arena were the twenty-five commanders of the 7th Western Legion. Just as Zophar had hoped, the sun beaming in from the large rose window on top of the dome shined down on the tiled map set into the floor and right on the circular red tile marking the island of Sol.

Placing his foot on that spot, Zophar began to address his men. "By now, Saracill will have fallen. The Dorsian's have brought their riverboats to the mouth of the Terran River. The Uuls are busy building troop barges on their side of the lake. The shores of the Rapa Free State are lined with their canoes. Soon, the Jadoorians will have us cut off from the rest of the Western Army. We will be surrounded north, east, south, and west. Once we are besieged we can expect no further help, reinforcements, or rescue. From now on we will only become weaker, while the enemy continues to get stronger.

Zophar stopped to let his words sink in before giving the hammer blow. "We cannot win this battle. It is already too late for us to escape. We are here to keep the enemy from advancing for as long as possible, fighting to the last man. That is what our Field Marshal wants from us, and we will give it to him for the sake of the empire."

"What do you mean we can't win?" the commander of the 4th unit demanded.

"We are only five thousand. Given time, the enemy will have several hundred thousand men surrounding the lake. IF we fall, the armies will be able to join forces and attack our homeland. If our fleet had not been wiped out at Eb, we could have cut off the Federation's supplies and waited the enemy out, but..."

"But our wonderful Field Marshal sent them into that trap!" another commander laughed.

"Silence...the Field Marshal had the right to make that decision. Insulting him will not earn you any respect, only demotion."

"But, are not the situations similar? The Field Marshal left the fleet to die. Now he is doing the same to us!" Commander Cillis yelled, triggering protests from several of the others.

"Are all of you saying you will not follow Lukas' commands?" Zophar said as he drew his sword, causing the commanders to return to their seats. "This legion has plenty of lieutenants whom I could easily promote over all of you. Give me too much trouble and I will have each and every one of you tied to a fire barge. If fighting for Lukas is too hard for you, then fight for the empire. If we do not give the Field Marshal enough time to fortify the way to Domus, then the Gate itself might fall. Do you want to be remembered in the songs as the men who brought Domus to its knees?"

After a long silence, Aegis, one of the commanders who had not spoken, stood up. "I see no reason why we cannot make our death songs here. My question is why you should be the man to lead us. Only a month ago you were just a commander like the rest of us."

"I was the one selected by the Field Marshal to lead the 7th legion."

"That was only because you were the one representing us at the meeting. By having Lukas appoint you, you avoided a proper vote."

"Yes, vote!" several of the commanders shouted.

Knowing he could never win if only the commanders were allowed to vote, Zophar used his position as the standing general to form a compromise. "Yes, vote...but let the vote be opened to all officers."

This sent the room into quiet whispers. Not only were there commanders who wanted him out as general, but also a few wanted to replace him. For almost an hour there was a good deal of mental vote counting, the commanders trying to guess who they could count on.

Once he felt there had been enough discussion, Zophar put an end to it. "The voting will be with each change of the guard. The first will be one hour from now." Zophar then marched out of the room to the shouts of protests behind him.

     

Slowly making his way to his quarters, Zophar hoped the risk he had just taken was worth it. It had all been Aegis's idea. See who receives the most votes and put those persons on the most dangerous missions, hopefully removing them quickly from challenging him again.

The only danger was that he was not sure he would earn majority support from his men. Having been the old general's lover had earned him both respect and jealousy. At times like this, Zophar wished that it had been him and not his lover who had died by the sniper's arrow. Still, he had Aegis, the general's younger brother. Together they had mourned their shared loss and had formed an alliance of sorts. Even now, Zophar walked slowly to his bedroom in order to give Aegis time to arrange the vote.

Entering his quarters in the former Jadoorian High Ambassador's room, Zophar lay down on the white goose feather bed and looked up at the statue of the Mother that hovered over it. "Damn the Joodrians and their goddess."

Drawing his sword, Zophar reached up to knock the marble statue down, only to have it land and break on his head, knocking him unconscious.

When he awoke, it was to a pair of bright gray eyes. "You won. Two thousand of the men sided with you."

"I did? What time is it?"

"It's morning. You need to watch out for two people. First is Commander Cillis. Almost a third of the men voted for him. The other is Commander Lorish. He did not receive as many votes, but every single member of his unit voted for him."

"So, who do you think is the larger threat?" Zophar asked as he sat up.

"Cillis will try to undermine you, until he can claim you are incompetent and replace you, while Lorish will try to kill you."

"I need to get rid of both of them then." Zophar sighed.

"Until you do, we should try to keep them apart. I have already arranged for Cillis and his men to be assigned to the eastern wall, with Lorish and his men on the western. It will put them in non-critical areas and keep them far apart," Aegis explained.

     

"What of the men loyal to us?"

"They control the citadel and the port."

"What of the bridge?"

"I left Commander Issa in charge of it. He is 39, and knows this will be his last battle, so we can expect him to fight to the end."

"Good planning." Zophar patted his commander on the back.

"After I saw that bruise on your head, I decided you needed me to take care of things. You should know better then to try and fight a god." Aegis chuckled.

"So we have some free time on our hands?" Zophar asked as he pulled his lover toward him.

"I'm afraid not, General," Aegis said as he pulled away. "A Federation ambassador has arrived."
"How long has he been here?" Zophar jumped.

"Two hours. I see no rush. They know it will cost them thousands of lives to try to retake Sol."

"Good, but I think two hours is long enough." Zophar grinned as he let Aegis dress him in his blue and silver armor, leaving the facemask off.

Going back to the harbor, Zophar boarded one of the twelve war galleys docked there. He was then rowed to a ship three times the size of his own, made up of three keels covered by a common deck. The ship even had a side dock at the waterline, from which a staircase led up to the main deck. Lead to an area curtained off by a translucent pink curtain, he passed a pair of large eunuch guards. It was seeing the guards that made Zophar finally realize the origin of the ship. It was from the Republic of Mathannon, ruled by the Matriarchy that had broken off from Jadoor.

Believing that only women had the wisdom to fulfill the will of the Mother, only women had any rights. The male population was kept in slavery or the breeding pits. To Zophar, Mathannon was a land of fools.

Fools they might be, but he did not miss the significance of the presence of a Mathannon ship on Lake Mahka. It could only mean one thing...that the Terran River, located south of the capital of Saracill, was now under Federation control.

     

Allowed to pass the curtain, Zophar saw a woman lying on a gold divan, wrapped in furs. Seated on cushions, on both sides of her, were representatives from the other nations: the black skinned Raporos dressed in heavy wool, the tanned Dorsians with their conical hats and bright patch-colored outfits, the albino Drakors, with their red eyes, dressed in grey, the Jadoorians, one in white the other black representing both the king and the church, and the husky Gladmores dressed in rich purple. The only ones not present were representatives from occupied Freen, and Austrola, the hated rivals of the Republic of Mathannon on the island they shared.

"Please, general, sit," the veiled woman from Mathannon said warmly, pointing to an empty pillow.

"I prefer to stand."

"And have your head above mine? Where are your manners, Centurion?' The woman chuckled from her high perch.

"Have you come here to surrender, or am I just wasting my time."

"Isn't that so like you Centurions? Always acting as if you are just on the edge of victory, even when you know you will be defeated." The priest from Jadoor laughed.

"Why don't you visit me in the city...see how long you will keep that laugh," Zophar replied coldly.

"Oh, we could...it is only a question of cost. Do we really want thousands to die for an insignificant piece of rock?" the veiled woman asked.

"Try moving your troops across the lake and see how insignificant it is."

"Yes...that is what we would like to discuss with you. Is it possible that we can "buy" passage for a few of our ships?"

"Ships that would be loaded with Rapos and Dorsians?" Zophar laughed.

"We have almost pushed the rest of your army out of Yelding. Soon we will remove it from Freen. After that..." the Jadoorian priest sneered.

"The fact remains that you will never defeat the empire with your forces divided, and the only quick way to unite them is crossing Lake Mahka, which is under Centurion control."

     

"Are you saying you can't be bought?' the veiled woman asked.

"And become a traitor? Where would I spend such wealth?"

"You could choose to live in any part of the Federation you wish."

"In a land where people bathe only twice a year? I have to decline."

"What if we were to offer your men safe passage to Domus after it has fallen?" the representative of Drakor asked, focusing his red eyes on the Centurion general.

"Domus under Federation rule would not be Domus," Zophar replied.

"Not even if we made you mayor of Aquanos?" the Dorsian ambassador asked.

For a brief second Zophar was tempted. Other than the capital, Aquanos was the wealthiest city in all Domus. But offering him the city was like wanting to make him a Field Marshal; a thing they had no ability to give.

"Let me set my own terms. The Dorsians, Drakors and Rapors are to stay on their side of the lake. Any ship that tries to cross it will be destroyed. If you want your armies to be joined, do so through the Wort Mountains, as I have no jurisdiction there."

"Your fellow Centurions have been most effective in triggering avalanches in those passes. We would lose more men there than we would here," the Jadoorian general spoke up.

"Then we will meet in battle." Zophar bowed, making ready to leave.

"Let our ships through, or not a single one of your men will be left alive," the veiled Mathannonite warned.

"Try to make it past Sol, and it will be your men that will suffer," Zophar replied, retuning to his boat.

As soon as he was ashore, he met with Aegis. "I want that floating palace of theirs sunk by tomorrow."

"Yes, General." The Centurion saluted.

That night, Aegis sent his twelve strongest swimmers out of the port, towing small barrels of dragon fire behind them. Before leaving, they had painted their bodies black lest the moon reveal them. It took three hours of near silent swimming to reach the floating palace anchored on the far northern shore, where the crew was busy building a new pier. As soon they were up against the hull, the Centurions lit the ropes feeding into the barrels and began to swim for their lives.

The sound of splashing water alerted the guards on the ship, who responded by shooting arrows at the splashing water. Just as the alarm bell was rung, however, the first of the dozen barrels exploded on the starboard side, sending splinters of wood into the air and water. This was followed by the explosion of the other barrels, leaving the three-hulled ship broken into six parts and sinking halfway in the shallow water.

The Centurions successfully escaped the explosions, but a few suffered arrow wounds that slowed their swim back. Halfway back, they were quickly picked up by Aegis's fast patrol boats. Still, out of the twelve men, only eight made it back to safety. An important point was made, however. Not even an ambassadorial vessel would be spared by Zophar's Centurions. It would spread fear among the Federation troops, which had been his goal.

     

     

Chapter Three

     

The Demon Centurion

     

Alex could not take his eyes off his reflection. With the daily treatments of Anima, given to him by Field Marshal Xavier, he had grown to seven feet in height with his body turned into a copy of Xavier's mass of muscles. Chest hair had also started to show up, hair that Xavier took pleasure in shaving off

Now towering over the other boys, Alex was forced to spar only against the weapons masters, as very few people could withstand his heavy but quick blows. Even so, Alex had severed the limbs of three of his teachers in practice spars. Many of those teachers did not understand the changes in Alex. He was short tempered, arrogant, and impatient. The students, who had become Alex's friends when he had been with Jason, were now afraid of him.

For his "accidents" in sparring, and rudeness to his teachers, Alex had ended up being lashed several times in front of the school. But instead of teaching Alex discipline, it led him to more bouts of anger and depression.

Alex complained to Xavier of feeling lonely and hated. The Field Marshal worried that Alex would figure out that all the changes could be traced to his arrival. To correct this, Xavier used his influence to encourage the Legatio students to fawn over Alex. They could be heard cheering Alex as Field Marshal Alex...leader of the Academy.

This, of course, did not please Commandant Oktor. He wanted someone to teach Alex a lesson in humility. To do this, he turned to double sword master Lorin.

Asking the thirty-nine year old weapons master to his office, Oktor told Lorin what he had in mind. The sword master's face took on a worried look. "I am sorry, commandant, but I am not sure if I can do what you are asking."

"I am not asking, I am ordering," Oktor said darkly.

"Sir...Alex is one of the best men I have ever trained. I am not sure if I can just ‘teach him a lesson', sir."

"What are you saying?" Oktor demanded.

     

"Sir... Alex is no longer a student; he is a master in his own right. For me to even hurt him will require me to fight as if my life depends on it...a fight that will lead to either his or my own death."

"You have noticed the change in the boy?"

"Yes...and I have to ask you...who let Xavier become his mentor?"

"I had no choice. How was I to tell a Field Marshal that he does not have the right to pick Alex as his student?"

"But, it is you who want me to punish Alex for something over which he has no control."

"Xavier will use the boy...for a purpose that I believe will endanger Domus. What is the Academy tradition when we find a student who is too dangerous?" Oktor asked with great difficulty.

"Are you saying that Alex is such a boy?" Lorin said, shocked.

Oktor remained silent for a long time before replying. "I am. Give Alex his final lesson."

"Either that, or he will give me mine," Lorin said before leaving.

Lorin went to his office and picked up his double-bladed sword. It was not as fancy as the one Alex now owned. It was, in fact, the first double sword Lorin had ever been given. Both blades had been replaced many times, as had the wooden grasps, but the iron hilts were original. This weapon had been his companion through two military campaigns and seven years of teaching others how to use the traditional Centurion weapon. The sword felt so familiar and comfortable in his hands that he would often sleep with it...that is, when none of the other teachers were with him.

Lorin remained in his office, deep in meditation, until the bell signaled the start of class. As he left, he looked back, believing that it might be the last time he would see it. Walking over to the practice field, he saw Alex standing by himself. No one was willing to be even near him.

"Alex...why are you not dueling?" Lorin asked calmly.

"No one is willing to face me," Alex said bitterly.

"Then I guess you will have to face me," Lorin smiled.

     

"Really?" Alex said hopefully. If there was one man he still respected at the Academy it was his sword master.

"Yes...just like old times; a chance to give you a final lesson." Lorin smiled, but said this in a sad tone.

"Great!" Alex shouted with joy, some of his old self showing.

"Now let's start slowly. I want to see your skill, not your muscles," Lorin said just before bowing.

"I'll try...this body sometimes has a mind of its own." Alex smiled before bowing.

"To be a true weapons master, you must master your body as well as your emotions," Lorin said as he moved into a guard position.

Alex only grunted on hearing that. He was tired of people telling him he had a bad attitude.

The spar began simply enough, each one testing the other for weaknesses, but when Lorin went from being on the defensive to an all out attack, Alex had to use all his skill and strength to defend himself. Even so, he was lucky to escape with only a deep gash to his left arm.

"Good Alex...I thought I almost had you!" Lorin grinned, truly impressed by his student's skill.

"You almost killed me!" Alex said angrily, almost throwing his sword down to punch his instructor.

"I wanted to see how good you really are."

"But..." Alex said uncertainly.

"Fight me Alex...fight me or run away," Lorin dared.

"Why?" Alex asked, confused. His weapons master actually sounded angry, something he had never seen before.

"You are a Demon. As your weapons master, it is my job to prevent you from damning yourself and our people."

Alex did not know what to say. He knew the term Demon meant two things. First, it referred to a mythical creature, a Demon with skin black as midnight, claws growing out if its hands, and fangs for teeth. This creature was considered violent, dangerous, and unpredictable. And, only one other mythical creature, an Angel, was believed able to control it. Second, the term applied to an out-of-control, violent, dangerous, and unpredictable Centurion...a Centurion whose thirst for blood outweighed his humanity.

If it was decided that a student was a danger of becoming a Demon, tradition held that it was the job of a weapons master to give this student one final lesson. It was a lesson that could only end with the student's life being forfeit. It seemed that Lorin believed that Alex posed such a threat, and was here to kill him.

"Please, Lorin...give me a second chance," Alex begged.

"Is this how I taught you, to be a coward?" Lorin said in distaste.

"I don't want to kill you," Alex said, tears now building in his eyes.

"You really think you can beat me? I am the master!" Lorin said, swinging an angry blow at Alex. His own face was streaked with tears.

Alex blocked his master's sword with ease. "I don't think...I know I can," Alex said resolutely.

"Then prove it." Lorin grinned as the real duel began.

The two men fought for almost an hour, each one giving the other only minor wounds. Each was of near equal skill. During it all, both men fought for their lives, but also found they were enjoying it. Light banter, and even laughter, came from both men as they fought across the dueling floor. With each cut and scratch they gave each other, the two men made fun by giving names to them, calling one on the arm an "Oktor", and the leg a "Philip". Alex even named a near fatal cut across his chest, near his heart, "Jason". In the end, though, the reality of how the duel had to end began to break through. Due to all the Anima Alex had consumed, he healed much faster than his weapons master. That made all the difference.

Lorin, becoming weak from loss of blood, gathered his strength for one final attack but, as he made his final blow, Alex met it with such great force that it broke one of Lorin's iron blades before continuing its downward journey to sever Lorin's right arm off.

Alex, having only intended to block his sword master's blow, screamed as he saw Lorin fall to the ground, dropping his weapon. "Master!"

"Finish it," Lorin begged, his free hand grabbing the point where his arm was severed.

"I can't!" Alex cried.

"You must, Alex...don't leave me to wear the mark of a cripple."

"Please!" Alex wailed.

     

"Do it!"

"No..." Alex refused, walking away.

"Damn you, boy! If you will not give me an honorable death I will hunt you down and kill you," Lorin cursed.

"No..." Alex said as he continued to walk away.

Just then he heard a sharp scream. Turning around, he saw Xavier holding a pike whose tip was stabbed into Lorin's stomach. Blue Amina was pouring out.

"No!" Alex shouted in shock.

"Never leave an enemy behind when you have a chance to kill him," Xavier admonished, as he kicked a throwing knife out of Lorin's remaining hand.

"I didn't want him to die," Alex cried, going down on his knees to hold his teacher.

"Don't cry, Alex..." Lorin smiled as his life was leaving him.

"Please don't die...I have so much more to learn," Alex begged.

"You will always be learning, Alex, but now you know what it feels like to lose someone you love. What you take from this experience will help decide your future. Please don't let bitterness poison your heart."

"Please..." Alex continued to beg, but it was too late; the sword master was dead.

"Oktor has just ordered you expelled. You have nowhere to go. You will come with me," Xavier said in a threatening tone.

"No," Alex refused.

"Yes you will, boy...and you know why?"

"Because you will kill me if I don't?" Alex said as if he didn't care.

"No...because only I can give you the anima your body will soon be screaming for."

"I don't need anymore anima...I think that is what has made me into the monster everyone thinks I am."

"Yes...I have made a real Demon out of you, but you can't stop now. I have given you so much Anima that your body depends on it. You are now an addict... a mythological vampire...needing to feed on the Anima of your Centurion brothers."

"I don't believe you," Alex stuttered.

"Prove it." Xavier grinned sinisterly as he took out a vial of the blue elixir.

     

On seeing the bright blue fluid, Alex's mouth began to water. His whole body ached to feel the elation, sexual arousal, and power anima always gave him. He made to grab the vial from Xavier's hand, but the larger man pulled it just out of reach.

"Follow me." Xavier grinned, leading Alex back to his guest room.

Xavier then pulled down his pants, taking out his hardening manhood and poured some of the Anima on it. "I think you know what you have to do."

"Yes," Alex stuttered, not able to take his eyes off the blue fluid.

After Alex got on his knees, Xavier took the young man's head and pulled it to his sex. Alex sucked eagerly, trying to take every drop of Anima off Xavier's manhood. Every now and then Xavier would pull Alex's mouth off so he could pour more of the fluid on. Soon after he poured the last of the anima, Xavier exploded in Alex's mouth.

Xavier, seeing Alex's own cock hard and standing tall, lowered him to the ground while pulling his pants and loincloth down at the same time.

"My turn." Xavier chuckled as he took out another vial of anima and poured it on Alex's hard sex.

Alex did not last as long as Xavier, and soon came into the Field Marshal's mouth. Xavier then climbed further up Alex and kissed him. "Admit it, Alex, I am the only person who is willing to take care of you."

"You...you want to use me," Alex struggled to say through the fog of sex and Anima.

"And don't I treat you well in return? I will never abandon you like Philip and Jason."

"...But what do you want from me?"

Xavier grinned; he had been waiting for this moment. "I want your bond...I want you to give me your Anima."

"Have you not bonded already?" Alex asked confused.

"I have never found a person worthy until I met you. You will be the next Field Marshal Alex...I swear. Together we will bring the Domus Empire to greater glory.

Alex thought about it for a while. He had hoped that he would be able to give his bond to Jason but, with Jason in exile, he might never see him again. He felt angry that he had been forced to stay behind. All the people he had thought were his friends turned out to be only Gideon's and Jason's friends. Without them, Alex had been completely abandoned... except for Xavier. More than anyone in recent weeks, Xavier had taken special interest in him, giving him the sword he had long desired as well as the anima that gave him the strength to defeat his own weapons master. In the end, Alex based his decision on the belief that only Xavier really cared for him.

"I will give you my bond," Alex agreed.

"Good." Xavier grinned before giving Alex an Anima-filled kiss. With all the anima now in Alex's body, the bond would be strong... very strong. Xavier was sure that, with such a bond, he would be able to control the Demon he had created. Alex would be his enforcer, killing all of Xavier's enemies, starting with Perils. All it would take would be a little motivation. Xavier was sure that Perils himself would provide what was needed to push Alex over the edge.

     

Chapter Four

     

Aquinos

     

     

Sometimes the same trick can work twice. Admiral James, as reward for defeating the Centurion fleet at Eb, was given the honor of leading the invasion into Domus's chief port city of Aquanos. If that city fell, the ability of the Centurions to build a new fleet and bring in supplies would be crippled, since nearly all their military shipyards were located around the deep harbor.

There were three major obstacles to overcome, however. First, a giant chain that stretched across the mouth of the harbor, held up by three tall towers, had to be brought down lest the chain snap the masts of the Jadoorian fleet. Second, the seawall that blocked the entrance to the port and shipyards. Getting around it would require that the fleet come within range of the ballista and catapults lining the fortified wall. Finally, there was the problem presented by nature. The ocean storms, that had been bad when the Centurions made their last desperate attempt to leave Eb in late autumn, were now even more treacherous during the winter months.

The only thing Aidan thought he had to his advantage was surprise. Just as the Centurions had assumed the Western Federation would wait until late spring to attack, it seemed that the Centurions did not think their chief port city was in any danger of invasion during the storm season. It was the Admiral's job to correct them of that view.

As luck had it, James's armada made it safely into the Inner Sea and just out of sight of the Aquanos coast without running into a storm. After night had fallen, he gave the order for his small attack ships to land their men at the base of each of the three towers holding up the giant chain. If his men could not take at least one of the towers, this attack would be all for naught. An hour passed, the time it would take for the attack ships to reach the towers...another hour, then a third. Impatient, Admiral James was tempted to send in his larger ships to add their support but then, on the far horizon, a green flame popped up signifying the fall of one of the towers. James, jumping out of his hammock, heard his men give out a cheer as if Domus itself had already fallen.

"Admiral?" one of James's commanders asked.

"Yes, Kyle?"

"Shall we order the attack?"

"No need, commander...as you can see the fleet is already on the move." James laughed.

The commander watched his fleet come to life. The torches that had been extinguished were relit and the rowers moved their ships forward at top speed. When James's flagship arrived at the entrance to the bay, the chain was indeed down and his men were marching from the towers towards the seawall. It would be their responsibility to remove the Centurions manning those defenses.

As soon as most of the fleet was in the outer harbor, James ordered the arrow and fire boats to attack. These boats were small, with one sail, four oarsmen, and six archers. They moved close enough to the seawall that the catapults could not hit them. Then the archers started shooting at the Centurions who were trying their best to aim large boulders at the Jadoorian ships.

According to Jadoorian spies, only ten thousand, white-armored, Home Guard garrisoned the city. In his thousand-boat fleet, James had fifty thousand troops besides the rowers. Already, twenty thousand were on land making the five-mile dash to the seawall.

The Admiral watched with glee as fires started to appear on the seawall, the war machines catching on fire from the arrows his boats had been aiming at them. Then he saw the Jadoorian black and white flag moving along the seawall, ever closer to the lighthouse at its end.

When the black and white flag appeared at the top the five-story lighthouse, James's men let out another great cheer. The fleet started to move again, this time into the inner harbor. There they were met by a small fleet of attack and merchant vessels but there was no hope of them holding back the armada of Jadoorian warships. The only victories by the small Centurion fleet were setting fire to their own ships and ramming them into the closest enemy vessel. Although that only slightly slowed down the Jadoorian fleet, it was enough of a delay to set fire to the piers, preventing the Jadoorian ships from docking.

     

James, however, had been prepared for that. On the decks of his warships were large wooden barges made of green wood. He sent out the order for them to be dropped into the water. While the boats were under constant barrage of flaming arrows, the skilled pilots soon had them lined up and tied together into new makeshift piers.

The large warships then docked and lowered their ladders, letting their men climb down onto the makeshift piers and into the city of Aquanos. After three hours of fighting, the port and warehouse district were under Jadoorian control.

James then left his flagship to get a better view of the battle. With fifty thousand of his men engaged against just a token force of Centurions, they were making rapid progress.

Finding resistance only at the commanding general's citadel, and around the Legatio governor's house, James was watching as his men began to ram the gates of the governor's house when a white flag appeared at the window.

"Look at that, men...the poor governor wants to surrender." James laughed.

In the end, it turned out not to be so easy. The governor wanted to surrender, but his Centurion guards did not. When the gates finally fell, the remaining Centurions charged out carrying a bound and gagged governor with them.

It would have been nice to capture the governor alive, but unfortunately he died in the shower of arrows rained down on the Centurions by the Jadoorian archers. Still, three of the Centurions were able to fight their way to the general's garrison and climb over the walls with the aid of a rope ladder.

As the sun began to rise, all of the city but the garrison was under Jadoorian control. It had been a bloody battle. The total dead and wounded numbered over seventeen thousand, and three thousand men were still unaccounted for. Even Admiral James was bloody, having found himself in a few sword fights as he made his way between different crisis points.

While taking a rest from the battle, James saw Commander Kyle walking up to him, followed by three, black-robed, Famulus. "Admiral...may I recommend you take a chance to relax and enjoy your victory?" he asked, his speech slurred by drink.

     

"What do you have in mind, commander?" James smiled tiredly, his nose wrinkling at the smell of the commander's breath.

"The bathhouse was not damaged. Some of the Templar guards wanted it to be burned, but we informed them that you wanted the city taken in one piece."

"Yes...we are here as liberators," James said loud enough for the Famulus servants to hear even though he knew they would not understand him.

"Well, sir, the baths are still running...and the Famulus are working as if nothing has happened. The water is nice and warm. A massage afterwards would also not be bad," Kyle grinned as he handed the Admiral a wine skin.

"Well then, commander, I think we should take advantage of the situation." James smiled before taking a deep swig of the wine. "Huronite...not bad."

Commander Kyle nodded to the three Famulus servants, who came forward and began undressing both him and the admiral so that they could change into clean white robes. When they removed the men's loincloths, one of the Famulus said something in his own language that triggered laughter from all three of them.

"What did they say?" James asked Kyle. The commander had been attached to the Admiral due to his knowledge of the Domus dialect.

"I am embarrassed to say this, sir, but they are laughing at our manhoods." Kyle blushed.

"What's so funny about them?"

"It has to do with the fact that they see us as Centurions. All Centurion warriors are circumcised when they enter adulthood."

"So?" James asked, not getting what the Famulus found funny.

"The Famulus called us 'children soldiers'."

"What?!" James laughed.

"Yes..." Kyle laughed as well.

"We fight and die by the thousands to free them, and they call us children!" James said in disbelief.

     

"I have a way of showing them that we are men." Kyle grinned. He looked to see if any Templars were nearby, seeing that there were none, he moved closer to his Admiral and gave him a quick peck on the check.

"Kyle?" James said with raised eyebrows.

"When in Domus, do as the locals do," the commander said nervously, a little embarrassed that he had dared to kiss his superior officer.

"Kyle...I have never been with a man," James said confused.

"But you are supporting King Aidan."

"That is because I respect him."

"I'm sorry..." the embarrassed commander replied, his head hanging low, walking away.

"Hey...don't go away!" James shouted, pulling Kyle back.

"Why? I just made a fool of myself," Kyle said, trying to hide his tears.

"Can I just ask you why...why me?" James asked, lifting up the man's face so he could look into his deep blue eyes.

"Well, you are handsome...I watched you swimming naked on the beach back when we were patrolling the southern isles." Kyle smiled as he reached over and brushed James's tanned cheek.

"You liked what you saw?" James laughed.

"I like everything about you, Admiral. You are a great man. I have felt blessed that you have allowed me to be your personal aid."

"You earned it. You are smart, considerate, and...beautiful," James finally realized as he tilted his head to kiss the young commander.

"Why?" Kyle asked when James released the kiss.

"I have a confession to make. Yes, I have been with many women. Yes, I have found the sex enjoyable. But no, I have never fallen in love with any of them, let alone cared for them. I care about you, Kyle...more than I have ever let myself realize."

"Do you love me?" Kyle asked in a pleading voice.

     

"I don't know if I love you the way you love me...but I'm willing to find out."

"Alright!" Kyle grinned, letting out a sigh of relief.

"Now, how about we go to the bathhouse? I hear that they are so large that several men can bath at the same time. We can pretend that we are back at the southern isles, but this time I will be watching you as much as you will be watching me."

"Yes," Kyle agreed, as he began to lead his Admiral, and hero, toward the marbled bathhouse.

     

Chapter Five

     

Spawn and Saints

     

Kristen watched as the Demon and Angel slept in each other's arms. Even with the inhibitor drugs he had given Philip and Jason, there was little Kristen could do to control their passions. The drugs did return their skin and eyes back to their normal color and had hidden Philip's claws but not the new symbiotic and, unfortunately, necessary relationship that now existed between the two men. Philip was now the Demon of legend, not a Centurion gone wild, but the beast itself. Instead of being insane killers, they were guardians and protectors of the only creatures able to control them...Angels. Without an Angel, a Demon would be without purpose, slowly going mad due to a poison constantly building inside his body. Without his Angel, Philip would go mad.

A true Demon has only two passions...the need to kill and the need to love, with love being dominant. Only an Angel's love...Jason's love...could control Philip's need to kill. Philip's seed was now a maddening poison that needed to be removed least it take over the Demon's mind. Jason's body was the only receptacle that could take Philip's seed. Anyone else would be driven mad. For Jason's part, his semen would act as a counteragent to the poison in Philip's body, calming the beast within him.

That was not the immediate problem, however. Field Marshal Darius was still close to Philip, and his need to be with him posed a danger that worried Kristen. If Philip continued his sexual relationship with Darius, Darius would slowly change, possibly go insane, poisoned by Philip's seed. The legends referred to such creatures as Demon Spawn... creatures whose souls belonged to their Demon creators; mere pets. Where Jason would control Philip with love, a Demon Spawn would need the firm hand of a Demon to control him.

The question for Kristen was...should he try to interfere? It was true that, if Darius became Spawn, he would lose a part of his freewill. In return, however, he would never live without purpose, never doubt himself, or experience fear. His body would grow stronger, as a plate of living armor would grow around his anima. But most importantly, Darius would live... live much longer than the normal Centurion, as would Philip. They would not live for the thousands of years Jason was now doomed to face but, according to what Erik had told him, he would live for two to three centuries before going into a deep sleep.

In the end, Kristen fell back on the role given him by the Dominus...to watch, record, and report, but not interfere. Kristen would watch, and he would record, but he would not report what was happening to his former masters.

Another thing worrying Kristen was what to do with Varrus when they arrived at Qul Tos. He knew that was where Varrus had said he was going when he was exiled from Domus. The thing neither he nor Erik knew was what had really happened between Jason and Varrus the day they had been caught having sex. Kristen was sure that they did not bond or, if so, did not bond fully, as nothing would have been able to get Varrus to leave Jason's side if they had.

How would Jason respond on seeing Varrus again? Would Philip's jealousy be aroused if Jason still had feelings for his staff master? These were the questions running through Kristen's head. As far as he could see, four things could happen if Jason still had feelings for Varrus. Philip could kill Varrus in a jealous rage; Philip could let Jason have Varrus as an extra plaything; Philip could turn Varrus into one of his Demon Spawn; or something extraordinary could happen.

Just as Philip could now create Demon Spawn, Jason had the ability to create what the Dominus called a Saint. A Saint would not gain the great strength or invincibility of a Spawn, but would become telepathically linked to his Angel...becoming an emissary, an extension of the Angel's will. A Centurion made into a Saint would also live longer...living longer than a Demon by over five hundred years.

Given that knowledge, Kristen almost hoped that Varrus underwent the conversion from Centurion to Saint. Jason would need Varrus' clear mind, and full understanding that telepathy would give him dealing with Philip's passion and rage. A Saint created by Jason would also be able to control any Demon Spawn Philip created through Philip's bond to Jason.

These things Kristen would have to think about but, for now, he needed to take care of the immediate problems. Two weeks out of the mountain pass, Darius began to become sick, side effects of the poison Philip was giving him. Soon, if Kristen did not intervene, his skin would change to an elaborate pattern of red and black, like one giant tattoo. Kristen did not think the native peoples on this side of the planet would recognize the marks, but he was sure that any Sindar spy would see them as the mark of Demon Spawn.

     

Going to where Darius was coughing under a pile of furs and blankets, Kristen carried a syringe in his hands. As he made his way closer, he could already hear Darius jabbering nonsense, his mind slowly drifting away.

"I'm sorry, Darius," Kristen apologized as he gave the sick man the injection.

Like a striking snake, Darius shot out his hands and grabbed Kristen's throat, choking him with all his might. Already Darius's eyes had changed to an eerie red glow as he glared at Kristen. Then, just as quickly, Darius's eyes closed and his fingers relaxed, letting go of Kristen.

Kristen gasped for air, his throat having almost been squeezed shut. He thanked whatever spirit had been watching for giving him the common sense to add a tranquilizer to the inhibitor drug.

Once he had a chance to catch his breath, Kristen lifted Darius' left eyelid. The red fire that had been burning there was slowly fading away, returning back to icy blue. By morning the drug would have taken full effect, preventing any more physical change in the Field Marshal's appearance. It would, however, not stop Darius's mental and emotional change. His mind would continue to decay and be re-shaped into Philip's loyal servant.

The next morning Kristen felt a bruise around his throat where Darius had grabbed him. Fearing questions, he covered it with a shirt, using it as a scarf. Heading back to the campfire, he found everyone asleep, except for Jason and Philip who, Kristen would have bet a king's ransom, were at it again.

With each act of lovemaking the two men were becoming more bonded. Soon they would know each other's thoughts, emotions, and physical states. After that was achieved, the sex would calm down, but Philip's need to be close to Jason would reach a point where he would not willingly leave Jason's side...ever.

While waiting for Jason and Philip to return, and the rest of the party to wake up, Kristen cooked breakfast. On their journey to the capital, they had stopped at several towns and farms for supplies. So, after weeks of eating nothing but goat meat, goat cheese and drinking goat milk, it was good to be able to return to smoked ham, eggs, and toast.

The first to wake was Rondus, which made sense, as the stout man had a special interest in food. Next was Caleb, stretching his body before going to the nearby pond to clean himself. By the time he came back, Kristen had slapped Rondus's hand away twice from the frying pan, their arguing waking Darius. The Demon Spawn looked dazed, leaving the camp with his tented pants leading the way.

"Well, it looks like Darius is feeling better." Caleb laughed; slipping his hands into the pan to take a piece of cooked ham while Kristen was distracted by the Field Marshal.

"Hey!" Kristen whacked Caleb with his spoon.

"We're hungry!" Caleb whined.

"Well, you will just have to wait until Jason and Philip get back," Kristen insisted while shaking the spoon at both Caleb and Rondus.

"Come on, Caleb...we can take this Famulus wimp," Rondus grumbled as he raised the sleeves of his worn coat.

"Count me out." Caleb laughed.

"Fine...more for me, you coward," Rondus cursed.

Rondus made a reach for his club, but before he could get his hands on it, a kettle went flying through the air and struck him on the head, knocking him out.

"Good one!" Caleb laughed while Kristen made a bow.

"Hey, watch it!" Kristen warned when he saw Caleb try to slip his hand into the pan again.

"Oh, come on," Caleb said with almost a pouting face, moving closer to Kristen.

"What are you doing?" Kristen smiled nervously, recognizing that the hungry look Caleb had on his face was not only due to the need for food.

"What would you like me to do?" Caleb smiled wickedly, moving face-to-face with Kristen.

"Let me finish breakfast," Kristen said, taking the frying pan from the fire as if to show evidence that sex was not really on his mind.

"Looks done to me." Caleb winked, taking a piece of ham from the pan.

"Don't do that." Kristen blushed.

"Do what."

     

"Eat my breakfast," Kristen said very tiredly, almost willing to fall for the prince's seduction.

"Then give me something else to nibble on." Caleb grinned as he gave Kristen's groin a squeeze.

"You are not really in love with me...are you?" Kristen asked, worried. He was sure that he had not been giving Caleb that impression.

"Love is such a strong word. How about a mutual agreement that we need each other?"

"Hahahahahaha...why do I need you?" Kristen laughed.

"Well, first of all, there's this!" Caleb grunted as he gave Kristen's hard manhood a squeeze. "When was the last time you made love?"

Kristen tried to think back that far, and found that he had to go back to when everyone was at the Academy. Unless Caleb had hooked up with Rondus, something that Kristen found as hilarious as impossible, Caleb must have gone without for just about as long.

"A long time..." Kristen agreed.

"Yes. I know when we arrive at Qul Tos there will be plenty of Centurions for you to meet, but what do we do until then?"

"I know. But I can wait, unlike you," Kristen giggled.

"Yes," Caleb agreed. "But would any of them know you as well as I do?"

"How well do you know me?" Kristen laughed.

"I know you like your toast only lightly browned. You like your tea piping hot with a dab of honey. You don't like wearing wool, as it makes you itch. You want long back massages, as well as your baths. Finally, if it were not that you are a Famulus and have to wear black, you would prefer to wear green.

"I have never worn green." Kristen laughed, but agreed that everything was on the mark.

"You should...it would bring out your eyes." Caleb smiled as he moved in for a kiss.

"But... but..." Kristen tried to protest as Caleb let his kisses run down his neck.

     

"No buts...not unless we are talking about this one," Caleb insisted as he gave Kristen's rear a squeeze. "You've been a good friend. So has everyone else on this journey. If I am to take on a lover, I would prefer it be someone I know."

"But, why me?"

"Jason and Philip are joined at the hip...or is it ass," Caleb joked. "Gideon is too young. Darius is getting weird. Rondus...well, let's face it, he would rather brain me with his club than let me sleep with him."

"So that only leaves me." Kristen blushed.

"And you know what? You were my first choice anyway." Caleb grinned.

"Really?" Kristen grinned as Caleb took the frying pan away from him.

"Come with me." Caleb grinned leading both of them away from camp.

"But breakfast."

"Hey, if Philip and Jason can go wandering off, I think you and I can enjoy ourselves too."

"Alright," Kristen said, unsure.

"Come on, dear," the gray-haired former prince insisted as he took Kristen's hand.

"Dear?" Kristen chuckled...that had been a term he had used for his now long dead wife.

"Yes...you silly man." Caleb laughed, letting his hand slip down Kristen's pants, taking hold of what was inside, and pulling Kristen along deeper into the woods.

By this time Rondus was waking up, his head bleeding from the kettle hitting him. He saw Kristen being led away by Caleb. He was about to go chasing after them, to whack Kristen a good one with his club, when he realized that the food was now unguarded.

Making himself three ham and egg sandwiches on toast, Rondus stuffed his face as if he were afraid of getting caught. He snickered while thinking about what Caleb had to be up to. Rondus never understood what a man could find so sexually attractive about another man, but then again...most women didn't do much for him either. Yes, they were fun in bed, but afterwards they always insisted on having flowers, strolls by the river, and living in such crowded places like a village, or worse, a town. But most disgusting of all, they insisted on bathing.

Rondus was on his third sandwich when Jason came back, stark naked but unfazed by the cold winter air.

"You'd better get some clothes on, boy...we don't want you getting sick again," Rondus grumbled before taking another bite of his sandwich.

"I'm fine. I don't feel cold at all." Jason smiled cheerfully.

"You are just not normal," Rondus complained. "I've never seen such a cheerful person in all my life."

"What is wrong with being happy?" Jason asked, confused.

"It's not normal. You should be like me... grumpy, sarcastic, and foul mouthed. Having a real gut would not hurt you either. That's how normal men are."

"Philip doesn't act that way."

"Philip is not normal. He is even more strange than you, and getting more so by the minute." Rondus laughed.

"What do you mean?" Jason asked.

"Well, listen to him. Half the time he is growling like some giant cat."

"He's purring. It means he's happy," Jason corrected.

"Still, it's not normal."

"I find it comforting," Jason disagreed.

"Well, I already said that you are not normal. Why couldn't you have fallen in love with a real prince, like Caleb?"

"Why would I fall in love with him?"

"Why! You silly fool. He would be perfect for you...that's why!"

"He never showed any interest in me," Jason said with certainty.

"That is because he didn't know how to ask you to make him your prince consort."

"Prince consort?"

     

"Your husband. It is not a matter of love. He knows he does not love you the way Philip does, but he feels a responsibility for his people. Being your consort would put him in position to help you rule the kingdom.

"I told him that I would give him back the throne."

"He doesn't want it. Damn the fool!"

"But that's alright." Jason laughed.

"It is very serious to him, Jason," Rondus said in a somber tone. "He wants to help his people, but he does not want to be king."

"But why my consort?"

"Jason...I don't know what the other men see in you, but they are all attracted to you like a billy to a nanny goat."

"I don't mean for people to fall in love with me..."

"Really?" Rondus laughed.

"Alright...I wanted Philip to love me. He was the first person to ever show love to me. I wanted him to keep on loving me so much that it hurt," Jason said, tears stinging his eyes.

"What about the others?"

"What others?"

"Varrus, Alex, Gideon...even Kristen," Rondus listed off.

"I wanted them to love me as well," Jason confessed.

"Admit it, Jason...you want everyone to love you. That is just the way you are." Rondus laughed.

"Does that make me a whore?"

"No. A whore is a person who does it for money, or just for the sex. You...you are just plain annoying because you love everybody. No one should be a cheerful as you are.

"But, what about the others? I still love them..."

"But Philip..." Rondus said knowingly. "What is Philip doing right now?"

"He is with the Field Marshal."

     

"They are fucking each other?"

"Yes...but the Field Marshal is his bond mate."

"And what are you to Philip...or Varrus?"

"We are not bonded..." Jason replied, not remembering what Kirsten had removed.

"But they love you anyway?"

"Yes."

"Do you think that Philip would be jealous if you continued to make love to Varrus or Gideon?"

"I do."

"Then I think you need to talk to Philip about that."

"I guess I will," Jason said nervously.

"Now, how about you go over there and help Caleb and Kristen with a problem?" Rondus smiled mischievously...pointing deeper into the forest.

"What problem are they having?"

"You'll see. I seem to have eaten most of breakfast, so I guess I'd better cook some more. You should be back by the time I'm done."

"Alright." Jason smiled, running off into the woods.

"You owe me one, Caleb." Rondus laughed as he watched Jason run naked toward where Caleb had led Kristen.

     

     

Kristen was just being shown how romantic it could be to have a prince for a lover when Jason appeared out of the woods, naked.

"Uncle Rondus told me that the two of you needed help." Jason laughed innocently.

"Come on and join us!" Caleb grinned eagerly while Kristen looked nervous.

Kristen had been told what would happen if an Angel and Demon mated and an Angel and Centurion would do the same. He also knew that Angels never bonded with Legatio or Demon Spawn...there simply was not an attraction. What Kristen had not been told was what would happen to Famulus, such as himself, and Caleb if they bonded with an Angel. All he knew was that, if the Dominus ever suspected him of having sex with one, he and a hundred of his tribe would be killed, just as if he had betrayed them. But maybe there was a reason the Dominus to not want that...a reason that might be to Caleb's and his own advantage. Regardless ...Kristen was already doomed if caught by the Dominus' Sindar servants.

Then there was Jason himself. Jason looked so impossibly desirable now. Even with all he knew, Kristen could not take his eyes off the man's body... nor could Caleb.

"Jason...should you not be wearing clothes," Kristen chastised him...trying to keep control of the situation.

"I feel fine." Jason grinned, crossing his arms across his broad chest.

"You are going to get sick again, is what will happen. Philip should be ashamed of himself, letting you out like this!"

"He's naked too." Jason laughed.

"I'm sure he is," Kristen agreed before realizing that Philip was not by Jason's side. "Where is Philip?"

"He is with the Field Marshal... said he needed to teach Darius not to spy." Jason blushed.

"I'll bet he is." Caleb laughed as he went over to Jason and hugged him.

Kristen had to fight against joining them. Jason, as an Angel, now had a magnetism about him that was hard to resist. Kristen could already see that Caleb was under Jason's spell.

Jason, now taller than Caleb by four inches, held Caleb as if he were a child... a very aroused child. Caleb kissed and licked Jason's pale neck and rubbed his hairy chest against Jason's smooth muscled skin. Jason responded by wrapping his arms around the back of Caleb's neck, rocking both of them from side to side.

Kristen remained where he was, hard, his mouth agape. The eroticism of the two men as they pressed their bodies together was almost too much. Jason bent Caleb backwards while his groin swiveled against Caleb's own manhood. Then Jason turned his face to Kristen and looked at him with his bright green eyes. The deep look beckoned Kristen to join them in their passions.

     

Only Kristen's understanding of what was happening saved him. He kept on telling himself that Jason was no longer human...that the feelings of lust and love combined with a deep longing to be a part of their love making only came from the unnatural aura Jason was giving off. Only knowing that it was compelled love and not true love, that he was feeling, gave Kristen the strength to close his eyes and run away.

Jason straightened Caleb back up and watched with confusion and disappointment as Kristen ran. He wondered what had scared Kristen...but only for a few moments. He felt Caleb's warm mouth pressed against his lips. Soon, he was passing his purple anima to the old prince, making him one of his children, a follower, an extension of Jason's mind, and a Saint.

The wrinkles around Caleb's eyes began to smooth out, as did the rest of his skin. His eyes gave off a blue glow, and his hair darkened to black, with only a few streaks of gray on the sides. As Jason continued to hold his first Saint, Caleb screamed in pain as his body began to stretch and grow from Jason's anima flowing into his veins.

     

     

At the same time, five hundred yards away, Philip was pounding himself inside Darius. The Field Marshal was on all fours, supporting himself on a large rock. A tear was running down his face from the exquisite pain Philip was giving him. Philip was digging his nails into Darius's muscular back, leaving scratch marks that healed over almost as soon as they were made. There was no love in this act of sex...only lust...the desire to feel...the pain of penetration...the stretching of one's insides...male strength against male strength, as each man's body flexed in erotic tension.

At the moment of climax, Philip lifted Darius off the rock, pulling on the back of his hair. Philip turned Darius' face to meet his own and then proceeded to bite his lips until they began to bleed.

Darius felt as if his insides had caught fire. The burning pain he felt sent tremors throughout his body. He moaned and screamed as the pain consumed him, not sending him into agony but into pure ecstasy.

     

Then the fire burned out and Darius found himself totally exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Philip had to wrap his arms around Darius' waist to prevent him from falling.

On the ground, Darius began to talk in gibberish as the poison in his body slowly affected his mind. He felt himself drifting into madness, with only a single hand outstretched to save him. There was a cost, however, in accepting that hand. Taking it would mean surrendering his free will...the right to make his own decisions. He would become a servant...a slave to the master of the hand. Darius...a Field Marshal, who was used to leading instead of being led, resisted taking it. But as time passed and he continued to sink deeper into the violent and chaotic sea that was his mind, the horror of what he would become if he did not surrender himself drove him to reach up for the offered help, even though he felt he was now too far away to reach it. He kept his hand outstretched, begging to be rescued from the madness that was engulfing him and, just when he was about to give up all hope, he felt a strong and firm hand take hold of his, lifting him out of chaos, saving and enslaving him at the same time.

When reality finally began to return, Darius found himself on his back, Philip's massive body on top of his own, their lips just parting. A purple fluid dripped from the corner of Philip's mouth. On seeing the possessive gaze in Philip's eyes, Darius knew this was the man to whom he now belonged. Philip was his master and he was Philip's Spawn.

     

Chapter Six

     

The Commands of a Lover

     

The day after the Federation flagship was burned, the enemy attacked across the collapsed bridge. Carrying large wooden planks, pike men from Dorsa bridged the gaps until they reached the middle, out of range of Centurion arrows. They then brought up a wagon filled with oil soaked hay. Zophar, seeing that the enemy's goal was to burn down the heavy oak gates, sent his own men out with twelve-foot pikes, long enough to bridge the gap of the collapsed portions of the bridge.

That was when the real fighting began. When the Dorsians tried to make their way to the gates, they were cut down by the wide sweeps. It was a brawl between hedgehogs fighting over a narrow lane. More men died, falling off the bridge and being drug down to the bottom of the lake by their heavy armor, than were killed by the razor sharp pike tips. The Dorsians, famous for their pike men, were surprised to find themselves pushed slowly back until they were within the safe range of the Rapa archers, which forced the Centurions back to the middle of the bridge.

The next day the Federation tried to see how many ships they could get past the Centurion blockade on the north side of the lake. They sailed in tight formation, just as Aegis had hoped. Once his scout boat put up a smoke signal, an array of barges were moved out and put in the fleet's path. Thanks to the help of one of his Legatio advisors, Aegis knew to the hour when the wind would shift from the south to the west. And when it did, the barges were already near the middle of the Federation fleet. Giving an order to his drummers, their loud deep booms alerted the Centurions hidden under the barges to light them afire. Soon Lake Mahka was a firestorm with nearly every ship burning. Those few that escaped ended up beached on the north shore, holes in their hulls, and their masts burnt down to stumps. The Centurion war galleys met the three ships that made it past the fires and boarding ships.

In the end, eighty-seven boats were burned and twelve captured, while only two made it to the Yelding side of the lake. Of the Centurions that set the barges afire, half died. Out of the survivors, only three came back without deep burns. Still, Aegis was happy to report to Zophar that at least five thousand Federation soldiers had died, with many more wounded, that day. As it had only cost the lives of one hundred forty two Centurions, it could be called an overwhelming victory.

"So...what do you think they will try next"?" Aegis grinned.

"They might try to reach the gates again, or block the harbor," Zophar replied.

"My guess is they will try to block the harbor."

"Are the catapults in place?"

"Yes, but we are running low on dragon fire."

"How much do we have left?"

"Two hundred eighty seven jars."

"Well, we can't be expected to send out as many fire barges again." Zophar sighed. That plan had used up nearly one hundred jars.

"It is most likely they will not try to move so many ships past us again. They've learned their lesson."

Still worried about the shortage of dragon fire, Zophar began looking for an alternative. "Does the city have a distillery?"

"Yes?" Aegis nodded.

"Good, I want you to get the Famulus to start brewing the strongest alcohol they can and put it into jars and bottles."

"It will take some time and the fire will not be as strong."

"I know, so we will have to use the remaining jars of dragon fire carefully. When the enemy tries to block the harbor, have the catapults use only bales of hay or boulders. Also have all the heavy liquor collected; that can also be used against the enemy."

"Are you sure? The men do love their drink," Aegis warned.

"Yes, there will be plenty of wine and beer for them; the hard stuff is not good for them anyway."

"I will see that it happens but, I have to warn you, the warehouses and cellars are in areas patrolled by Commander Lorish."

     

"Do you still think he will try to kill me?"

"No...so far we are hurting the enemy more than they are hurting us. He will make his move when it looks like we are losing. I am only warning you that he will use the confiscation of the liquor to turn more men against you."

"What about Cillis?" Zophar asked, wondering what his other rival was up to.

"He is very quiet, which has me worried. I know he has to be holding meetings with the other officers, but so far he is not complaining about your leadership."

"Most likely positioning himself to replace me later on."

"True...so what do you want done?"

"Cillis has experience fighting against the pirates in the Southern Barrier Ocean. Give him command of the war galleys. I want them to make a raid against the Mathannon, Piths, and Uul fleets. He is to have the twelve war galleys that we already have, and also the three we just captured. He should ignore the enemy war galleys and hit hard on the troop ships and barges. Our goal is to prevent the armies from joining. Arrow boats and war galleys that don't have a port are not the main threat."

"I will give him the orders as soon as I leave you. Is there anything else that needs to be done?"

"Yes...I want you to join me in my room tonight."

"I'm not sure if I am ready for that, Zophar," Aegis replied, dropping formal titles.

"We need each other," the general pleaded.

"You were my brother's lover."

"But that did not stop us from being together."

"If I had been with you on the plains of Uul, my brother might not have died," Aegis said, riddled with guilt.

"He told you to stay back."

"He also knew about us."

     

"Aegis...if you had not been his brother, all three of us could have been together. But custom is the same as law. What do you think your brother would have wanted?"

"He would have wanted us together," Aegis confessed.

"And that is all I am asking."

"Then why did you volunteer for Sol?" Aegis finally asked, long wondering why his lover had asked for the suicide mission.

"I always wanted to fight an impossible battle, to make a name for myself. The Western Centurion Army is going to lose this war...be it under the leadership of Lukas or some other Field Marshal. Too many mistakes have already been made. If I stayed with the main army, I would be one of several generals trying to gain a name for myself. Here, free of the chain of command, I can write my own end."

"But what of us?" Aegis asked, hurt that he did not seem to be part of Zophar's plans.

"I will have you by my side. Together we will be celebrated in the songs."

"Together," Aegis sighed before leaving to give out his lover's orders.

     

     

Chapter Seven

     

When in Aquanos

     

The number of gay men in his fleet simply amazed the Admiral. He had always laughed at the stories of men turning to each other for sexual relief during long sea voyages. Now, James knew that many of the stories were true. Here in the Aquanos bathhouse, a hundred of his men had come out of hiding and were freely expressing their love for each other.

At the moment, James was enjoying it himself as he and Kyle relaxed in one of the hot pools of water. Sex with Kyle during the last several days had been unlike anything he ever experienced. First, Kyle was always eager. Second, James could see exactly how he was affecting him. A woman might groan and moan and fake an orgasm, but with Kyle, James could see his sex as it hardened, leaked, and shot. Finally, there was the feel of a hard body against his. Women felt soft and smelled sweet with perfume. Kyle felt strong, and had a musky odor of sweat and sex that James found much more arousing.

Looking at the blond man soaking next to him, James wondered how much more he needed to learn about the art of lovemaking. He knew that he had a few hang-ups. He worried that, one day, Kyle would ask to penetrate him, so to speak. Kissing, and the general showing of affection were also still difficult. It just seemed wrong or unmanly to kiss one's fellow officer on the lips, but that's what was happening. All around James in the massive chamber, men were hugging, kissing, and slapping each other's asses in a friendly manner.

James didn't know what his problem was...Kyle seemed to mix easily with the other men, giving a hug and kiss to them as he would pass. The only time James seemed to want to kiss was in the middle of sex, when he was at the peak of his passion. Thank the Mother that Kyle seemed to understand that, never trying to kiss him outside the bedroom.

That was what James liked best about Kyle. He seemed to know exactly what his Admiral was ready for...just like now. While he let the hot water relax his body, Kyle had reached over and taken hold of his manhood, pumping at it gently. Very slowly James felt himself harden due to Kyle's light touch. After several minutes of this tender care, James began to wish that Kyle would take a firmer hold of him. To that end he gave the smiling blond man a look of desperation but all Kyle did was wink.

"So, how does it feel to be a conqueror?" Kyle asked as he continued to massage his lover's manhood.

"I think I am falling in love."

"With me?"

"No...with Aquanos."

"How dare you!" Kyle laughed as he tightened his grip.

"Ouch..." James yelped in pain, glad when Kyle let go. "Well, it's true. No Templars, no Inquisitors, no priests. Right now the Federation War Council seems happy to leave me here as governor."

"And you like that?"

"Yes...I even find the Famulus charming, so polite and courteous."

"And so eager to please." Kyle laughed. "So, have I made you an unrepentant lover of men?"

James took Kyle's head in his hands and pulled him into a kiss. "No...but I do lust after my dear commander."

"Then I will just have to teach you."

"Teach me about love? Do you not know that a sailor's heart belongs to the sea?

"Well, now it belongs to me." Kyle laughed as he swam away.

James just chuckled as he watched the commander swim over to where a few of the other officers were bathing. He found the idea that a man could fall in love with another, in a romantic sense, ridiculous. Men could not love men.

At least that is what he wanted to believe. As he watched three of his other officers circle around Kyle with hungry, lustful looks in their eyes, James could not hold back a sudden surge of jealousy. Until that moment, Kyle had only focused his attention on him, showing no interest in any other man. Now, three men had their arms around the commander and Kyle seemed to be enjoying it.

     

Filled with anger, James swam over to where the four men were engaged. He tried to pull Kyle away, but soon found himself trapped by all four of them, their limbs entangled with his own. James tried to struggle free, but between the gropes, licks, kisses, and Kyle's ever-present smile, his resistance faded.

"You can have any man you want, but you came for me," Kyle whispered between licks on the Admiral's ear.

"I just thought..."

"That we meant something to each other? You are the one who says there is no such thing as love between men."

"Maybe I was too hasty."

"And maybe you need more experience." Kyle laughed.

"What do you mean?"

"Just as I said, you can have almost any man you want, but the only person you have been with is me."

"I still don't know what you are suggesting."

"I am suggesting you see how other men make you feel. You were not the first officer I've slept with."

Now finding it hard to focus from all the attention the other men were giving him, James struggled to keep his words clear. "You are telling me to sleep with other men."

"Yes, better now than when I want a true commitment from you," Kyle explained.

"What sort of commitment?"

"That the only people we will sleep with will be each other."

"Marriage?" James laughed.

"No...more akin to companionship. A contract that you will not leave me for another, and that I will do the same."

"Why not do that now?" James asked.

     

"Because you are too new to all this, and I am not yet ready to give up all my choices," Kyle explained.

"You mean doing things like we are now?" James chuckled.

"Exactly," Kyle agreed.

"For how long should we keep our options open?"

"For as long as we both feel we need to. But if you are worried I will never be ready, I promise that I will give you my answer in three weeks."

"So I have three weeks to see if my feelings for you change?"

"You admitting you have feelings for me?" Kyle laughed.

"I guess I am. So...where do you think I should get started?" James asked as he searched the bathhouse for other men to pair with.

"May I recommend Captain Harper?" Kyle said, pointing to the narrow-waisted, broad-chested man heading to the steam room.

"Why him?" James asked. The man was known for his gruff manner.

"I think I've been too gentle with you. A rough man might let you experience more."

"If you say so," James replied, unsure.

"Now go, before someone reaches him first." Kyle slapped James on the rear.

James climbed out of the pool and put on his sandals before entering the steam room. There, lying on one of the marble tables, was Harper, his body covered with a sheen of sweat.

Knowing that, this time, he would have to be the aggressor, James let his large hands run down the captain's back until they were cupping his ass.

"I've been waiting for you." Harper grinned as he rolled on his back, showing off his hardened manhood.

"You have?" James said, surprised.

"Well, considering that I have slept with every single fleet captain in the Jadoorian navy, I have been looking forward to the day an Admiral would try to seduce me."

"All the fleet commanders?" James said amazed.

     

"Nearly all of them."

"Why?"

"They get curious. It is not a great secret that there is some fooling around between men on the ships. Sometimes the captains become curious and want to try for themselves. Then two things happen. One, they try to seduce a young cabin boy, or two, they try for a man like myself."

"Why you?"

"Well, do I not look attractive?" Harper winked.

James looked at the man's stretched-out body, firm and strong, and -- James had to admit -- desirable.

Seeing the Admiral was indeed enticed by his body, Harper took his superior off to one of the resting rooms and showed him how aggressive two men could be with each other.

     

Chapter Eight

     

The Choice

     

After snowing for almost five days straight, the weather finally cleared. Aidan was eager to return to the capital to start training his new army. He was disappointed, however, when Dorian came back reporting the snow was seven feet deep. There was no way Aidan could ask his small military force to march, let alone ride the horses, the remaining fifty miles to the capital. It seemed he and his men would be trapped here until the snow melted in the spring.

The Centurions did not mind... the monks, or Saints as Amplexor referred to them, spent much of their free time entertaining their Centurion guests.

After the monks had achieved their conquest of the Centurions, they moved on to the greater challenge of seducing Aidan's Jadoorian bodyguards. To accomplish that, it took a team effort. In one example, a Centurion would spar with one of Aidan's guards and beat him badly. In fact, beat him so badly that the Jadoorian would have to go see the healer. There, the monk would insist that the Jadoorian strip so he could be examined while, at the same time, giving the injured man a potion to ease the pain. The potion also had the effect of making the man as drunk as if he had finished off an entire bottle of rum in one sitting, but with the effect only lasting for an hour. During that time the healer would remove the remaining clothing and begin orally pleasuring the soldier.

When the potion wore off, one of three things would happen. The Jadoorian would realize that another man was sucking his cock, and run out as if his life was in danger. The soldier would realize that his cock was being sucked but was too aroused to do anything about it... letting the monk finish his business but never going back to the healer again. Or the Jadoorian would realize his cock was being sucked, really enjoy it and come back later for a second go.

     

There were many variations on this trick used by the monks and Centurions and, by the third week, they had gotten to all the Jadoorians at least once. Out of the two hundred men, only fifteen ran away; one hundred let a monk finish them off but would not go back; and eighty five of the men came back, and came back often.

Aidan had to hide a chuckle when he would see little circles of three... a monk, a Jadoorian, and a Centurion huddled together. Aidan tried to memorize the names of the men who had shown themselves to be gay or at least bisexual. Those men he planned to promote faster, moving them into high positions of authority, as they would be able to work more easily with the Centurions.

Even with his planning, Aidan knew he would never have more troops at his disposal than High Priest Niles. The call of sexual freedom did not have the same power as the divine reward of martyrdom that was bringing men into the Mother Church's ranks. What he needed was a team of men...with the skills of a Centurion and bonded in love with each other. Aidan had long suspected that it was the shared love between Centurions that made them such fierce warriors, since they were not only fighting for the empire, but for their lovers as well.

That is why Aidan felt that Dorian was such a perfect match for him. He was the respected leader of the Island of the Eb survivors. All the Centurions looked up to him. That respect also seemed to extend to Aidan himself, which surprised him.

Today, Amplexor had asked Aidan and Dorian to meet him in the chapel as he had something important to show them both. When Aidan entered the chapel, he found that it was empty and the crystal coffin holding Amplexor's lover was gone as well. Walking closer, Aidan was surprised to see that, where the coffin been, there was now a ladder leading down into a pit.

Guessing that this was where Amplexor wanted him to go, Aidan climbed down only to find a tunnel, lit by strange white lights that did not flicker or smoke. Carefully, Aidan let his fingertips touch the glowing globes, afraid of being burned. Instead the globes were actually cool to the touch.

Amazed by the lights, but hearing voices deeper in the tunnel, Aidan continued until he reached a large chamber where Amplexor and Dorian stood waiting. Amplexor turned from Dorian and faced Aidan. "Good for you to come. I have just finished telling Dorian why I asked you to come here."

     

"What is this place?" Aidan asked, amazed. He could see metal machinery and a giant tank filled with a bubbling, clear fluid.

"This is Genesis. It was here that the Mother established Jadoor, for it was with this machine that she created Gladius and me. It is also the birthplace of both Centurions and Legatio."

"I don't understand," Aidan said, confused.

"I didn't think you would, so let me put it in simpler terms. Centurions and Legatio were once like you, normal men. So was I, once. When the Mother guided her people here she decided she needed people with special gifts to help her; Centurions to defend the people with their great strength and Legatio to govern, living long enough to see her plans implemented.

So the Centurions and Legatio were once Famulus?" Aidan asked using the Centurion term.

"Yes." Amplexor smiled.

"How did she change them?"

"With this machine. With it she was able to grow an anima core inside a person's body... blue anima for a Centurion and red for a Legatio.

"Why not do both and have purple!" Aidan joked but saw that it fell flat.

You can, but the result is different. That is what happened to Gladius and myself, but we were incomplete. What she wanted was a real Demon and a real Angel to lead the people, not the engineered pair that Gladius and I were. Only when a Centurion and Legatio have a special kind of love can they combine their anima, making their anima purple and becoming a true Demon and Angel," Amplexor explained.

"Why have you brought me here?" Aidan asked... almost knowing the answer.

"I have brought you here because I think you and Dorian have the special kind of love needed for a Legatio and Centurion to bond."

"But I'm not a Legatio."

"No, you're not." Amplexor smiled.

"But..." Aidan tried to protest even as he felt Dorian wrap his arms around him.

     

"Dorian really wants this, Aidan," Amplexor said in an almost begging tone. "I have never seen a Centurion so passionate about a Famulus before. He wants to become closer to you...to bond to you."

"And what do you want?" Aidan asked suspiciously.

"I want to restore Jadoor to what it once was...an open and loving society. Are you not surprised by how many of your men are now engaged in gay sex?"

"I guess it is because they never knew how good it could be with another man." Aidan laughed.

"It is because old Jadoorian society used to be based on a bisexual triangle. The Mother engineered the Famulus men to be open to both sexes. She felt that it would help with the acceptance of the Centurions, as they are exclusively gay. After the Centurions were banished from Jadoor, new bloodlines entered the Jadoorian population and the trait became less prevalent but, in pureblooded Jadoorians, it still exists in the navy and royal family.

"Is that why I am gay?" Aidan asked.

"The royal family is one of the purest bloodlines around. I would not be surprised if every King of Jadoor had a male lover at one time or another," Amplexor chuckled.

"Even my father?!" Aidan laughed...his father had been one of the most conservative rulers in recent history.

"I said I would not be surprised. I did not mean that some of the kings of Jadoor did not suppress their feelings and obey the church doctrine forbidding male sex."

"Male sex...I like that term! Sounds better than gay sex," Aidan laughed.

"Well, that is what gay sex is... it is an act that purely involves only men and follows purely male emotions and acts. There are certain things that only a man can do to another man, just as it is with a woman."

"But why do I need to become a Legatio to feel love for Dorian? I already love him."

"Yes...and he loves you. But I want to make you into an Angel, which will allow the two of you to reach levels of love you never have felt before. You will not just feel in love...you will FEEL the love. A Legatio and Centurion who can love each other are very rare. Usually it is the Legatio who does not share the Centurion's feelings. You, though, are already in love with Dorian, and he...more amazingly...is in love with you. If I make you an Angel and Dorian a Demon, nothing will stop the two of you from bonding. Then, and only then, will you feel the most extreme force that love can have."

"Alright...I'll do it," Aidan said after having a chance to think about it.

"Good." Amplexor nodded before telling Dorian Aidan's response.

Dorian grinned and gave Aidan a final squeeze before starting to undress the smaller man. After Aidan had been stripped of everything, Amplexor pushed a button on the machine, which triggered the giant tank to drain, a door opening in its crystal frame. Dorian lifted Aidan into it and joined him, closing the glass panel and trapping them both inside. The tank then began to fill with a purple fluid, soon drowning the two of them in it.

At first Aidan tried to hold his breath, hoping that the fluid level would drop off quickly but, as the seconds passed and that did not happen, Aidan began to thrash about, desperate to escape. The crystal tank surrounding him was as hard as stone. Finally, his lungs could not take it any longer, forcing him to breathe in the fluid. At once Aidan went into spasms, trying to force the liquid out of his lungs. Instead, the coughing had the effect of forcing out the remaining air. Only when all the air was gone did his coughing subside, and he found himself taking slow deep breaths of the sweet fluid. Aidan could see the blurred image of Dorian, his arms wrapped around him, a wide grin on his face. A wave of tiredness taking over, both soon fell into a deep sleep, Aidan resting his head on Dorian's chest.

As Amplexor finished adjusting the controls, he took out a carved stone case. Opening it he removed one of the two daggers inside. "Soon Gladius ... soon you will be back with me."

     

Chapter Nine

     

The Corruption of Addiction

     

As soon as word reached him of the fall of Aquanos, Xavier took Alex back with him to the capital. When he arrived, he ordered half the Home Guard to surround Aquanos to prevent the Jadoorians from expanding north, deeper into Domus. He even recalled the support troops he had sent to help Field Marshal Lukas in his losing battle with the Federation. Once he had given his orders, Xavier moved on to more important things...mainly Alex.

To get rid of the young man's shame and sadness over killing his sword master, Xavier gorged Alex with anima. Xavier did not know if Alex was a Demon, but he was surely a fiend when it came to consuming the life energy of his fellow Centurions. If Alex was not in a state of out-of-control physical lust, he was exercising and, when he was not exercising, he was practicing with his blades. When he became tired or hungry, Xavier would just give him more anima, starting the cycle all over again. Within a matter of weeks Alex had consumed an entire legion's worth of anima, more than the Field Marshal had taken in his entire life, and it was showing.

Besides the massive musculature and extraordinary height, Alex's eyes and skin were changing. His irises were still gray, but the whites had picked up a blue tint. The skin around Alex's abdomen had also taken on a bluish color, as the anima core inside him had grown in order to accommodate to the anima he was consuming.

Xavier did not feel any love for his creation, even though they had exchanged bonds and did make love several times a day. He was molding Alex into a combination of killing machine and lust-driven creature. Instead of being a lover, Alex was the closest thing he would ever have to a son...a son Xavier was sure would lay down his life to protect his father when he was done with his training.

     

Tonight was part of all those plans for Alex. Tonight he was going to show the young man something that would remove the last taboo Alex still held close...the act of killing a Legatio.

He led Alex to an alley that led to the grand plaza, near the entrance to the Tomb of Warriors where the Centurion skulls were kept. Xavier did not tell Alex what was going to happen...wanting the young Centurion to find out on his own. He did not have to wait long for his protégé to find out.

A wagon came rolling to the entrance of the tomb. As soon as it stopped, five or six Legatio came out, carrying sacks that they loaded onto the cart.

Having shown Alex this, Xavier took him to the warehouse district, on top of one of the roofs looking down at one of the many buildings Perils owned there. They made it almost ten minutes before the wagon, as it had to take the larger but longer main streets to reach the warehouse. As soon as the wagon arrived, several people came out and began unloading the wagon while two other men talked.

One of these two men wore the red robes of a Legatio senator and the other wore the black robes of a Famulus.

"Only six bags!" the voice of senator Perils cursed.

"I am sure it will be enough, sir," the high-pitched voice of Horace, master of the baths, insisted fawningly.

"I told the caretakers that I needed twenty bags. I need to buy the governorship of Qul Tos. I will not stay here when the empire falls to the Federation.

"I would like to remind you, master, that it was you who started this war." Horace giggled like a girl.

"Say that again, Horace, and I will make sure you will drown in one of your own pools."

"Forgive me, master."

"The war was to kill off the other Field Marshals, leaving the Senate the only remaining power. I never thought that our armies would fare so badly, or be taken so off guard like this. The Eastern Army is still strong, though. From Qul Tos I can build a new empire where Legatio will be supreme. But to do that I need to be able to bribe the other senators, and money no longer holds the power it once had. Centurion bones, on the other hand, are commanding a princely price. All the Legatio think they will need a small stockpile to survive this war," Perils said as he took out one of the skulls from a sack.

"But the skulls, sir...what will the Centurions do if they find out you have been replacing their skulls with fakes?" Horace asked nervously.

"How will they find out? And why should it matter? The fakes are exact copies, with their precious marks. So what if it is not the original bone? If they were not so selfish in giving their anima to their Field Marshals, I would not have to resort to robbing their graves. With a few hundred vials of anima I can buy the loyalty of a thousand senators," Perils grumbled as he tossed the skull to Horace.

Horace examined the skull under the torchlight and was amazed by the marking. "A sword master!"

"Yes...a recently killed one in fact."

"Where? Aquanos or on the western border?"

"Neither...this skull belonged to a teacher at the Academy...killed by one of his own students, believe it or not."

"A student killed his teacher!"

"Yes... one of Xavier's little pets. The student was, of course, expelled. I believe our dear Field Marshal has him locked up in one of his bedrooms...nothing more than a sex slave now."

Alex, his face red with anger did not hear that last remark...not after he realized whose skull the Senator had stolen, the skull of sword master Lorin. As his face turned red with anger, he felt Xavier hand him a double-bladed sword, one that the Field Marshal had hidden on the roof just for this moment.

With the instrument of revenge in his hands, Alex jumped off the roof and attacked the surprised senator and Famulus, both of whom were decapitated within seconds of each other. Alex did not stop there. He ran inside the warehouse where he chased down and killed every single one of the Famulus workers who had been powdering the skulls and storing them in barrels.

     

Only when all were dead did Alex come out of the warehouse, his once white robe now red with blood. Waiting for him, as proud as a father could be, was Xavier, holding up a warm vial of red anima, freshly taken from Peril's body. Xavier lifted up the vial in a toast and drank half of it down, a purple glow growing around his body. He then handed the remaining half to Alex. "Drink."

"But..." Alex said, still held back by the law banning the taking of a Legatio's anima.

"You will need it... trust me.

Nodding his head, Alex agreed, drinking the fluid down.

After Xavier took the empty vial away from Alex, he took a deep breath before speaking. "Alex...you are under arrest for the killing of a Legatio Senator."

"But..." Alex tried to protest as a dozen white armored Centurions ran towards him.

"Don't worry. I will make sure the truth will come out and the courts will be lenient with you. You might have to be imprisoned for a long while, Alex, but I promise I will not abandon you. We will have our revenge."

     

     

     

Chapter Ten

     

Homecoming

     

When Jason finally beheld the walls of Qul Tos, he was amazed at what he saw. When he had left the city, for what he had believed would be forever, the walls had been broken down and the road leading into the capital empty. Now, where the Labyrinth tower once stood there was a full fortress. Smoke rose from the city, but this time it was coming from chimneys instead of burnt-out buildings.

When the party came closer to the city gates, they found that a long line of people and wagons were waiting to be allowed entrance. Philip, not willing to wait, took the party past the line of people who looked at them with suspicion, if not anger.

"Get back to the end of the line!" one man shouted heatedly.

"Yeah!" a younger woman shouted as well.

Soon the whole line was in an uproar, as Philip continued to move forward. It was not surprising that the serfs and other peasants looked down on the party. All of them were dressed in goat-hair coats and looked more like wild men from the mountains than civilized folk.

Eventually, the ruckus attracted the attention of two Centurion guards watching over the line of hopeful workers. "Go to the end of the line like everyone else!" one of the guards shouted as the party got close to the city gates.

"You mean I have to wait for a bunch of Famulus, before I can take command here?!" Darius shouted, moving past Philip.

"And who may you be!"

"I am your Field Marshal!"

"Yeah...and I am Senator Perils!" the guard laughed back.

     

Darius, his eyes filled with rage for being disbelieved, took off his goat-hair coat and undershirt and turned his back to the guards, showing off his elaborate tattoos, including one of a long sword that ran down his spine; the mark of a Field Marshal.

The two guards saluted. "Field Marshal Darius!"

"You," Darius shouted, pointing at the guard who had not made the snide remark.

"Yes, sir!"

"You will escort us to the palace...you will then find a whip and beat some manners into this fool," Darius growled as he pointed to the offending officer.

"You will then give the whip to me," Philip added, an evil smile on his face.

"Yes, sirs!" The guard saluted sharply again while his partner looked glum.

After that, no more insults were thrown their way. They passed the gates and were guided up the long road of Labyrinth Way, right to the palace. At the gates to the palace they were forced to stop again but, as soon as the guard explained whom he was escorting, the gates were opened immediately.

Inside the palace walls there were hundreds of people busy repairing and expanding the buildings. Everyone in the party, except for Rondus, smiled on seeing the signature steam and smoke of a bathhouse coming from a newly constructed building.

Nothing at the moment would have made Philip happier than to wash Jason's body until his pale skin shown white again, but things still needed to be done... the first being to place Jason back on the throne.

Darius, partly for convenience sake, but mainly because he was tired of smelling like a goat, had left his clothes at the city gate. All he had to do now was show his back to the guards to be guided to the throne room. Inside, there were many nobles shouting, almost to the point of screaming, at a man sitting on a wooden bench in front of the throne.

"I have heard enough. Your serfs are human beings... our Famulus live better and have more freedom than what you give them. None of you have come to terms with the fact that this kingdom is now a protectorate of the Domus Empire. That means that your serfs now have the right to choose their own masters, just like any Famulus. If you want your serfs back, you had better give them reasons to want to return," Varrus shouted at the angry nobles.

     

"They are our property!" a noble shouted back. "This makes you nothing more than a thief!"

Varrus calmed down before speaking again. "You forget that, by the treaty between Domus and Qul Tos, you were only allowed to keep your titles...not your homes, not your lands, and not your serfs. It is only by my kind grace that you are allowed to keep anything!"

That seemed to silence the nobles. If the peasants found out that the nobles had no legal claim to the land they farmed, or their very persons, it could lead to a complete revolt. It would be better that the trouble making serfs just leave their lands and go to pollute the cities.

Now that the arguing had died down, Jason felt free to run over to his old staff master. "Varrus!"

"Who are you?" Varrus laughed as he was tackled off his bench by the dirtiest, smelliest, but most handsome man he had ever seen.

Jason laughed and planted a kiss on Varrus before responding. "It's me, Jason!"

"Jason!" Varrus said, amazed. The man before him looked to be in his mid-twenties, and was much taller and broader shouldered than the young man he had remembered falling madly in love with. But the eyes, the green eyes were the same, as well as the innocent smile. Varrus could feel himself hardening under the weight of Jason's body.

"I'm sorry. What Oktor did to you was my fault." Jason began to cry while his massive body shook.

Varrus had to struggle with his desire to make love to Jason right then and there, and the need to comfort the young man. "It's alright, Jason...we are back together again. Who cares about Domus and the Centurions... we have each other."

"I know... and we have Philip too."

"Philip?" Varrus asked, amazed, just as a shadow fell on the two of them.

Standing above them, looking surprisingly pleased, was Philip, his arms crossed and his mouth in a wide grin. "We need to talk."

"How about a bath?" Varrus offered, having gotten a good whiff of Jason and the others.

"That would be perfect," Philip agreed.

     

The bathhouse was small, by Domus standards, and only had three pools of water: one warm, one hot, and one cold, but it was a great reward after all their traveling. Varrus was surprised to see that not only Jason's body had changed. Philip, Darius, and even Caleb looked more built than when he left the Academy. He was even more shocked when Jason took Caleb aside to one end of the pool and began kissing and necking the older man as if he were the seducer.

"There is some of Jason in you," Philip started out, nuzzling Varrus.

"What do you mean?" Varrus asked confused.

"Some of Jason's anima is inside you... I can feel it in you."

"I didn't know he gave me any. It must have been that last kiss in the woods. The question is...how do you know?"

"Jason and I are very much lovers." Philip smiled softy.

"You are bonded?"

"I think we are!" Philip smiled wider. "But I do not remember how it happened."

"So you want me out of the way..." Varrus said disappointedly.

"No. I am in love with all of Jason... including the little bit of Jason that is inside you."

"So you want us to become lovers?" Varrus asked, confused.

"I want to include you in our love making. I am confident in saying that Jason loves me more than any other person in the world. Yet... he also loves you greatly. How can I deny a person I love the right to express the love he feels for others?"

"So, is that why Jason is with Caleb?" Varrus laughed, noticing the two men's actions from the corner of his eye.

"No...that is different. It is Caleb who is madly in love with Jason. Jason wants to give Caleb the happiness he desires. That is why he has taken him on as another lover, just as I am giving Darius happiness by keeping him mine.

"What about me?"

"Jason wants you to be his lover... don't you feel the same?"

"Yes I do... that is why I worry you will get jealous."

     

"I just might..." Philip agreed before becoming more serious. "There is something wrong with me, Varrus... a madness that is growing inside me. Jason seems to be the only person who can get rid of it. When I make love to him my mind clears and all my anger goes away. I am scared Varrus...what if I lose control and hurt Jason? That is why I need you. I need someone who loves Jason almost as much as I do to look out for him...protect him from me if needed."

Varrus did not understand all he was being told, but the look of fear and desperation coming from Philip's eyes told him all he needed to know. Philip was truly scared of what he would do if he went insane. If what Philip said was true...that he loved all of Jason, including the little bit inside him, then he might be the only person who could stop Philip from doing something he might regret.

Seeing that Varrus understood what he asked of him, Philip pulled Varrus into a deep kiss. "Go to Jason now...he missed you terribly."

Varrus nodded his head and swam over to where Jason had just lifted an exhausted Caleb out of the water. Varrus, at 7'2" was glad he still towered over Jason. He swam up behind Jason and wrapped his long arms around Jason's waist.

"How is my student?" Varrus whispered in Jason's ear before licking it.

Jason sighed and leaned back against Varrus. "He missed his teacher."

"Jason, I don't think you can even begin to realize how much I have missed you. Being skinned was nothing compared to being sent away."

"Can we be alone?" Jason asked. The heat of both Varrus' body and the water was getting to him.

"Yes...I would like that," Varrus agreed, taking Jason's hand and leading him out of the baths and to the stairs leading into the palace.

Out of the water, a pair of newly trained Qul Tos Famulus approached them, carrying towels and a pair of white bathrobes. Once the two of them were dressed, Varrus led Jason down a hall that connected the bathhouse to the rest of the palace.

After climbing several flights of stairs and going down a half-dozen hallways, Varrus led Jason to his bedroom...a room decorated totally in white. The walls, floor, ceiling, furniture and bed sheets were all of the same brilliant hue. Varrus, having the remains of a once dark tan, stood out like a rock in the middle of a snowdrift. Letting his white robe fall off his body, he revealed his tall, muscular, but scarred back to Jason. Jason reached up and touched those scars gingerly as if touching them would hurt one of the two men he loved with all his heart.

Varrus let Jason run his warm hand on his back before turning around. He looked down at Jason's precious face...a more mature, but still innocent expression marked it while his green eyes, near the point of tears, shimmered.

With one arm, Varrus pulled Jason closer to him so he could kiss the young man's forehead. He then used his other hand to untie the bathrobe, letting it fall off his shoulders to the floor. Varrus bent down and kissed the top of Jason's forehead while he wrapped both arms around the back of his neck.

While drawing Jason closer to the bed, Varrus made a confession;"I have not slept with another person since that day in the woods."

"Why?" Jason asked. He knew of the Centurion sex drive.

"Only you seem to matter to me now. You are the only person I want next to me in bed. I want you to be my one and only lover."

"I love you too," Jason confessed.

"I know," Varrus replied with a smile.

Varrus lowered both of their bodies onto the soft white bed and drew Jason close to him so their bodies were pressed together. Already both of them were hard, pushing against each other's bodies. Soon the two men were humping against each other, each of them looking for an opening. Varrus was the first to find it.

He pushed inside Jason's ass very slowly, to minimize the pain for Jason as well as to let himself capture the feel of penetration. Once all the way in, Varrus just held himself there while he lifted Jason's head for several deep kisses. Then, very slowly, he began to pull out until only the very tip of his sex remained inside. Varrus kept it like that for a few seconds before he slammed back in, full force, his balls slapping against Jason's ass. Varrus repeated this over and over again while Jason let out a deep moan each time he felt Varrus' manhood rub against a sensitive spot inside him.

Varrus, seeing Jason's manhood hard and leaking, took hold of it with his callused hands and squeezed out more of the fluid. He pulled out of Jason and wrapped his mouth around his lover's manhood, sucking and licking the salty fluid. Jason did not last long and soon came in Varrus' mouth. Varrus climbed up and kissed him, then pushed back into Jason until he too reached climax. Varrus lay on top of Jason, remaining inside his lover while he kissed Jason all over his face and neck.

Jason, for his part, had a dreamy look on his face, running his fingers through Varrus's brown hair. Varrus was also smiling, holding tight to the young man who meant so much to him.

Varrus had just finished kissing Jason's neck and was about to kiss his Legatio lover on the tip of his nose when he saw that Jason's eyes were now two pools of darkness. "Jason?"

"Varrus." Jason smiled. He pushed Varrus onto his back and landed on top of him. Drops of purple fluid dripped from his mouth, landing on Varrus's chest. Varrus didn't know why it was purple but he was sure he knew what it was... anima... and he wanted it. Jason gave it to him.

Jason planted his lips against Varrus', letting the fluid pour into his mouth. Varrus felt warmth overtake him with a sudden itch on his back followed by severe pain, but Jason still held him close.

Where the scars on Varrus's back had been, something was trying to rip out. It pulled and tugged against the skin until two seams appeared near his upper spine. Out of them came a pair of giant, raven-black, feathered wings, wet with blood. Varrus let out a deep scream of pain as the damp wings stretched in an attempt to dry.

Only when the wings were fully extended did Jason release his kiss, his eyes back to their green color. "Varrus?" Jason asked, dumbfounded by what he saw.

"Jason..." Varrus said, exhausted, in pain, but feeling elated.

"What happened?"

"I don't know." Varrus smiled. He felt too happy to worry about it. He stood up and flapped his wings a few times, letting them dry. When that was done, he had a pair of silky soft wings as black as his room was white. Varrus then looked down at his naked lover, smiling at him widely. Offering Jason a hand, Varrus lifted him up and took him in his arms, wrapping his black wings around Jason's white body. Doing so felt so right to Varrus that he began to cry from joy. Jason looked so protected...so loved beneath his wings.

Varrus then noticed that a corner of his mind now seemed to be inhabited by a visitor. He could now feel Jason's emotions and understand Jason's thoughts. With that knowledge came understanding. He now knew that Philip was Jason's savior and deepest lover. Jason felt he owed all joy and happiness to his Centurion rescuer. Varrus' place in Jason's heart was different; Varrus was his role model as well as well as his sexual idol. Where Philip was most loved, Varrus now knew he was most desired.

Understanding this, Varrus understood that he would have to share Jason with Philip. The two loves, while different, were both very powerful. Jason wanted to love both men and, in his innocent mind, there was nothing wrong with this. All his time in the Labyrinth Tower had left him not knowing of the jealousies of love; that to try and love two different men could lead to resentment. For Jason, love was something to be given to all people. It was his greatest quality, and maybe curse, that he loved so easily.

Varrus laid Jason back down on the bed, keeping his wings wrapped around the younger man tenderly. Both of them fell asleep, sharing each other's dreams as they shared each other's bodies and minds.

     

Chapter Eleven

     

The High Inquisitor

     

Admiral James knew he was in trouble when the black-sailed ship of the High Priest's Inquisitors docked in port. While most of his men were loyal to him and the king, each ship carried a Templar observer. Rumors about the Admiral's new-found sexuality, as well as the spreading practice of homosexuality among his men and the Famulus, had not gone unnoticed. Under pressure from church officials, James was running out of excuses as to why he had not burned the bathhouses or cracked down on the new and lucrative business of Famulus prostitution.

While over half of the eighty thousand soldiers inside the city spent a great deal of time enjoying themselves in an orgy of food, wine and sex, the men still did their duty patrolling the streets and walls of the now besieged city, surrounded by ten legions of Centurion troops from the Home Guard.

Any man found reporting late for duty, unshaven, or drunk was immediately punished, either by being sent back to the ships or, in more serious cases, to the lash.

The Inquisitors - James was sure - would be less than impressed. All they would see was how Domus culture had corrupted the good fighting men of Jadoor. He sent word to his officers to warn their men to be on their best behavior but, after several weeks of hedonistic living, he did not expect the men to be able to hide what had been happening.

To limit the Inquisitor's movements, James planned to take the church officials to the governor's mansion, wine and dine them, pay a hefty bribe, and then send them back to Jadoor. Hopefully, they would be satisfied that no serious indiscretions were happening. But when James made his way down the rebuilt pier his heart sank. The flag waving from the black ship's mast was not just that of the Inquisitors, but of the High Inquisitor himself, a red sword on a field of black. This was not going to be some lackey at whom James could throw gold, but the second most powerful man in the Holy Church of the Mother.

     

Having already read reports that the High Inquisitor had ordered the burning of the homes and businesses of gay men in the recaptured towns of Yelding and Uul, James knew that the same could happen in Aquanos. There were also rumors that High Inquisitor Warren was building giant prisons all over the Federation, to house all deviants and heretics refusing to worship the Mother as prescribed by High Priest Niles in the newly conquered lands.

When the black ship docked, James held his breath as he waited for the High Inquisitor to step off the boat and make his way down the pier. The first man off the ship wore a black outfit that looked like a cross between a military uniform and priestly garb, half robe, and half tunic. On his chest hung the emblem of the Inquisitors, the red sword that symbolized bloodshed in the name of the Mother.

James saw that Warren was near his own age, mid-forties, and was 6'2" in height, with hazel eyes and black hair marked by streaks of gray. He seemed strong and fit, but walked with a silver cane, a symbol of his office. James knew that, with a turn of the knob, the High Inquisitor could pull a sword from that cane...something that the High Inquisitor was rumored to do often when executing heretics sentenced to death.

Going down on one knee, James bowed his head to the fourth most powerful man in Jadoor, behind High Priest Niles, King Aidan, and the new Prime Minister, Landon.

"Rise, my son..." The High Inquisitor smiled, laying his hand in blessing on top of the Admiral's head.

"We are most honored to have your grace here to witness our great conquest of Domus," James said, with false reverence.

"You must remember you are only a small part of the conquest, my son. You serve only to prevent the Centurion Western Army from receiving reinforcements...an important task indeed, but only a small part of the whole plan. Remember this, and you will gain some of the humility that the Mother requires of you," the High Inquisitor instructed as he followed James to the carriage.

"Thank you, your grace, for your wisdom." James bowed his head as he tried hard not to gnash his teeth in anger.

"It is my duty to teach you what is expected of a servant of the Mother." The High Inquisitor smiled knowingly. He was not falling for the Admiral's false politeness. His agents had given him detailed reports, including the fact that James had taken on two lovers, a young commander and a captain famous for his sexual exploits. He knew what was happening at the baths and with the Famulus. He also did not plan on stopping their activity, not unless it was to his advantage.

In truth, the High Inquisitor was the hand guiding High Priest Niles. With his army of spies, he could usually find something to blackmail and cower whoever headed the church at the time. The secret knowledge that Niles had fathered five bastard offspring had been a tool that Warren used well for his own benefit.

Of course the High Inquisitor had secrets of his own...mainly that he was guilty of the same abominations for which he imprisoned others. The lust he satisfied in his bed was only surpassed by his lust for power. When he found a man that interested him he would have the man imprisoned on some false charge of heresy. He would then have the man starved and tortured, demanding that he repent and obey him. Then, when the man's spirit was broken, Warren would send for him, taking the broken man out of the dungeon to the splendor of the High Inquisitor's palace. There, Warren would care for the man's wounds, treating him as if a child, making the man physically and emotionally dependent upon him. Regardless of the man's sexuality at the start of the process, he ended up in Warren's bed as an eager lover.

When he was finished taking his pleasure, Warren would take his lover to the room where the secret history of Jadoor was kept. Only the High Priest was supposed to have a key to this room, but long ago the High Inquisitors had found a way to copy it. Inside, Warren would show that long ago the King and High Priest of Jadoor had been lovers... that love between men had not only been common but a part of religious practice. Warren would convert the man's loyalty from the Mother Church to the Inquisitors themselves, making the man see that only the Inquisitors practiced the true form of their religion.

By this time, the man would be totally convinced that what Warren said was true but, to make sure, Warren would send the man to a special monastery on a far isolated island. There, the man would be indoctrinated and become more emotionally dependent on his fellow Inquisitors. For six months they would be the only people he could talk to. They would be the ones to give him food, warmth, and love. By the time he was finished with his training as an Inquisitor Acolyte, he would believe that the only people who truly loved him were his fellow Inquisitors.

Warren smiled just thinking of the number of men he had brought into the true faith. At any given time he would have over a dozen men in some process of conversion. Soon, another man would be in need of rescuing from the dungeon. Warren was looking forward to that.

He was also looking forward to bringing the Admiral to his way of thinking. Unlike most people he had arrested on charges of heresy, James was a war hero and very popular with his men. That gave him a level of protection while also making him a valuable prize.

However attractive James was, Warren had larger plans than just trying to make the Admiral into a new sexual partner. He wanted the Admiral as a co-conspirator. With his agents and James's troops, Warren could take over the holy war against Domus and turn it into a cultural war back home, returning Jadoor back to its old traditions of a male-dominated, homosexual society.

His plan was simple, let the Domus Empire fall and then take the fleet, and the army loyal to James, back to Jadoor, leaving the troops loyal to Niles trapped on the mainland. James would then overthrow the church and the Merchant Guild. In the power vacuum, Warren would give Aidan a choice - name him High Priest or find himself shipped in a barrel to the slave markets in Qopo. The Inquisitor was sure he could talk James into accepting the crown if Aidan did not go along.

The first thing Warren would do, as High Priest, was open the sealed doors to the secret history of Jadoor, revealing the truth to the people. The old practices of ritual homosexuality would be reestablished, first to the priesthood and then preached to the congregations. Most importantly, however, Warren would insist that the King of Jadoor become his lover, just like the first King and High Priest, consolidating his power.

That had been the ancient goal of the Inquisitors since the day the Legatio, Centurions, and Famulus were forced out of Meltor: to raise the two younger gods above the Mother who had betrayed them. In the Inquisitors' own vaults were the plans to build a larger and even grander temple to the Sons of the Mother. This would over shadow the main temple in the heart of Meltor and be consecrated according to the old descriptions of orgies, games, and the union between church and crown.

The plans had been in place for centuries, but only now, under Warren's leadership, did they seem to be approaching fruition. As the carriage rolled down the streets of Aquanos, Warren could not help but admire the Centurion culture he wanted returned to Jadoor. While they were indeed heathens in not worshiping the Mother and the Sons, they had maintained the old sexual practices and social customs. That was why Warren had pushed Niles into declaring a holy war against Domus. Only as a defeated people could the Centurions be brought back into Jadoorian society and, with their presence, change it.

It was from his knowledge of the secret histories that Warren knew that the average Jadoorian was once nothing more than what Famulus were in Domus society today. They had their own language and, according to the histories, pureblooded Jadoorians had been "altered" by the Mother to be companions for the Centurions. Bringing in tens of thousands of Centurions to Jadoor could revive that long-suppressed trait among Jadoorian men.

As he thought about his plans for the future, Warren noticed the telltale steam cloud coming from one of the large marble buildings. "Those are the bathhouses, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are," James replied nervously.

"Take me to them," Warren ordered, a sly smile on his face.

"If... if that is what you wish, your grace," James replied, glad that he had sent a messenger warning the rest of his officers of Warren's arrival. He just hoped that all his men had cleared out.

Ordering the carriage to the bathhouse, James looked nervous while the High Inquisitor continued to stare at him like a fox ready to pounce on a rabbit. James did not recognize the sexual nature of the predatory look Warren was giving him. Instead, he mistook it for a man out to trap him on charges of heresy.

Warren enjoyed the near-frightened look the Admiral was returning -- as if he were about to cut off the Admiral's head. In fact, Warren would not mind doing a little biting and nipping on the Admiral's toned and deeply tanned body.

The High Inquisitor, being in his mid-forties, had worked hard to keep his body strong and firm. James, though, looked like his athleticism came from the hard work of a sea captain. With his mind picturing what the Admiral looked like without his uniform and array of medals, Warren had to use some degree of self-control not to reveal his growing lust.

After the carriage stopped at the baths, James led Warren inside, hoping to find all his officers gone. Glaring at the two guards at the door, James looked for some sign that his orders had been obeyed.

"Sir...the place is secure!" One of the guards saluted sharply, a wide smile on his face.

     

James saluted back, a look of relief on his face. "Thank you, corporal."

Warren, looking down on the guards from his 6'2" height, gave them a dark, warning look. "We are not to be disturbed for anything."

The two guards, the armor clanging as their bodies shook, went down to their knees. "Yes...yes High Inquisitor."

"Good... may the Mother bless you for your obedience," Warren replied, not having to say what disobedience would bring. "Lead the way, Admiral. I do believe you have been here before."

"Yes, High Inquisitor," James managed to stutter.

The first chamber to which James led the High Inquisitor was the changing room. Inside, there were rows upon rows of lockers, a table holding stacks of clean white towels, and several row of hooks, each holding a white bathrobe.

James began by giving a tour of the place, keeping his back to the High Inquisitor. "This is the Centurion changing room. You can tell that because all the towels are white. There is another changing room for Famulus, their towels are black.

"What about the Legatio?" Warren asked as he slowly began to remove his clerical robes.

"They have their own private bath as they prefer not to bathe with the other groups. Their towels are deep red."

"I see...to remind them of their fatal weakness," Warren replied, moving in closer to the Admiral, until his breath could be felt on the other man's neck.

"High Inquisitor...?" James replied uncertainly. Fearing that this was the point where he would meet the inquisitor's sword.

"Don't move," Warren warned.

James bowed his head in defeat and waited for the blow to fall, but instead he felt hands play with the straps of his ceremonial armor, removing it piece by piece, followed by the padding and underclothes, until only his pants and loincloth remained. Next, James felt Warren's large hands run up and down his chest, pinching his nipples and playing with the patch of hair in the middle.

     

It took all of James's courage to speak up. "What are you doing?"

"I am seducing you...do you like it so far?"

"But..."

"No buts, Admiral. You will let me do this to you if you want me to overlook your past indiscretions. Now finish undressing and meet me in the steam room."

"Yes... High Inquisitor." James nodded his head while not understanding at all what was happening."

After removing the rest of his clothes and wrapping a towel around his waist, James entered the first chamber and was faced with a wall of steam. Soon his skin was covered with a film of water and sweat as the heat warmed and relaxed his body.

The thickness of the steam prevented James from seeing if the High Inquisitor was in the chamber with him, which just added to his confusion. He could not understand what was happening. The Inquisitors were famous for their persecution of gay men. Still, it was clear that the High Inquisitor was trying to seduce him. Was it all a trap? Was the High Inquisitor trying to find proof that he, had fallen into perversion? If that were true, then he could just say it was the High Inquisitor himself who had made the move on him. That, though, would be an impossible case to prove. Yes, James was an admiral, but telling the church courts that the High Inquisitor was gay would just earn him a good laugh before he was led out to the funeral pyre.

Thinking of all this, James felt two strong arms wrap around from behind, and another man's hard cock press against his ass.

"I know everything about what you have been doing here, admiral," Warren whispered in James's ear.

"I have done nothing," James replied in a weak voice that proved he knew he had nowhere to hide.

"Oh, you have done plenty... you took on a lover, a Commander Kyle I do believe. You have even taken a Captain Harper to bed. You have encouraged your men to be friendly with the Famulus men who are unbelievers. You have also been using this bathhouse as an officer's quarters, engaging in orgies. You have done plenty, my dear admiral, and I have to commend you for it."

     

"What?!" James nearly shouted in surprise just as he felt the High Inquisitor's teeth bite into his sinuous neck.

"I am going to tell you a secret, my dear Admiral...the greatest secret the church has."

"..." James remained silent, not sure if he wanted to know.

"The first King of Jadoor was a Legatio."

"What...?!"

Warren licked the back of James's neck before continuing. "And the first High Priest was a Centurion... they were lovers you see."

"That can't be!" James said in disbelief

"Remember your church history. Several thousand years ago there was a great purge. All the gay and bisexual men in Jadoor were thrown out."

"For killing the Mother, " James remembered.

"They did kill the Mother... or at least the High Priest did," Warren corrected.

"Why would he kill his own mother?"

"Because he wanted more life, but the Mother gave him only one way to get it. He had to kill and consume the anima of his Legatio lover, the first King of Jadoor."

"And he wouldn't do that," the Admiral guessed.

"Yes. The first High Priest, a Centurion of the name of Gladius, killed the Mother out of anger and, as a result, we Jadoorians rose up against the Centurions, Legatio, and Famulus. The Centurions, Legatio, and their Famulus followers fled the island of Jadoor to settle in what is now known as Domus."

"But what does that have to do with homosexuality?" James asked, not understanding.

"Easy... the population never truly believed that all the Centurion sympathizers fled to Domus. Homosexuality began to be viewed as proof of being a traitor. Nearly all of us were wiped out as the church tried to purge our form of love from society."

"All of us?"

"Us Inquisitors... we are the remaining priests who still worship the Sons of the Mother and not the Mother herself."

"That is heresy!"

Warren grabbed both of James's shoulders and turned him around to face him. "No...what we are practicing now is heresy."

"But..." James tried to protest but was stopped when Warren planted his lips against his mouth.

Warren continued to press hard, pushing James to the marble walls. He took both of James hands in his and spread his arms wide before trapping James against the wall. Warren then ran his tongue across the side of the Admiral's face, letting the roughness scratch it. Both men were now hard rubbing against each other.

"Think of what the two of us can achieve together. You control the fleet and I am the second most powerful man in the church, and master of its spies. Together we can put an end to Niles' conservative fanaticism and make Aidan a real king, with you and I at his side."

"And what will you get out of this?" James asked, knowing that there had to be a catch.

"I will become High Priest, and you will be named the first Grand Admiral in over ten generations."

"A Grand Admiral!" James laughed, ignoring the serious look Warren was giving him. A Grand Admiral was only named when the King was unable to command the army himself. "I don't think I like what that would imply."

"Well...let's look at things logically. How much real military experience does his majesty have?

"He spent seven years in the navy."

"So have all the royals... you have been in the military for nearly 30 years. Why should you follow the orders of a man who is barely educated compared to you?"

"Because he is my king," James said sternly.

"And you will still be a loyal man of the king, only using your considerable talent to the greatest extent possible in his service," Warren said fervidly, ignoring the admiral's reserve.

     

"It sounds like treason."

"Not if his majesty agrees to it."

"And why would he do that?" James said...not even halfway convinced.

"You just leave that to me." Warren grinned slyly as he tried to bring the conversation back to sex.

James pushed Warren away from him and slipped away from the wall. "I think I will need to think on this."

"Think quickly," Warren warned, frustrated that his advances were being rebuffed. As he watched James walk away from him, he turned his thoughts on the Admiral's lover, sure that a way to compel the Admiral's obedience could be found there.

     

     

Chapter Twelve

     

True Forms

     

Philip, face covered with black soot, walked in to find his lover wrapped in Varrus's black-feathered wings. The scene did not trigger jealousy but instead a strange calm in knowing that Jason was safe. He knew the appearance of Varrus's wings should have shocked, or at least surprised, him but his mind refused to trigger such emotion.

For some time now Philip had felt uncomfortable with his body as if it was no longer his own anymore. There was something unnatural about it, the tanned skin was not dark enough, his body not strong enough. Even the color of his eyes seemed wrong now, as if the deep gray in them did not really belong.

When he had picked up a torch and saw the black soot darken his skin his eyes stared at it as if, for the first time, his true self was showing. Extinguishing it he took the soot to one of the large silver mirrors decorating the dressing rooms of the bathhouse. He rubbed his hands in the hot ash and spread it over his face and chest, blackening it. Philip still felt he didn't quite look right, but it was an improvement over the level of discomfort with which he had been struggling.

Leaving the baths, Philip had gone looking for Jason and Varrus only to find them in Varrus' white-on-white room. Philip climbed on the bed to join them, a smear of black soot being spread on the white sheets until he stopped, finally reaching Jason. He then slipped between Varrus's wings so he could wrap his arms around his love.

Jason, asleep, responded by turning around so he could wrap his arms around Philip, resting his head on the soot-coated chest.

Watching all this from the open door was Kristen, panic written across his face. In his hands was the syringe he had prepared to give to Varrus but it was obvious that it was already too late. He had already altered the memories of Jason and Philip once. To do it again would run the risk of making them psychotic, their personalities split. The black soot covering the top half of Philip's body was proof enough that the Demon was not adjusting well to his forced human appearance.

Kristen knew what he had to do...he just was not looking forward to it. He had hoped for more time to help all involved adjust to their new lives. Already, though, he had waited too long. Without the drugs he had been pumping into Field Marshal Darius, he would have become a full-fledged Demon Spawn. Kristen had had to do the same thing to Caleb to hide him showing himself as a Saint like Varrus. If he did not come forward and tell Philip and Jason the truth, the two of them would continue to populate the world with their "children", not knowing what they were doing.

Taking a deep breath Kristen stepped into the room, closing the doors behind him. He put down Erik's black bag and took out a small bottle containing several small red pills. He took the pills over to a pair of crystal goblets, placing two pills in each one. He filled the cups with a deep red wine before taking a goblet in each hand so he could bring them to the bed.

There he stood, holding the goblets in his shaking hands. He walked slowly and silently, not wanting to rouse all the men at once, for he knew it would be like the waking of mad giants once he told them everything.

It was Varrus whose eyes opened first, noticing Kristen standing next to the bed. "You can leave those on the table Famulus," Varrus said, not recognizing Kristen, only seeing a man in black robes.

"I need to give Jason and Philip their medicine."

"Medicine?" Varrus said, panicked. He had not been told of any illness.

"Something happened in the mountain pass...something that I need to fix."

"Alright," Varrus agreed, clearly worried as he shook Jason and Philip awake.

"Yes?" Jason asked as he slowly opened his eyes.

"Why didn't you tell me you were sick?" Varrus demanded.

"That was almost a month ago," Philip grunted as he used the white sheets to rub the ash off his face since it was now irritating his skin.

"You still have to take medicine!" Varrus insisted pointing to the goblets in Kristen's hands.

     

"What?" both Jason and Philip asked at the same time.

Kristen, seeing his weave of lies falling apart, whispered, "I need to talk to all of you."

"What is it," Jason asked, now worried about the frantic look on Kristen's face.

"I have a confession to make..." Kristen started in a strong tone of voice that indicated that he was going to give a long speech and did not want any interruptions.

Seeing that all three men were now silent, and looking at him a little surprised, Kirsten continued. He explained who he and Erik really were and that Erik, as a Sindar, had been ready to surrender all of them to his Dominus masters. He told them he came from Mordel, the lands across the Barrier Ocean. He told them that he had killed Erik to save them and then erased their memories of the event so that the telepathic Sindar could not read their minds and find out the truth.

"And what is the truth?" Philip asked, holding back his anger. He understood the reason Kristen had done what he did but he still felt violated.

"The truth is that the Dominus named their creations after creatures of myth. You, Philip, are now a Demon... the pinnacle of their weapons program. Only the medicine I have been slipping into your food has prevented most of the change from taking place."

"What about Jason?" Philip demanded. The more he heard the more he felt violated.

"The Dominus would call Jason an Angel, the control system for their ultimate weapon... that being you."

Looking right into Jason's face, Philip felt his anger fade. Jason, with his gentle spirit, beauty, and innocence, indeed filled the mythical description of an Angel. "I want my memory back," Philip ordered while his eyes remained focused on the man for whom he would give his soul.

"I can give them back to you as dreams but not as true memories. If I did return your true memories, they would conflict with the new ones I gave you... the result would drive you insane and you would question what is real or not," Kristen said, begging them to believe him.

"How will seeing them as dreams be any different?" Philip asked.

"It will be seeing the memory in a mental fog. It will be hard for you to remember the detail for long. What it will do is give you an idea of what really happened."

     

"Then do it," Philip demanded.

"Drink this then," Kristen said as he handed the goblets to Jason and Philip.

"What will happen?" Jason asked, looking at the red wine with suspicion.

"You will fall asleep and dream about what I tried to cover up."

"Alright..." Jason said before draining the glass.

The drug worked fast. Jason soon fell down on the bed, deep in sleep, his eyelids twitching. Philip soon followed, falling asleep next to Jason. This left Varrus awake and full of questions.

"Why do the Dominus want Jason and Philip?"

"Because of their love and what their love means. The two bodies you see lying on the bed are not their real forms. Just as you now have black wings, Jason and Philip will look different in their real forms," Kristen replied.

"What are they? What am I for that matter?" Varrus asked.

"Jason is an Angel... and Philip is his Demon."

"Jason is definitely an angel, but Philip a demon?" Varrus laughed.

"No... you don't see. When I am done giving both men their treatment, Jason will have white wings to match your black. His skin will be like white marble with veins of black that will show when Philip touches him. His eyes, his eyes will be deep pools of darkness, unreadable to all but his Demon.

"Philip...Philip will turn into his true form. His skin will be darker than the black soot he put on his face, etched with glowing white veins. His eyes will also shine like two white beacons. His hair will go white and, in time, a pair of horns will grow out of his forehead and a tail from his back. Claws for his hands and fangs in his mouth will grow along with his basic physical strength. He will be a terror to look at, but Jason will love him."

Varrus looked down at the sleeping pair, now afraid for Jason's safety. "How?"

"That is the nature and purpose of an Angel... to love the unlovable," Kristen explained.

"Can a Demon love him back?"

     

"An Angel is the only thing a Demon can truly love and, from what I can see, there is no one Philip loves more than Jason."

"Will that remain the same after Philip turns into a Demon?"

"Philip already is a Demon. All I have done is prevent the physical changes from showing. His mind, however, I could not stop from being altered."

"I see... Philip told me he didn't really feel like himself, that he wanted me to look after Jason."

"That is because a part of Jason is inside you. That day in the woods when you and Jason were caught making love, a small part of his anima entered you, making him a part of you. That is why you turned into a Saint...a type of protector for Jason."

"What does that mean?"

"Philip is a Demon and all Demons are in a life-long struggle to hold onto their sanity. That is what an Angel gives a Demon. They cool the demon's mind and strengthen his heart, a lone rock in a stormy sea. Still, caring for a Demon weighs heavily on the Angel's soul. That is where a Saint finds his purpose. Just as an Angel must comfort a Demon... a Saint must comfort an Angel. While Philip will be the protector of Jason's body, you will protect his soul."

"I see. I think Philip is the unlucky one," Varrus sighed.

"He is..." Kristen agreed.

"Why do the Dominus want us? Do they want an army of Demons to take over the world?"

"They could take over the world any time they want...what they need is something inside the bodies of a Demon and an Angle, something the Dominus and Sindars lost in their pursuit of perfection."

"What is that?" Varrus asked.

"The ability to have children," Kristen replied.

"But Jason... Philip..."

"They are very gay... but their bodies are in prime condition to reproduce something not even the Dominus have."

     

"Then why not just pick a happily married couple from Jadoor or the Eastern Confederacy?"

"If the Dominus just wanted more normal Famulus, then yes, but this is a game of survival. The Dominus have a long life span but they are reaching the end. If they are to survive, and continue to rule their half of the world, they need to mate with their opposites.

"How are Demons and Angels their opposites?"

"That is a long story." Kristen sighed.

"Well, it looks like these two will be asleep for a while." Varrus jerked his head toward Jason and Philip.

"Alright... but it may be hard for you to understand. There is so much you do not know or could even dream about."

"Well tell me in a way I can understand." Varrus pressed.

"Back where I come from, the Old World we call it, there was a great war. During the war, scientists developed a substance called animus. It increased the endurance of our soldiers and extended the lives of our researchers. First, the substance had to be injected daily but eventually one of the research teams developed the "Core" an organ that could be grown inside a human body to provide all the animus needed."

"So, just like our anima core." Varrus nodded.

"Yes... but opposite."

"How so...?"

"Where anima evolves a person, animus devolves."

"Evolve... devolve?"

"Evolution... over time life forms change... usually in the direction of greater complexity. But when a person consumes animus, they tend to devolve into a simpler form."

"I do not understand at all what you are saying," Varrus confessed.

"Then let me give you examples... humans that can change into giant birds or wolves, people who have the fins of a dolphin."

     

"Beast men?" Varrus asked

"Yes... we call them Morphs. Within our bodies is our evolutionary past. The animus revives it."

"And our anima?"

"It awakens our future," Kristen said in a near whisper.

"So, I would guess that the Dominus, being the rulers of the Old World, have the most animus in their bodies and have devolved a great deal."

"Yes... that is why they need Jason and Philip. Their anima is the most potent. My guess is that the Dominus have let themselves devolve into a dead-end species. They need Jason and Philip's anima to survive."

"Is that how we came to be, we were created to save your former masters?"

"Yes, for while they have physically devolved, they are extremely intelligent. You were created by one of the Dominus. You know her as the Mother, prime goddess of Jadoor."

"Jadoor! We come from that cursed island?" Varrus swore.

"No... you were created in the wastes of the old world, in Mordel, like the legends say. The Mother brought you over the great oceans of sand and water to found the city of Melkor, where she could study you without interference from the other Dominus. There was peace, until a civil war occurred, and the Mother died. It forced the Centurions, Legatio, and their followers to flee and set up Domus to the southeast."

"The founding of the Gate?" Varrus said in disbelief.

"Yes, less than a thousand of you survived the escape."

"I see. But that had to have happened long ago...thousands of years. Are you telling me that during that whole time there has never been a Demon or Angel for them to capture?"

"The original Demon is dead. His Angel is still alive but in hiding. Even if the Sindar could find and capture him, he is not what the Dominus really want. He is artificial, created in a lab."

"What do they want then?" Varrus asked.

"They want a Demon and Angel created naturally, for they would have the strongest anima.

     

"What does it take for Demon and Angel to... well to come to be. I guess it takes a Centurion and Legatio."

"It does, but beyond that we do not know. Looking at Jason and Philip, I think it requires a love so profound that no one can fully understand it, not even themselves.

"I know...that is why Jason is so special to me...he was so willing to love us Centurions regardless of custom."

"And he will need your love, as you will be around much longer than Philip now that you are Jason's Saint."

"How long?"

"The last Saint lived for over eight hundred years."

"What? I now have the lifespan of a Legatio?" Varrus said in disbelief.

"Yes, you do."

"What about Philip?"

"He will live longer than the average Centurion, a few centuries longer but he will be dead long before you."

"And Jason?"

"Who knows? The first Angel is said to still be alive, protecting the body of his lover, and he has been around for over five thousand years."

"Jason might never die...?" Varrus realized.

"Possibly. So Jason will have to face the curse that most Legatio have, living long after all the people they care about have died." Kristen nodded sadly.

"Jason, then, is the truly unlucky one."

"Yes. Legend has it that while his Demon lives, an Angel's tears will heal all wounds but, after his lover dies, they become a deadly poison."

"I can see how."

"You will be there to witness all this. While Philip lives, he will be the most important person in Jason's life. His death will most likely devastate Jason, but you will be there to save him from falling too deep into despair."

"But I, too, will die," Varrus pointed out.

"Yes, but by then Jason should have come to terms with his bitter fate, or at least that is what you are supposed to get him to accept."

"I don't know if even I could accept his fate."

"It will not be easy," Kristen agreed just as he noticed Jason's body stir. "They are waking up."

Varrus leaned over Jason just in time to see his open his eyes. "Jason...you feel alright?"

"Yes...I think I now know what happened to Philip and me back in the mountain pass. He gave me his anima and I gave him mine. It caused our bodies to change, but I don't understand why I look like I do now...it does not feel right." Jason yawned.

"I gave you a drug to hide the changes, but it seemed to cause more problems than it solved." Kristen sighed, looking down at Philip's ash-covered face. "I saw that Philip did not feel comfortable...the torment of feeling foreign in one's own skin must have been terrible."

"But he will look like a real demon without the drugs," Varrus said as he noticed Philip stir.

"Yes..." Kristen chuckled. "And he will love the terror he will cause as long as Jason still loves him, which he will."

"I should kill you for what you have tried to do to me!" Philip's voice boomed as he too came awake. "How could you hide the truth from me, Famulus?"

"What you didn't know, you could not tell the Sindar," Kristen replied, his voice shaking.

"You had no right. Do you know how long I have wanted to claw my skin off, feeling as if it didn't belong?"

"I'm sorry...I didn't know how you would handle the drugs," Kristen quickly apologized, easily intimidated by Philip.

     

"Fix it!" Philip demanded, poking Kristen hard with two fingers.

"I will...just lay back down on the bed," Kristen said as he went to the table where he had left the black bag.

"Why, so you can run away from me!" Philip growled, reaching over and grabbing the hood of Kristen's robe.

Kristen did his best to control his fear. "No... you just want to be laying down for this."

"Fine, " Philip replied, releasing his hold.

"Should I lay down as well?" Jason asked.

"Let's just do one at a time." Kristen sighed, trying to release the stress he was feeling.

Kristen went back to the black bag and took out the syringe again, cleaning it out and replacing the needle. He then filled it up with a cloudy white fluid, which he brought to Philip and injected into his arm.

"How long will it be before taking effect?" Philip demanded.

"It will return you back to your real form in a matter of minutes, your full development as a Demon will take longer...weeks to months," Kristen explained.

At the point where the needle had entered Philip's arm, a black darkness was growing, etched every now and then with glowing white veins. Soon his whole arm was like that, the blackness spreading up his shoulder, moving down his chest and up his face. When it reached his eyes there was a sudden flash as the grey disappeared from Philip's eyes, replaced by bright white lights. Then, as the darkness reached the top of Philip's head, his hair went stark white. Before an hour had passed Philip's whole body had changed back to what it had looked like a month ago.

Seeming to know when the change was finished, Philip jumped off the bed and walked right to the nearest full-length mirror, grinning with approval. "Much better."

Philip then turned to face Jason, who had a look of awe in his eyes at seeing Philip's true form. Philip examined Jason with his glowing white eyes and while he felt nothing but love for Jason, Jason's appearance seemed to be off.

     

Philip walked over to Jason and gave him a deep kiss before speaking;"Go lay down, Jason. I want to see you again as you are supposed to be."

Jason, smiling, went over to the bed, spreading his nude body across it. Seeing that Philip didn't go off on a murderous rampage, Kristen was much calmer about giving Jason his injection. This time, instead of a spreading darkness, the pink color disappeared from Jason's already pale skin. When the change reached his eyes they turned solid black, giving off no reflection. Philip watched this change with growing approval.

Not able to hold back, Philip reached down and touched the changed skin, sending veins of darkness across Jason's skin. An hour later, when the change was finished, Jason looked like a white marble statue with obsidian eyes and dark black hair. Philip lifted Jason back to his feet before embracing him. Where their bodies touched, glowing white veins against black and shoots of darkness against white danced across their bodies.

Seeing they were not alone, Philip gave the small audience of Varrus and Kristen a menacing stare and deep growl. Seeing that Philip wanted to be alone with Jason, the two men left the lovers alone just as Philip let the sharp points of his fangs scratch the white skin of Jason's neck, his tongue lapping up the blood.

Waiting in the hall, Varrus had to deal with the shocked looks of the servants. And it was not just because he was nude: it was the giant pair of black wings he had on his back. For a while, Varrus debated whether he wanted Kristen to give him a drug to hide them but seeing how such measures had affected Philip, he decided not to.

From the other side of the door there was a lot of growling and laughter, which built to a crescendo and then dropped off into silence followed by a deep satisfied purring.

     

Chapter Thirteen

     

Two Sides of a Coin

     

Varrus, ready to go back inside, noticed two men standing on each side of his wings. One of them was Field Marshal Darius, a stern expression on his face. The other was Caleb, who had an almost silly grin.

"Can we go in now?" Caleb asked Varrus with an almost child-like gaze in his eyes.

Varrus looked at Caleb and at once he felt a connection. Just as he was a part of Jason, Varrus could feel that Caleb was also linked to Jason. He also recognized that his position in the hierarchy was much higher than Caleb's.

Not sure how to respond to Caleb's question, Varrus tried to think of what Jason would want and, to his surprise, he got a response. Now that Philip was sated, Jason spoke directly into Varrus's mind, inviting him back in.

"We can go in now." Varrus smiled at Caleb like an older brother, even though Caleb was a decade older.

Opening the large double doors, Varrus led the way, followed by Caleb. Darius approached the door but did not pass the threshold. On the bed were Jason and Philip. Philip was apparently asleep, resting against Jason's body with Jason's arms wrapped around him. Varrus joined them on the bed, on Jason's side, resting his head on Jason's shoulder.

"Thank you for coming back." Jason smiled at Varrus.

"I felt you needed me," Varrus replied.

"I will always need you," Jason said honestly.

Those words stung Varrus, especially after having been told that one day Jason would have to live without him being by his side. It was his main duty to prepare Jason for that day. He thought about telling Jason, but it all seemed too early. He had over half a millennium to help Jason with the tragedy to come. Right now all Jason needed to know that he, Varrus, would be here for him.

     

"You will always be able to depend on me...you know that," Varrus said reassuringly.

"Yes I do." Jason sighed.

"Does...does Philip scare you looking like he does?" Varrus had to ask.

"I find the way he looks to be very compelling. It is his passion that scares me. He loves me so much. I don't know how I can fill his need for me," Jason replied.

"What do you need of me?" Varrus asked, reaching over to kiss Jason on the cheek.

"I need you to love me," Jason sighed.

"I do love you, Jason. I think you know that."

"I do...I need you to love me even knowing that it is Philip that I love the most."

"I understand and I accept that," Varrus replied, when an idea came to him. Very carefully he lifted Philip off Jason and helped him off the bed. Varrus then took Jason over to the balcony doors, flinging them open and letting the cool, early spring air flow in.

Spreading his wings wide, Varrus took Jason into his arms. He took a deep breath, tightened his hold on his love, and dove off the balcony, taking Jason with him. Before they had fallen twenty feet, the wind blowing against Varrus's wings lifted both of them higher into the sky. Slowly and surely he learned how to turn, rise, and dive, as the stunned people in the city watched with awe.

Carrying Jason with him, Varrus soared up to the fortress he had built on the ruins of the Labyrinth tower. There, he landed on a second-story balcony, which led to another bedroom.

Looking down at Jason, Varrus could not help but laugh to see that his passenger had fallen asleep during the flight. After making sure Jason was comfortable under the sheets, Varrus flew back to the palace bedroom. Inside, Phillip was holding a whip under Kristen's chin, giving him a menacing look.

"You did the same thing to Darius and Caleb as you did to Jason and me," Philip said as more of a statement than as a question.

"Yes..." Kristen gulped.

"Correct the matter."

     

"I will," Kristen said as he went back to the black bag.

"Start with Darius first... he's my creation, isn't he?" Philip grinned evilly as he looked at the submissive Field Marshal.

"He is... he is your Spawn."

"My Demon Spawn?" Philip snickered as he wrapped a thick arm around Darius's head. "I want to see what he really looks like!"

"Have him lay down on the bed." Kristen sighed, preparing the syringe with a fresh needle.

"Go lay down on the bed," Philip ordered and Darius quickly obeyed.

After Kristen gave Darius the injection, he watched as a pattern of intricate black and red markings appeared on Darius' skin until they covered his entire body, including his head. His eyes, instead of turning white or black, went blood red while his hair turned black.

Once the change was complete, Philip lifted Darius off the bed and gave his servant a thorough examination, giving certain muscles a good slap. "Is Jason resting?" Philip asked while he continued to grin at Darius with a wicked fang-filled smile.

"Yes..." Varrus spoke up.

"Good... it will give me time to see how well my Spawn behaves." Philip smirked as he took the handle of the whip and pushed it against Darius's back, leading him out of the room.

Philip was almost gone before he turned around to face Kristen. "Choose," he ordered.

"What?"

"I still don't trust you. I will not trust you until you belong to either Jason's or me. Pick which one of us you want to be bonded to."

"I will be able to serve much better if my mind is free," Kristen said desperately.

"But I will not be able to trust you. If you wish to live, you have to surrender to one of us. You have until I come back to make your choice," Philip warned before continuing out of the room.

"No, no, no, no, no!" Kristen shouted, pounding his fists against the closed door. He was half tempted to make a run for it, but the fear of what Philip would do to him when caught stopped him. He then looked at the balcony and, for a brief second' he was tempted to jump to his death, but Varrus and those damned wings of his stood between him and the balcony. Having seen what Darius had turned into, Kristen was sure he didn't want to become a Demon Spawn, but looking at Caleb with his glued on smile, Kristen was not sure he wanted to be like that either. What a choice to make... become Philip's masochist slave or Jason's happy-go-lucky sidekick. The cynical side of him tempted him to pick Philip, but his aversion to pain made Jason seem like the better choice. The problem was, in both cases, he would give up control of his emotions. If the person he was bonded to was happy, then he would be happy; sad, and he would be sad. To have his emotions tied to another person seemed to be the worst form of enslavement.

Seeing Kristen was stressing over his choice, Varrus spoke up. "Pick Jason."

"What?" Kristen said, not having heard Varrus.

"Pick Jason... you might become a giddy fool like Caleb, but at least you know you will be cared for and protected. Philip would not think twice about putting your life at risk if he felt it would further his goals."

"But Caleb! Ever since Jason gave him that kiss, he has been completely happy... it is unnatural!" Kristen said, pointing to a smiling Caleb.

"And what do you think Philip will do to you. Trust me, you would be an even bigger fool to want to become a Demon Spawn. We Centurions would not mind, but you... a Famulus. If you have any common sense, you would see that that path would be wrong for you."

"Alright...I wasn't really thinking about bonding to Philip. It's just so difficult to give up control, even if it would mean happiness."

"Come now... give Caleb the drug and I will take you to Jason so you can bond to him."

"I guess Philip wasn't giving me much of a choice after all." Kristen sighed.

"No... he knew from the start who you would pick," Varrus agreed.

Very slowly, Kristen prepared the needle, one last time. Each action was labored, as if Kristen were trying to imprint the last moments of his free self into his mind. He watched as the color drained from Caleb's body while the hair on his chest and head darkened to a solid black with a dusting of gray. He almost looked like an angel except that his eyes took up a blue glow instead of black. An hour later a pair of black wings ripped out of Caleb's back. When the change was complete, the giddy smile on Caleb's face was gone, replaced by a deep calm.

"Well, at least that silly grin of his is gone," Kristen sighed, feeling Varrus's strong arms wrap around him, leading him to the balcony.

Kristen barely took notice of his flight to the Labyrinth Keep, as he was deep in his thoughts, trying to embed what he felt was his true personality into his mind. He knew it was futile, but he had a faint hope that some real part of him would survive the bonding and change.

When Varrus dropped him off on the second floor balcony, reality hit again. There was Jason, asleep on the bed. Kristen turned around to face Varrus but saw he was already flying off.

Alone with his fate, Kristen made his way to the bed and waited until something happened to tell him what he was to do next. Something did eventually happen: Varrus came back carrying Caleb in his arms. The two men walked over to Kristen and stripped him down to his loincloth. They then lifted the sheets off Jason and indicated that Kristen was to join him on the bed. Once Kristen was lying next to Jason, the Angel opened his eyes, which reflected no light and gave no clue as to what the mind behind them was thinking. Then, very slowly Jason wrapped an arm around the back of Kristen's head, drawing him into a kiss.

At that moment, all resistance inside Kristen disappeared. He willingly, almost eagerly accepted Jason's anima into his mouth. Never in his life had Kristen experienced feeling so loved and so wanted. All the times that he ever doubted that anyone loved or wanted him were now filled with the love Jason was giving him. Deep inside, Kristen knew that it was only Jason's anima and the chemical reactions going on in his brain that were triggering these feelings, but those same deep feelings told Kirsten to not fight it; that regardless of its source it was meeting a need he had always had in the back of his mind.

When the kiss ended, Kristen was surprised to find his thoughts were still his own. Another change was that he now felt weak in Jason's arms, as if he were a child cradled by his father. Looking up at Jason's face, the deep black eyes were still fathomless, but now Kristen could see the emotions behind them...the love and caring Jason felt for the man he had just bonded in creating his third Saint.

     

Chapter Fourteen

     

Chain of Command

     

As on every morning, Zophar made his way to the cupola atop the domed roof of the Federation Council building. There, he could see the entire walled city of Sol and the water surrounding it. The sun was just peaking over the horizon but already ships from the different Federation nations were swarming toward the mouth of the harbor. In the past two weeks the enemy had tried eight times to storm the harbor and each time his Centurions had been able to force a retreat but now, with half the catapults and arrow launchers destroyed and only a third of the boats left in the harbor, resources were becoming scarce. Still, with the trebuchets inside the city launching entire house walls ,with a range that could reach any ship crossing the lake, the Federation was not willing to send troop barges across until the city was under their control.

Field Marshal Lukas had wanted him to hold the city for three months, time enough for the thousands of Centurion youths in their last year of training at the dozen different Academy-like schools to reinforce his legions. So far, he had lasted only five weeks. If he had to make a guess, at the rate he was losing the means to fight, the battle for Sol would be over in another three.

The sky flared into fire as the sun rose over the horizon and the sound of loud thuds and explosions of the catapults and trebuchets could be heard as they sent their loads down upon the enemy fleet. At the same time, however, the enemy was returning fire and, with their limitless supply of dragon fire, the harbor was turning into an inferno. Even with their skin coated with burning fluid, however, Zophar could see his men manning the war machines.

"Shall we order the fleet to attack?" Aegis asked. These days he rarely left his General's side.

"What fleet we have left..." Zophar nodded.

At once, a blue flag was raised over the copula and the ships began to make their way out of the harbor.

     

"Sir, look," Aegis said, pointing at the row of barges now blocking the harbor exit.

"Fire boats! Order the swimmers to move them against the blockading fleet."

Aegis nodded while he wrote down the instructions. He then clipped the note to a rope cable that allowed the message to slide down to the harbor. From where they were, they could send messages to the gates, the harbor, and the garrisons.

Within minutes hundreds of Centurions dove into the harbor and began swimming rapidly toward the fire barges. Armed only with daggers and short swords, they were met by fully armored men. Still, the barges were soon cut loose and moved out of the path of Commander Cillis's flotilla. As the two fleets engaged it was impossible to determine what was happening, as the ships became lost in a cloud of smoke.

In the middle of the engagement, pillars of fire exploded among the boats as the dragon fire jars aboard the barges were lit. The fire spread from the lake wind and the ships began to pull away

With the attack repelled, the counting began. A tally mark was made on a clay board as each ship returned to its berth. After an hour four of the five war galleys were back and only one had a breach in its hull. A third of the arrow boats were gone, however, in addition to one of the trading barges that had been converted into a troop ship.

"Which of the war galleys is missing?" Zophar asked, after the smoke finally cleared, revealing only wreckage. Of all the ships he could afford to lose, a fully armed war galley was not one of them.

"It's Commander Cillis'," Aegis said without emotion."

"Damn!" Zophar cursed. He had not liked the way Cillis had challenged his leadership, but he had led the flotilla competently.

"I think we came out well...we certainly did more damage to the enemy than they did to us," Aegis said calmly.

"It is never good to lose an officer."

"Even one that was planning to betray you?" Aegis asked with raised eyebrows.

     

"We never had proof of that."

"I did. His leadership of the fleet had increased his popularity among the other Commanders. He was accusing you of hiding up here while sending others out to die."

"Is that how the other Commanders feel about me?"

"A few. Just be glad that Cillis is no longer an issue," Aegis said as he made his way toward the ladder.

Zophar sighed, and remained up on the roof trying to convince himself that what his lover had told him was true; that they were better off without Cillis' challenge to his command. Looking back down on the harbor, he saw Aegis's silver and blue armor, with the stripes of his rank on his billowing blue cloak. Zophar watched Aegis go to each of the swimmers and pat them on the back. It was Aegis's concern for his men that had attracted Zophar to him . Out of all the commanders, he would never question Aegis's loyalty.

For the rest of the day there were no further attacks. Zophar ordered another series of buildings torn down to be used as boulders for the war machines. He then visited the badly burned men who had manned the harbor wall. While most of them would heal, the scaring would leave many of them with slightly limited movement. That, though, was not as bad as the fact that most of the men had lost the tattoos on their backs, which was the same as losing their pride. Seeing that the issue of marks was the men's largest concern, even over their injuries, Zophar ordered the Famulus tattoo artists to re-etch the marks onto their skins.

By the time he had finished his inspection of the different units, it was time for the officer's meeting. There, Aegis handed out his plans for the remains of Cillis' men. Instead of assigning them a new commander, they were to join Commander Issa's men guarding the gate and bridge into the city. This left Aegis the senior officer in charge of the harbor with four other commanders under him.

His own men and four other units held the Federation Council Building and inner city where Zophar had set up his command. The east wall was still led by Commander Lorish and three units. Lorish did nothing to hide his hatred of both the general and his favorite commander. The west wall, under the command of Commander Kaada and three other commanders was the unknown group. They had voted for Zophar to lead them, but always remained silent during the officer's meeting. This left seven units in reserve, ready to reinforce any threatened part of the city or harbor. It was assumed that the next few days would be peaceful while the enemy licked their wounds. None of them knew that tonight was going to be one of the longest they had faced during the siege.

     

     

Chapter Fifteen

     

The Matriarch

     

"Are you sure we can trust this source?" Matriarch Bethany asked one of the Federation's spies.

"He did allow me into the city to see their defenses, your ladyship, and see that I returned."

"And may we ask how he accomplished such a feat?" the Jadoorian general, Darren asked.

"He swore me to secrecy."

"And why should you keep your word?" the bearded Uul noble, Raspen Vas, asked.

"I talked to him for only a short time, but I can tell you that this man is dangerous. You do not want to betray him."

"So you are scared of him, even though you are here and he is trapped inside the walls of the city," the Mathannon Matriarch laughed.

"If I remember correctly, you were not so boastful when your floating palace burned," the spy dared to laugh.

"Silence...give me this man's head," Bethany demanded of the Jadoorian general, while the spy continued to laugh.

"No...right now he is our only contact with the ‘traitor' inside Sol. He is too valuable to kill...for now." Darren smiled, seeing no problem with the disrespect his top spy was showing to her ladyship. Like most of the other Federation nations, they found the Mathannon Matriarchy to be a joke, only useful for trade. The Mathannon consumed most of the Federation's wool and cotton to weave their famous cloth, in turn clothing most of the people living in the cities and towns.

Seeing the other leaders were laughing silently at her, Bethany wanted to remove the spy from her presence before her position was worsened. "Get him out of my sight!"

"You are dismissed Richard." Darren waved, ordering the spy to leave.

"So, should we take this 'traitor's' advice?" Raspen Vas asked the other leaders once Richard was gone.

"If it is not a trap I would have to say it is a good plan," Darren replied.

"It is a man's plan...I would feel more comfortable if this came from one of their enslaved Famulus women," Bethany said, not surprising anyone. In Mathannon, men were no more than property. Long ago Mathannon had controlled the entire island they lived on, but after years of revolt, the men had gained control of the eastern portion of the island, forming the Republic of Austrola. It, too, was a member of the Federation but, since it existed in constant fear of invasion from Mathannon, it was not sending any military aid to this war.

"As you should know, the Centurions do not bring their women with them when they are at war." Darren sighed. "And even if they did, I doubt they would even think of betraying them. None of the Famulus we have captured have proved cooperative."

"Is that not proof of the level of enslavement they are under?" Raspen Vas pointed out.

"No. It just shows that they do not believe we will win. Given time, I am sure that belief will change."

"Not if we can't take a small island," Bethany laughed.

"We will, your ladyship," Darren said calmly. "Tonight the Rapa will send their canoes to the east and west walls, where they will attempt to scale them."

"Won't they just be met by the Centurion patrols?" Bethany asked.

"The walls are too narrow. A person would have problems keeping his balance, walking on it."

"Then what is the point of sending them atop it?" Bethany demanded.

"That is enough, Sister Bethany." An elderly ebony-skinned woman spoke up from the entrance of the command tent.

"Ashella!" Bethany said as she went down on her knees.

"Supreme Matriarch! What a surprise." Darren bowed.

"After receiving word of the situation, I felt my presence was needed here."

     

"Your wisdom is always welcome in council," Raspen Vas said, offering his chair.

"No, I think only one representative from Mathannon is necessary. You are dismissed Bethany."

"But you have just arrived, Matriarch. You have no idea what we are facing here."

"I am sure I will learn quickly."

"Please, let me at least stay by your side."

"No...I have another purpose for you. Austrola activity on our boarders has increased markedly. You will take your ship and a platoon of your guards and go on patrol."

"But, I'm a Matriarch, not some acolyte!"

"Then let me correct that." Ashella smiled as she lifted Bethany's black shawl from around her neck.

Feeling the fabric leave her, Bethany grabbed hold of the ends tightly.

"Let go, or I will see you serve in the breeding pits."

Bethany's face went deadly pale as the strength left her fingers. "Please forgive me, Matriarch," she begged, as she went on her knees.

"I will leave it to the will of the Mother to see what will become of you. Do well and be humble, and your star might rise again." Ashella smiled as she replaced Bethany on her chair. "Now...I think we were discussing the battle plans for tonight..." the Supreme Matriarch began as the humiliated Bethany crawled out of the tent.

"We were just discussing our plans to send the Rapa canoe men over the walls."

"Why go over when we can go through?" Ashella offered.

"And what new weapon does Mathannon have to surprise us with?" Darren chuckled. It had been his spies that kept the Supreme Matriarch informed about Bethany's poor performance.

"Just a little something we added to your shipment of dragon fire."

"What will it do?" Raspen Vas asked, curious."

     

"It will blow the thin walls of the city away, allowing your troops to invade," the Matriarch explained.

"I would like to know what this special something is you are using."

"And give away our secret?" Ashella laughed, her voice cackling.

"We are all allies here," Darren reminded the old woman.

"Yes we are and, if we win this war, we will remain so. We would never give away such an advantage to Austrola, not when we know your Jadoorian priests see us Matriarchs as heretics. So let's not say Mathannon is giving you this new weapon so much as it is loaning it to the Federation for the greater good."

"Very well then," Darren said darkly. He would have to find another way of learning the woman's secret.

"So when should we attack?" Raspen Vas asked.

"Around midnight. According to the traitor, the legion's commanders will all be gathered together for a meeting. The traitor has promised that not a single one of them will escape that meeting alive. During the chaos that will result, we will use the Supreme Matriarch's weapon to break the walls and storm the city with our troops. At the same time, our fleet will try to take over the harbor while the Dorians make one final attack at the gate. There is no way the Centurions can survive an attack from four sides. So if all works well, we will have the city, letting us finally join our armies by dawn tomorrow." Darren concluded the meeting.

     

Chapter Sixteen

     

The Betrayal

     

When Zophar awoke to the sound of a series of thunderous explosions, it was to a dark room, the torches in his room extinguished. Not even able to find his armor or sword, the general walked blindly until he found the latch to his door. Pressing on it, Zophar found the door jammed. Shouting and banging on the thick oak, he tried to gain someone's attention, even if it was the enemy, hating not knowing what was happening outside. He now regretted the fact that Aegis insisted he sleep in a windowless room to avoid enemy arrows because now he could not even shout out orders to his men.

After the explosions, Zophar heard nothing of what he feared would be his final battle. Crawling on his knees, searching his room with outstretched hands for his armor and weapons, the General found his silver and blue enamel armor but the sheaths of both his sword and knife empty. It suddenly struck him that being locked in his room without a weapon had long been planned and, that one or, more likely, a group of his fellow Centurions was betraying their fellows to the enemy.

Needing to find some sort of weapon, Zophar followed the wall until he found the cold fireplace, where he found an iron poker. It was not the style of weapon for which he had training, but it would do for a club. Feeling a cold breeze, Zophar looked up the shaft and could see the star-lit sky.

Seeing it as his only way out, Zophar stripped off his clothes and began climbing up the narrowing shaft, only wearing his loincloth and carrying the poker. The higher he climbed, the louder the sounds of battle became. Finally reaching the top, the general saw the chaos around him. The east wall was broken in three places and Federation troops were climbing over the broken bricks from barges that were docked against the walls. At the bridge leading to the city gates, he saw half his men trying to push the enemy back while the others were making their escape, retreating back into the city. The result was dozens of men falling off the bridge and sinking under the water.

Turing his face to the bright fire from the north, Zopahr saw his flotilla docked on the piers and afire, the Federation fleet having successfully entered the harbor without much resistance.

Needing to regain control of the situation, Zophar carefully walked across the roof until he reached one of the large windows that allowed light into the domed council chamber. Using the iron poker to break the glass, Zophar made the thirty-foot jump to the circular table below. As he tried to stand back on his feet, he slipped, and fell on his back to the stone floor. Finally looking around, Zophar found himself in the aftermath of a blood bath. All around him the floor was sticky with red blood mixed with blue anima. Stumbling back to his feet, he saw the headless bodies of men dressed in commander uniforms.

The first thing that forced its way into his shocked mind was the image of his lover, Aegis. Somewhere on the floor was his head, one of the betrayed.

Just then, the doors were flung open, revealing the blood-smeared face of Commander Lorish, a decapitated head held in his left hand.

Seeing a man he knew had treachery in his heart, Zophar welded the poker like a sword and charged. "Traitor!"

Lorish snarled on seeing the General charge at him. He threw the bloody head at Zophar, causing the general to almost trip. This gave him time to fit his fingers around his ulus, axe blades held in place by wooden handles with holes for one's hands so the blades lined up with his knuckles.

Recovered and seeing Lorish was still arming himself, Zophar swung the poker over his head, and then straightened his right arm, letting the weapon fling out toward Lorish's head where it made contact with his skull.

The force of the blow knocked the commander to the floor but, before Zophar could make another swing, Lorish rolled away and jumped back to his feet.

The two circled each other, neither saying a word. Both knew what they wanted, so there was no reason to talk about it.

Making a dive with his right blade, Lorish caused Zophar to shift right, where the general's chest received a slice from the commander's left blade. Zophar, though, fought through the pain and slammed the poker down on Lorish's extended left arm, breaking the bone.

Lorish let his left blade fall from his now crippled hand and went down on his knees. Zophar, thinking he could now give a fatal blow, lifted the poker over his head so he could crush the man's skull. But, just as his blow was about to fall, Lorish darted forward, flattening himself to the ground as he cut at the tendons connecting Zophar's feet to his legs. Losing the use of his legs, Zophar fought to keep up the force of his blow, moving the poker so now its tip faced downward where, from shear power, it broke through Lorish's spine and into his gut.

Laying on top of the man he believed betrayed him and his Centurion brothers, Zophar smiled weakly when he noticed he could no longer feel the heartbeat of his opponent.

Zophar did not know how long he remained alone on top of the corpse. He just waited, waited for either his men or the enemy to arrive. When he heard the sound of footsteps, he was shaken to his very core, shutting his eyes tight against what they saw.

"You should not have left your room. I locked you in there so you would not get hurt," an all too familiar voice whispered into Zophar's ear.

"Aegis... How could you? How could you betray me?"

"I knew you would see it that way," the voice whispered into Zophar's ear. "I knew you would see it that way. That is why I could not tell you of the plan."

Now exhausted emotionally as well as physically, Zophar was only able to whisper his question. "What plan?"

"The plan to save your life."

"My life?"

"It was my brother's last order. He wanted me to make sure you survived the war, and I have to tell you, you did not make it easy by volunteering to defend this city." Aegis chuckled lightly.

Zophar could not believe what he was hearing. "You killed the other commanders just to save my life?"

"They were going to die anyway."

"But how...you helped me lead the men? It was your quick thinking that forced the enemy back dozens of times."

     

"I had to prove to the Federation that it would be in their best interests to deal with me rather then fight me," Aegis explained.

"But how were you able to negotiate. I never saw you leave the city."

"You forget, my dear general. All the swimmers came from units under my control."

"But Field Marshal Lukas...your oaths to serve?"

"To Lukas? None of my men have any regard for him."

"Why?" Zophar demanded. He wanted to know why Aegis and his men would betray the empire.

"Eb" was Aegis's one word answer as he left Zophar, so the general could be lifted onto a stretcher and taken back to his room.

On the way back Zophar saw more of Aegis's men working hand in hand with the Federation troops to remove the dead bodies. Around each of the Centurions' arms was a red cloth. Zophar guessed that with all the Centurions dressed in the same armor, the red on silver had been their way to tell friend from foe. Soon he was back in his bed and deep asleep.

Zophar did not know what time he awoke, but his room was empty and the fire lit. Seeing a crystal pitcher on the table, he tried to slide out of the bed, only to fall to the floor when his feet would not support him.

The sound of him falling must have alerted the people outside. Two Centurion guards were quickly helping him back into bed. As soon as they saw him settled, they left, leaving only Aegis in the room.

"Would you like some water?" Aegis asked.

"Yes, please."

Aegis poured water from the pitcher into a wooden bowl he brought to the bed. "Here, drink."

After he had wetted his throat, Zophar felt ready to ask more questions. "You said the reason you betrayed the Field Marshal was Eb. Was it because it was such a disaster?"

"Yes, but more so," Aegis replied as he ran his fingers through his general's brown hair.

"More so how?"

"I do have more then one brother."

"He was involved at Eb?"

"Yes, but right now I don't know if he is alive or not. That is why I had to force the Federation to make a deal with me. Not just to save your life but to save the lives of the survivors on Eb."

"And what is the deal?"

"The deal is that I give them the city of Sol and they let the survivors of Eb go free."

"I see..." Zophar nodded, it was hard to argue with his lover's reason, but he could not live with knowing how it was accomplished."

"Why did you not include all of us in your conspiracy? Why did my men have to die?"

"None of them had family on Eb. Issa was ready to die. Lorish's only goal was to be the last to survive so he could make sure it would be he that history would remember. It was Cillis who posed the real threat. He knew about Krave, my brother on Eb, and that I blamed Lukas for him being there. The only reason he challenged your leadership was because he knew how close I am to you. That is why I had to get rid of him first."

Zophar suddenly realized that during the battle, with smoke thick in the air, he could not have seen where Aegis's swimmers directed the fire barges. "You had him killed."

"Yes," Aegis replied, without emotion.

Zophar suddenly felt he no longer knew who his lover was. "I..."

"Zophar, before I was your aid, I was my brother's because I could always decide what needed to be done to survive and win. If I had been in the Field Marshal's tent with you when you volunteered to defend Sol, I would have stopped you. Lukas was asking you to throw your life away. It has been his decisions that have killed your men... neither you nor I. If someone has to die, I say let it be the Field Marshal himself!"

"But the Empire...what of Domus?" Zophar replied, feeling almost as if he was begging his lover to not be the man he was showing.

"If men like Lukas and Xavier can be Field Marshals, then maybe Domus deserves to fall, or at least that is what I am willing to accept. What I will not accept is you dying for no reason.

"Aegis..."

Aegis climbed on top of Zophar in the bed. "I might keep secrets from you. I might disappoint you in the choices I make for the good of both of us, but never doubt my love."

"I need to be left alone," Zophar replied as he pushed Aegis off him.

"I understand. We will have plenty of time to talk later. It might seem bad right now, but when we board that ship for Freen it will all make sense."

"Why Freen?" Zophar asked as he watched Aegis leave.

"I want you to be there when Lukas is finally defeated. I want him to see that he could not throw away the lives of his men without facing the consequences."

"Alright." Zophar sighed. The journey would take weeks to complete. During that time he could try to put together the Aegis he had loved, and the man that had just been presented to him, and find the whole person.

     

     

Chapter Seventeen

     

Kidnapped

     

When three Inquisitors came for him, Kyle was sure that he was going to be led directly to a bonfire and be burned as a heretic. Instead, he was taken to the High Inquisitor's flagship and led directly into Warren's office. As soon as he was inside, he was pushed into a high backed chair in front of an oak desk bolted to the floor.

"You may go now," Warren said from his throne, waving his men off.

To his surprise, Kyle found himself alone with the most feared man in all of Jadoor, if not the known world. The man was actually quite handsome, having a look that most people did not see, as he was without his billowing black ceremonial robe with its peaked black hood and mask. The tall man's head was topped with black hair only broken by streaks of gray on the sides. The narrowness of his head made his violet eyes appear large and all seeing.

"Thank you for coming." Warren smiled, greeting Kyle as if he had been invited to tea instead of grabbed off the street by three of his thugs.

Kyle could not help but say, "Thank you for inviting me," knowing that any other comment would get him into more serious trouble than he was already.

"Good...good, I see you understand where you stand. That will make things much easier." Warren grinned sinisterly before continuing. "I have offered Admiral James the opportunity of a lifetime, yet he has not accepted it. He has not told me no, but he will not tell me yes."

"I am sure the Admiral is doing what he thinks is best," Kyle said in hopes of not getting caught in a fight between the two powerful men.

"That is the problem... I doubt the Admiral knows what would be in his best interests. That is why I am turning to you for help."

"Me...why me?" Kyle asked, feeling a noose drop around his neck.

"I think you know why I am asking you. I dare you to tell me you don't."

"I don't see how that allows me to change the Admiral's mind," Kyle said evasively.

With a sudden jerk, Kyle was lifted out of his chair by the rope around his neck, strangling him.

"You are his lover...his first male lover. You are closer to him than anyone else," Warren said before he waved with his left hand, and the rope was released, letting Kyle fall back down into the chair.

"I can't use that relationship to give you what you want." Kyle gasped for breath.

As soon as Kyle finished saying the last word, the rope was pulled tight again, this time for a longer period of time and Kyle's face changed from red to purple. Then Warren waved his hand again and the rope was released.

"Are you sure about that?" Warren asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeeeessss..." Kyle stuttered.

"How about I tell you what will happen if you don't agree to help change James's mind? I find a little motivation very helpful," Warren said as he got up from his desk and moved to a bolted trap door in the floor. He opened it to show dozens of men chained to the wet bilge of the ship.

"See these men? I think you would recognize most of them. They are nearly all of the men who were at the baths with you. We collected all of them last night, except for the ones James would have noticed gone, like you."

"What are you going to do with them?" Kyle asked, clearly scared.

"That is up to you..." Warren grinned just as he slammed the trapdoor shut again.

"I can't change his mind!" Kyle insisted.

"I think you can. In fact I will prove it to you. You see, the moment you stepped on board this ship, one of my men left to tell the good Admiral about the men down below and especially you. All of you have been arrested for heresy, to be burned in front of the Temple to the Mother in a grand fire.

"No..." Kyle said, the color leaving his face.

"I am sure that your life being in danger will get the Admiral to weigh anchor and sail the fleet back to Jadoor, which is exactly what I asked the Admiral to do for me in the first place. Of course, if I'm wrong, and he does not value you so, then there will be a nice fire waiting to warm you up when we get back to Meltor."

Just at that moment Kyle felt the boat lurch as it began to move out of the bay. Soon, a pair of black-robed guards had him shackled and dropped through the trapdoor with the rest of the captured men in the cold wet water. It would be a long journey.

     

Chapter Eighteen

     

Transformations

     

Aidan did not know how long he was in the tank with Dorian. As the room was underground, he didn't know if it was night or day. Every time he opened his eyes, Dorian was there to smile back at him.

Then the end finally came and the purple fluid began to drain from the tank. Aidan, his body covered with a film of the remaining thick fluid, felt extremely weak. Looking down at his body, Aidan saw he had lost considerable weight, some of it the little fat he had, some of it muscle. Without the fluid to support him, he almost collapsed. It was only Dorian's quick action that stopped him from falling to the floor.

"My Angel..." Dorian grinned, carrying Aidan in his arms through the tunnels and toward the baths. There, he washed Aidan's body, revealing the white marbled skin underneath. During it all, Dorian remained silent and, each time Aidan tried to speak, Dorian gently placed a hand over his mouth,

After taking Aidan out of the tub and drying him off, Dorian led him to a large bedroom. The ceiling of the room was curved and decorated with an elaborate fresco. On one half was painted a host of black-winged men carrying swords and spears, on the other side were men covered with black tattoos on red skin, eyes also bright red, armed with whips and axes. In the middle was a white-winged Angel, his arm outstretched, his hand on the head of a kneeling, black-skinned demon. It did not take long for Aidan to realize that this room had to be Gladius' and Amplexor's bedroom and that Dorian, his skin now black, was a demon.

After being lowered onto the soft bed, Aidan watched as Dorian stripped off his remaining clothes, the white hair on his chest matching that on his head. The former sea captain climbed on top of his king and for the first time since he had entered the tank Aidan felt warm. Not even the hot bath he had just taken could compare to the heat he felt their bodies shared.

The two of them kissed for what seemed like forever, purple glows coming from both their bodies. Then, Dorian pushed himself inside his lover very slowly until all of him was in. Dorian gave a deep growl, purple anima dripping from his lips. Tasting something thick and sweet in his mouth Aidan dipped his finger in and pulled it out to find it coated purple.

The men gave each other deep and strong kisses, the anima in each other's mouths passing between them. At the same time, Dorian continued to move inside Aidan's body. Near the end of a kiss Dorian felt Aidan's seed spread across his stomach. He soon followed.

Exhausted, the Demon rolled Aidan's body on top of his, holding the smaller man in his arms. They were soon both deep asleep, the changes inside their bodies continuing to progress.

     

     

It was the best news Xavier had received in weeks. After the public had learned that Alex, a Centurion, had killed Senator Perils, there had been a furious call for his death. It had taken all his skill, and a considerable amount in bribes, to get Alex sentenced to imprisonment until his 40th year of life, which, if Alex were like most Centurions, would mark his death.

Alex though, just as Xavier had planned, had taken part in drinking Peril's anima. Xavier was betting everything that drinking the fluid would extend his and Alex's life, allowing them to consolidate his power after the war.

The reports from the war front, disastrous after the fall of Sol, had improved. After the fall of Sol, the whole western front seemed to be on the verge of collapse but, with the arrival of the spring rains, the Federation juggernaut was slowing down to a near crawl.

The next bit of good news came when his scouts reported that the massive Jadoorian fleet at Aquanos had raised anchor, taking the army with them. Already, Xavier's Centurions were back in the city. Getting rid of the threat from the south, Xavier was able to move more of his Home Guard to the Gate. With the empire no longer under immediate threat, Xavier had time to remove the last remaining barrier to his power: the Legatio Senate.

The Field Marshal had waited for this moment to reveal Perils' secret trade in the Centurion skulls. Before then, he made a list of each and every one of Peril's buyers, all of whom were named in the dead Senator's accounting books. He had them all arrested.

Going deep into the dungeons under the Grand Hall, Xavier went to retrieve the instrument of the Centurion revenge. Isolated in darkness, and losing his sanity bit by bit, Alex had become totally dependent on Xavier for everything...food, love, company, and a constant supply of Centurion anima, to which he was now heavily addicted.

"Good morning, Alex," Xavier greeted, as he brought a torch into Alex's dark cell, forcing the young man to shut his eyes against the brightness. He could see the large man covered in filth, the rags of his clothes sour with the smell of urine.

"Xavier..." Alex said submissively, crawling over to his sole benefactor, groveling at his feet.

"Now, now... try to remain calm, my love. I've brought you something."

"My medicine?" Alex asked eagerly. For some time he had not been able to call the anima for what it was. The guilt of consuming so many of the life forces of others was weighing on his soul.

"Yes... I brought you two vials this time as I will not be able to come to you tomorrow."

"But what if I run out?" Alex said, a panic showing in his solid blue eyes.

"You need to be careful that you don't," Xavier warned while keeping the smile on his face, knowing Alex's addiction had robbed him of any self-control.

Once Alex consumed the first bottle, Xavier slipped off Alex's rags, taking his pleasure from him. He then left for the baths, as Alex's smell had left the Field Marshal rancid. As soon as the Senate was removed, Xavier would have the power to pardon Alex and move him to the palatial quarters of the Field Marshal's residence. Then he could provide him with fresh clothes and water to wash himself.

Xavier enjoyed his little creation immensely. Against his better judgment he was developing feelings for the young man. Not the deep feelings a person would have for another, but one that a man would have for a favorite pet.

The next day was busy for the Field Marshal. He ordered his most loyal men to go into the Legatio Quarter of the city and seal all the gates leading in and out. He then arrested over half the Senators and the heads of the powerful merchant families. At the same time, his men raided the Legatio mansions, searching for their supplies of Centurion bones, pouring precious anima over them to find the bits and pieces of skull.

The Legatio were then sent to the dungeons and the Senate building was closed and surrounded by several dozen Centurions. A curfew was placed over the entire city.

Even with the white-armored Home Guard patrolling the city, several Legatio tried to escape. Most were captured, but a few ended up shot from the city walls with arrows. The bodies of those that died were sent to the Great Hall, where Xavier and his Famulus surgeons extracted the red anima from their bodies.

The next morning, after the curfew was lifted, the remaining free Legatio and their Famulus servants rushed to the Grand Hall to protest the treatment of their fellows. They didn't notice that Xavier's men were slowly cutting off the exits from the large square.

At noon the accused men were led out in front of the mob, all chained together, looking as if they had been roughed up. Xavier then brought out his instrument of destruction, holding a double sword in his hands. With Alex's appearance, the angry Legatio and Famulus shouted louder, yelling out empty threats as the Centurion Home Guard began herding the protestors into the center of the plaza.

"Silence!" Xavier's voice boomed across the square.

When that did not get the desired response, Xavier nodded to one of his commanders, who raised a torch in the air. All at once the white-armored Centurions extended their long spears beyond the towering shields they carried, and leveled them at the mob. At first there was panic and confusion but, once the crowd was pinned in, silence finally took over the square.

"Good!" Xavier laughed at seeing all his enemies trapped in a circle of sharp points. "Before you stand enemies of the state, men who conspired with our enemy Jadoor to preserve their own status and wealth!"

Shouts of protest and disbelief filled the square for several moments. Xavier only had to wave a hand and three of his guards carried out large sacks, emptying them on the parade stand, revealing the bits and pieces of Centurion skulls.

Walking over to the large pile Xavier picked up the remains of a jawbone, lifting it up over his head so the crowd could see it. "See this...this is part of a brave Centurion warrior, the only part he is allowed to keep past his death. This man's reward for serving the empire should have been to have his skull placed with his brothers under the Grand Hall, so the Legatio poets and bards could record his tales and give him immortality. Instead, what was his reward? The Legatio caretakers sold this man's skull to Senator Perils, who in turn sold it to these men before you. And why...? To heal your aches and pains! To make a profit! To extend the long lives you Legatio already enjoy. You took away all this man had left... his past, giving him a final death that no man should face!" Xavier's voice boomed across the plaza.

Silence fell across the square as a growing sense of dread spread over the gathered Legatio and their Famulus. All of them could tell something bloody was about to happen. They just did not want it to happen to them.

Seeing he had the complete attention of the frightened mob, Xavier continued. "For their crimes, there is only one fitting punishment. These men, too, will face their final death. No Centurion may do this deed, however, for that is the law. Therefore, their deaths will be at the hands of the Demon...Armageddon!"

In chains, Alex walked forward, his face covered with a Black Death mask, the blue light of his anima addiction showing through. He made his way to the Legatio prisoners, welding his double bladed sword. Looking each Legatio in the eye, Alex hacked them to pieces one by one, killing each in turn. At the last one, he made several deep stabs to the stomach before thrusting his hand deep into his victim and pulling out the round anima core. The crowd watched in horror as the Demon Alex drank the vital fluid, the red anima dripping down the sides of his mouth.

Once the executions were complete, Xavier made his way to the man who had been Alex, now creature Armageddon, wrapping an arm around his waist. "This is the fate all traitors of the empire will face. This marks the beginning of a new order. Today I declare Armageddon...Field Marshal of Demons. He will assume the powers of the Senate, which is hereby disbanded, as are all rights and privileges of the Legatio. For too long you have taken the fruits of the Centurion's hard work, effort, and blood. It is now time for you to earn your keep. Unfortunately, you Legatio can only serve two purposes, to produce more Centurion warriors or to surrender your anima and extend the lives of deserving Centurions. Therefore, from this day forth, consider yourselves cattle with all the rights and privileges of cattle. If you produce plenty of new Centurion warriors, you will be rewarded. Resist or produce poor livestock and you will be sent to the slaughterhouse!"

After hearing the terror Xavier was going to inflict on them, the crowd broke. All the Legatio, seeing their lives of comfort and privilege gone, tried to slip past the Home Guard Centurions surrounding them, only to be tackled and tied down.

During the struggle Xavier saw one of his suspicions proved true, as swords and daggers began to appear among the Legatio's Famulus servants. In the short struggle, three hundred Famulus were killed as well as twelve Legatio. Their bodies were quickly carried up into the Grand Hall, where their anima was extracted and stored in vials, gifts to be given to the generals who had sworn loyalty to Xavier the night before.

All the prisoners were led away; the Famulus to the Jasper mines and the Legatio to their quarter of the city, under house arrest in their mansions and palaces.

     

     

Chapter Nineteen

     

The Lord Commander

     

Word of what had happened in the capital spread quickly throughout the empire, faster than Xavier could send out his legions. Hundreds of Legatio living in the countryside fled their estates. with their thousands of Famulus servants. With nowhere else to go the Legatio and Famulus sought sanctuary in the one place still free of Xavier's control...The Gate.

Lord Commander Grecoron, overseer of the Gate and all its defenses, had not been one of the men Xavier had approached in his coup. His position forbade such an action. In the long history of the empire there had been times when relations between the Field Marshals had led to civil strife. During one such conflict, extending for generations of self-proclaimed Marshals, the Federation had tried to take advantage of Domus's weakness and invade. It had taken the ending of all feuds between rivals to unite the remaining Centurion forces and defend the last fortress, the Pillar of Flames itself. In order to prevent the enemy from flooding into the rich valleys of the empire, the Lord Commander of the Gate had been designated as independent of the Field Marshals and the Senate. He was free of the political games in the capital. The same was done for the Centurion training schools and the Academy, the Commandants not reporting to anyone but themselves. In this way the empire hoped to protect itself and its children from the ambitions of aggressive politicians.

Still, when the three heads of the Senate appeared out of nowhere at the gates of the Pillar of Flames, pleading for his aid, Grecoron knew that whatever choice he made would be recorded in history as him breaking his sworn neutrality.

To add to the pressure the Lord Commander was feeling, the time in which he could make a decision was very short. After the first of the Legatio refugees had appeared at the gate, Grecoron had sent scouts to determine what actions the Home Guard were taking to consolidate Xavier's power. From their reports, he had learned that three legions were making their way toward the Gate, only stopping to search the nearby settlements for any fleeing Legatio. At the rate they were moving, they would reach The Gate in two weeks. By that time he would have to have made one of three choices. First -- the one the Senators wanted of him -- was to lead his forces against Xavier and retake the capital. Second, was to hand the Legatio and Famulus refugees over to Xavier's legions and earn the gratitude of the man who was quickly becoming the empire's sole ruler. Either way, that would be taking sides in a conflict that did not directly involve the gate's security. Third, Grecoron could just rid himself of the Legatio, using his own men to herd them through the Gate to the border between the empire, Qul Tos, and Freen.

This last choice seemed to be the only one he could make that would not jeopardize his neutrality. As Legatio, the refugees had every right to ask for passage through the Gate. The only problem was that the Senators did not want to accept exile. They wanted to strike back with the ten legions stationed at the Gate. Getting his men involved in a civil war was the last thing Gercoron wanted.

Meeting again with the leaders of the Senate, the Lord Commander steeled himself for a long debate. "I have seen that your people are fed and clothed but I think it is time you moved on."

"Moved on? This is the last part of Domus that is not under the control of the traitor and his Demon," Senate Speaker Lucius said condescendingly. He gripped the thick bronze armrests of his chair as if he were in command.

"Xavier is sending an army in this direction. Your people must be gone if you wish to escape."

"But why should we run? Are we not safe here at the Gate? Don't you have a duty to defend citizens of the empire?"

"My duty is to prevent invasion from outside the Jasper Mountains, not getting involved in an internal problem," Grecoron replied sternly, trying to remove the smirk from the Senator's face.

His face now red with anger, Lucius pounded on the table in front of him. "As leader of the Senate I order you to protect us and lead your men against the traitor, Xavier!"

"I will protect you...as you pass out of the Gate, but beyond that you are outside my jurisdiction."

"We are Legatio, not warriors. It is your duty to die for us!"

     

"My duty is to defend the empire from outsiders. While Xavier's grab for power disturbs me, your conflict with him may not interfere with my responsibilities."

"Then I hereby remove you as Lord Commander of the Gate!" the Senator threatened, only to be laughed at.

"Do you know how I earned the title of Lord Commander of the Gate? Do you think the Senate, or even the Field Marshals, gave me this post? The men who defend the Gate give the title of Lord Commander. Only they, not you, have the power to remove me."

"Then I demand that I be allowed to speak to all your men and hold a vote of no confidence in your leadership," Lucius demanded.

"Go ahead...and while you are wasting your time, Xavier's men will get that much closer to capturing all of you."

"I demand...!"

"You may demand nothing. You will listen to what I have to say, and make your choice from that! You may remain huddled around the Pillar of Flame, and wait for Xavier's men to come and arrest you, or you may accept my offer of free passage out of Domus. Go see Lukas in Freen or Darius in Qul Tos if you have problems with Field Marshal Xavier. If you can convince them to return to Domus and restore order, I will let them pass as well. Other than that, I will not get involved in this conflict!" Grecoron shouted at the Speaker.

"But Lukas is about to be defeated in Freen."

"Then go to Qul Tos. It is a protectorate of the empire, not under Xavier's control. You may find sanctuary there," the Lord Commander recommended.

Speaker Lucius fell back into his chair, defeated, his arms crossed over his chest. "You are not giving us any other option..."

"With the Federation army only months away, I would be failing the empire to become involved in a civil war. Go to Qul Tos, make a new life there only, this time, show your Centurion cousins the kindness and respect they deserve. If you had done that in the past, I am certain they would not have turned against you."

"Very well, Lord Commander. I will tell my people to be prepared to move by dawn tomorrow. It will take us several weeks to reach the safety of the capital of Qul Tos. Do I have your word that you will delay Xavier's men long enough for us to reach safety?"

     

Letting his eyes take on a more sympathetic look, Grecoron nodded. "I will see that your followers have the time they need. Xavier will not be so foolish as to move against my men, not with the Federation so close."

"Then I should leave now and tell my people they have a longer journey ahead of them," the Speaker said as he stood up to leave.

"Take whatever supplies you need, just be beyond the Gate within three days." Grecoron offered.

"We will have to move quickly then," the Speaker said as he left Grecoron's office.

Before the sun set that night, the Legatio and their Famulus followers passed the gates of the Pillar of Flames, heading down the road that led out of the empire. Once the last of the exiles were past the gate, Grecoron ordered them shut and reinforced. He did not think Xavier would be so foolish as to attack the Gate. He just did not want to take the risk. Even while the empire was collapsing from within, the Lord Commander of the Gate would see to it that he did not fail in his duties.

     

Chapter Twenty

     

Last Chance

     

The men of the fleet did not fully understand why their Admiral had ordered them to abandon Aquanos to the Centurions, only that the hated Inquisitors had accused many of their popular officers of heresy. If they were not rescued, they would be burned at the stake in front of the Church of the Mother, in Meltor.

The navy, unlike the land-based army, was a tight knit community made up of sailors whose families had served in the fleet for generations. With over a hundred of their officers kidnapped by the most hated institution in Jadoor, the sailors and marines had all agreed to make the rescue attempt.

That loyalty made Admiral James proud of both his men and his choice to follow in his father's footsteps. Captain Harper, his confidant and replacement for Kyle, kept reassuring him that they would arrive in time. Still, James had a standing order that he was to be told as soon as the main island of Jadoor came within sight.

Two days from the port city of Koor, James ran into a flotilla of cargo ships waving Jadoor's black and white colors, heading in the same direction as his fleet. Having sent Harper off in the long boat to find out what the ships were doing, James learned that they were loaded with the Centurion survivors of Eb.

Wanting to see what had happened to those brave men after so many months marooned, James boarded the long boat with Harper and was rowed to the closest of the cargo ship.

Taken down into the hold, James was shocked at what he saw. Instead of the strong fighting men he had become used to seeing when fighting the Centurions, he found the ship loaded with men who looked like tall skeletons, their stomachs so caved in that the round core holding their anima fluid could be seen sticking out.

Using the ship's translator James learned that the Centurions had run out of food two weeks after their failed attempt to escape. That was over two months ago. Since that time they had lived off what fish they could catch and the leaves and bark off the trees. For the twenty thousand men that had been left after the last of their ships had been destroyed, it had been a slow starvation even for a people who only needed to eat once a week.

"Why did we not help them sooner?" was the only question James could think to ask the ship's captain.

"They were being used as hostages, from what I understand," the captain replied.

"What do you mean?"

"We used them as bargaining chips with the Centurion army holding the Federation capital of Sol. By agreeing to let the Eb survivors free, one of the commanders led a revolt that resulted in us recapturing the Federation capital."

"A Centurion turning against his own?" James asked surprised.

"Yes...his younger brother was one of the men trapped on the island."

"Did he survive long enough to be rescued?"

"Yes...he is now dead however. After learning what his brother had done, he killed himself."

"But his brother was only trying to save him!" James shouted, not understanding Centurion logic.

     

"Well, from what I have heard, thousands of the Centurions holding Sol died because of this brother's betrayal. The younger brother just could not live with the shame of being the cause of so many deaths."

     

"What is going to happen to the Eb survivors now?"

     

"They are to be spread out among the different monasteries on the main island. There, the monks will nurture them back to health. If the war is still going on by the time they recover, they will be held as prisoners of war until the conflict ends. After that, they will be allowed to go home, or what is left of it once the Federation is through with the empire.

     

"Have you been feeding them well?" James asked, not noticing a lot of food around.

"No...the monks told us to be very careful. Men in their condition could easily eat themselves to death."

"Eat themselves to death? Look at them." James pointed at the hollowed out men.

"The monk healers were very insistent that we not feed them a great deal, something about their bodies having forgotten how to eat.

"Just make sure that they are well taken care of," James warned, feeling some blame for the men's condition.

"Aye, I will, Admiral." The captain nodded as James got back into the long boat.

His mind must have been consumed by the horrors he had seen on the cargo ship, because James did not notice that the boat was not heading back to his flagship, but instead to a different ship. It was only when he climbed up onto the deck, and noticed the different crew, that he knew something was not right.

"Why did the boat bring me here, and not to the flagship?" James asked Harper.

"See that spot of land ahead of us?"

"Yes, it looks like the coast near the city of Koor."

"Yes and that is why I must take you prisoner now."

"What?" James asked, shocked, seeing the crewmembers draw their swords.

I am an Inquisitor, Admiral," Harper confessed. "And the orders given to me by High Inquisitor Warren were clear. We were to allow you to reach sight of Koor before arresting you on charges of heresy."

"But Harper, you are one of my own men. How can you betray the fleet like this?"

"I am sorry, Admiral but a few years ago I was in the same place you are now, in the hands of the Inquisitors. All I can tell you is that it would be better if you just did as Warren asks you."

"Harper, did he torture you... is he blackmailing you like he is me!"

"All I can tell you is that he showed me the true path the church must take. Now, Admiral...will you surrender your sword and knife?" Harper asked, almost too calmly, as if he were in a trance, his arms outstretched to receive the Admiral's weapons.

"Commander, I order you to come to your senses and stand down!"

"I am sorry, Admiral, but I just cannot do that. The...the punishment I would face if I fail his grace would be worse than anything you could possibly imagine. So hand over your weapons!" Harper said more sternly.

Seeing he had no other choice, James undid his sword belt and handed it over to one of Harper's men.

"And the knife you have hidden in your boot," Harper insisted, signaling with his blade.

"I see you do not miss much. Makes sense, as you are a spy."

"No...I have learned that you find out more about a man after you have slept with him. The knife fell out of your boot once, when you were in a hurrying me to bed."

"I see," James nodded, pulling out the knife and handing it over to Harper. "Is that all you felt when we were in bed together? That I was a prize for your High Inquisitor?"

"No. To be honest, I am very fond of you, Admiral, and it hurts me more than you know that I have to do this. My loyalty to the High Inquisitor supersedes any feelings I have for you, however. Now, if you will follow my men, they will take you to a holding cell, where you will stay until we reach port. From there, an armored carriage will take you to Meltor, where the High Inquisitor is expecting you.

As he was led away, James gave the commander some parting words. "Harper, I do not know if my men will forgive you, but knowing what the Inquisitors do to men like us... I forgive you. When the time comes, try to remember who your true friends are."

"I wish I could accept your forgiveness. Maybe after Warren gets what he wants from you, things can return to normal. Until then, however, you are my captive," Harper replied as he watched his Admiral being led away.

Standing by the railing on the deck, Harper watched as the port city of Koor grew larger. He hated that he had betrayed James because he was not only a good leader; he was a good man as well. All he could hope for, however, was that the Admiral would give Warren what he wanted. He did not want James to go through the "breaking" process he had gone through to get him to betray the leader of the fleet.

Seeing the blue fire on one of the docks, Harper ordered his pilot to make for it. From there, James's chances of being rescued by his men would shrink to nothing, as he would then be in the hands of the High Inquisitor's best assassins and torturers. Inside that armored carriage, Harper knew, James would find how a man such as himself could be broken. Letting out a deep sigh, Harper once again cursed himself for being so weak.

     

Chapter Twenty-One

     

The Harvesting

     

After searching the empire for every single Legatio he could find, Xavier had a harvest of over twenty thousand. All of them were now trapped in the Legatio quarter, a part of the capital normally housing only five thousand. Already, he had the remaining Famulus tearing down the mansions to build more functional apartments. Next to the large baths and gym he was also building what he called the Palace of Pleasure. Inside, he filled it with over two thousand women. Once a week each Legatio was required to spend a night in the palace. In return, he was handed a colored wooden chip with a hole in the middle that allowed a string to be tied through it. Each week the color and shape of the chip would change and, if one did not have the right chip, he was not allowed in the baths or gym, and did not receive rations. Going to the Palace of Pleasure more than once a week earned copper chips that acted as currency. With those, the Legatio could buy the few luxuries Xavier allowed into the Legatio quarter that was now looking more like a ghetto.

Finally, there were the gold chips. The Centurion guards kept detailed records of which women the Legatio bred. In a month's time the woman might have slept with dozens of different men, but all of them would get credit if she became pregnant. Gold chips were given if a woman became pregnant and, the more gold chips a Legatio earned, the better the housing and food he was given. The women, for their part, were rewarded by being able to spend their pregnancy away from the capital at one of the confiscated Legatio country estates. This reward system guaranteed that the women would report any Legatio who came to the Pleasure Palace but refused to perform.

Just as there were rewards, there were consequences. If you failed to show up at the Pleasure Palace once a week, you went without food. If you failed to earn a gold chip each month, you would lose what little housing you had. If the lack of performance continued, then Xavier's threat of sending you to the slaughterhouse was very real. To prove it, Xavier had the anima extracted from every Legatio over the age of six hundred.

There was, of course, a way to escape all this, and that was to find some ranking Centurion officer to take you on as a lover and servant. This meant better quarters, food and clothes. Many of the younger Legatio chose this route.

In one month's time there were twelve hundred future Centurion fighters waiting to be born in eight to nine months. Things were finally falling into place for Xavier and his Demon, Armageddon.

Xavier only wished he dared to move against Grecoron, Lord Commander of the Gate. The fool had allowed thousands of fleeing Legatio and Famulus to pass into Qul Tos, barring the men he had sent to capture them until it was too late to give chase. To make matters worse, the rumors had it that the Speaker, Treasurer, and Defense Minister of the Senate had all been among the evacuees. Xavier did not have to guess, to know that those three fools would run to Field Marshal Darius and ask him to return to Domus. If that happened, Xavier would have to find a way to remove Grecoron and his men from command of the Gate. If Darius' legions were allowed to travel through the mountain pass, then Xavier would have to fight a war-hardened army on the open plains of Domus, not something he felt confident in doing.

Feeling the need to compromise, Xavier wrote his fellow Field Marshal a letter, making him an offer he was sure would end the threat from the Eastern Army.

Tying the message to a pigeon's leg, Xavier watched as the bird flew toward the Jasper Mountains and the kingdom of Qul Tos.

     

     

When the Inquisitors were not using the instruments of their craft on him, James remained gagged and chained to the wall of the armored carriage, opposite the narrow slit of a window that was the only source of light and air.

James could remember as many as three of the black-robed men torturing him at the same time, letting the fear of not knowing where the pain would come next build. They would whip him with a scourge, tearing at the flesh of his skin. They would then pour vinegar over the wounds, making James feel as if he was being eaten alive.

At night there were hot pokers, pressed against his stomach and inner thigh, leaving dark brand marks on his skin. None of that was as frightening as when they made him watch as they peeled away his fingernails and then poked the soft tender skin with the tip of a sharp pin. Still, throughout it all, James did not accept their offer to join them, to accept their so-called healing arms and enter the Inquisitor brotherhood.

James did learn one thing through it all...that if Harper had gone through the same treatment he was suffering now, there was no way he could hold a grudge against the man. He would have given in as well, if he did not have one thing to keep him going...the Inquisitors' promise to see him and Kyle burned together if they did not break. That single statement told James much. It told him that Kyle was still alive and that, if he were being treated the same way, that he was fighting the Inquisitors as well. Believing that, if his young commander could resist, he could too, James fought the Inquisitors at every chance.

The day finally arrived when the carriage came to a final halt and the metal-plated door opened to show the obsidian-tiled palace of the High Inquisitor, a black lighthouse built just outside the city walls.

He was led to the top of the tower, to a room whose walls were made of emerald green glass, the fire in the middle causing a sickening beacon to glow out over the water. In the room, Warren was sitting on an iron throne and, at his feet, was Kyle, his face swollen and purple with bruises.

"Kyle!" James shouted on seeing his lover.

"..." Kyle remained silent, but turned his blackened eyes to return his Admiral's gaze.

James tried to struggle against his bonds to reach Kyle, but was tripped by the end of a spear by one of Warren's guards. "Kyle!"

"Now, now, Admiral, your dear companion is under instructions not to speak, if he wants to keep his tongue that is." Warren chuckled.

"What do you want, you bastard?" James shouted, his face down on the floor.

"I want you to order your men to seize the capital and bring me the head of the High Priest. Your armies are already on the march and will be here in a matter of days."

Just at that moment, Niles, dressed in his black and gold robes came up the stairs with his Templar guards. "What have you done, Warren!"

Warren stood up and walked toward his rival, arms open as if in friendship. "Your Grace..."

"Why is there an army marching on the capital...and why is it made up of our own men!"

"Heretics, your Holiness, all of them."

"You are telling me that our entire naval force is made up of traitors?" Niles asked in disbelief.

"Not all of them...just their officers. I found them involved in debauchery of the worst sort. I had no choice but to arrest them."

"But their men are now marching on the Capital!"

"You have your Templar guards. The city should be well defended."

"Defend yes, but I do not have enough men here to prevent the city from being besieged.

"The church has its largest grain stores within the city walls," Warren replied.

"Stop it, you fool. Do not pretend I don't know who you have on the floor next to you!" Niles pointed to James.

"Yes...and you should be thanking me. It was my men who captured this traitor as the fleet was making its way to Koor. Without him, the army approaching the capital is nothing more then a mob. All it will take is your divine word to bring them back to the Mother."

"So you hope," Niles spat. "In the meantime, I want the Admiral and his men in my custody."

"But they must stand trial, High Priest."

"They already have...by the action of their men. I find the Admiral and his officers all guilty."

"Church law forbids that!" Warren said as he gripped the sword handle of his cane.

Seeing that both their guards had grabbed the hilts of their swords, Niles decided the tension in the room needed to be lowered. "Fine...they will stand trial. Thank you for reminding me that the law of the Mother must be respected. I will see that the trials begin tomorrow. It should only take us a few days to find them all guilty. Enough time to build a grand fire to burn their befouled souls."

"Very well, your Holiness. Once again you speak with wisdom."

Now that he had given in to one of Warren's demands, Niles was ready to make a demand of his own. "High Inquisitor, I want the prisoners sent to the cells under the Church of the Mother. The traitors will be here soon and your tower lies outside the city walls. It would be a shame for you to have gone through all the trouble of capturing these heretics, just to have them rescued from divine judgment."

Seeing no way to protest, Warren nodded his head, allowing the Templar guards to pick up the Admiral and Kyle, carrying them out of the tower and thrown into the back of a wagon.

"I'm sorry," Kyle whispered into James's ear.

"It's not your fault. If I had given Warren what he wanted, none of this would have happened," James tried to say calmly. The jostling of the wagon just reminded him of how much pain he was in.

"I guess it will be over soon."

"Not if my men have any say about it."

"So it's true. The fleet has come to rescue us."

"Yes. If Niles does not give us back to our men, there will be civil war, just as Warren wants."

"So no matter what, he will win anyway."

"Not if I can help it," James grunted, remembering that there was going to be a trial. If he was going to be burned, he was going to take the High Inquisitor down with him.

     

Chapter Twenty-Two

     

Refuges

     

When over six thousand Legatio and their Famulus servants arrived at the gates of Qul Tos, the Centurions were almost as shocked by their condition as by their numbers. The people having fled the chaos in Domus carried almost nothing, and wore only the white uniforms that Grecoron had given them.

Leading the exiles were the three senators who, so many years ago, had pretended to have bonded to their Centurion lovers: the Speaker, the Treasurer, and the Minister of Defense. It had all been political chicanery. Relations between the Legatio and Centurions at that time had reached a low point, with the Field Marshals worried about a revolt. To prevent it, they offered the three Legatio the leadership of the Senate. All they had to do was pretend to have bonded with three of the more popular generals of that time. It had worked, and the three Senators had enjoyed the privileges their positions had given them, in time making them believe it was they and not the Field Marshals who ruled Domus.

So, when the Senators entered the Qul Tos, they had the expectation of being able to step in and take control of the city and the kingdom. Instead, they found the city under the firm control of High Chancellor Varrus, an exiled Centurion, ruling in the name of King Jason. The Qul Tos Famulus, as the recently freed serfs referred to themselves, gave the senators and their fellow Legatio none of the respect they had come to expect from those they saw as their inferiors. When the Senators told the blue-robed Qul Tos Famulus who they were, they looked at them at first with surprise and then disappointment, as if they had expected more.

Eventually, the senators made their way into the city and found a Centurion guard who agreed to escort them to the palace. At the gates of the palace, the Senators were even more surprised to find row upon row of white-robed men and women, kneeling and praying. Tears of joy could be seen pouring down the cheeks of many, as they called out the names of Varrus and Jason.

This disturbed the three senators, as they had thought they could intimidate a Centurion exile by offering him a full pardon in return for letting them take control of the kingdom. From the devotion the people were showing, however, it appeared that Varrus had no need of a pardon. Why would a man being treated like a god need the forgiveness of three desperate Senators?

The guard who escorted them to the palace left the senators at the gate and in the charge of another. He wore the traditional red and black enameled armor of the Eastern Army, but on the breastplate was painted a pair of white wings. The guard bowed to the Senators and led them into the throne room. There, the Senators' eyes fell on two men. On a bench, in front of the throne, sat a man dressed in white robes, a pair of black wings spread out from his back and his eyes glowing white. Behind him on the throne was a younger man. He was dressed in the blue robes of the King of Qul Tos, with snow-white wings, and eyes that were pools of darkness.

"Senators... good of you to come," Varrus said from his bench.

"What are you?" one of the three senators, Lucius, asked.

"I am Saint Varrus, High Chancellor to the Holy King of Qul Tos."

"You are nothing more than an exiled Centurion!" the Defense Minister Claudius spat.

"Do I look like an exiled Centurion?" Varrus smirked as he stretched out his black wings.

"What are you then?"

"I am a Saint...the bonded servant of the Angel, Jason."

"An Angel?"

"Yes...unlike you three frauds, Jason has truly bonded to a Centurion," Varrus said threateningly, as he stood up.

"It was not our fault!" the Treasurer, Balus, squeaked.

"Shut up!" Claudius glared at his timid companion

"We were only doing what the Field Marshals wanted us to do!" the Speaker defended weakly.

"It was for the good of the empire," Claudius replied, refusing to be intimidated like the other two.

"Oh come on, Varrus." Jason laughed as he stood up from his throne and went over to hug his High Chancellor from behind.

"Jason..." Varrus sighed.

"Yes?" Jason smiled innocently.

"How do you expect to be taken seriously when you act like this. I told you we needed to intimidate our guests if we are to get them to not interfere," Varrus said, as Jason whispered something in his ear.

"Are you sure?" Varrus asked worriedly.

"Uhm hmmm." Jason nodded his head.

"Alright...follow me, senators," Varrus sighed.

"Where are you taking us?" the Defense Minister demanded.

"Up to the fortress on top of the Labyrinth," Varrus said, not stopping as he took a path to the courtyard.

"But that would mean we would have to walk through the whole Labyrinth."

'No you won't," Varrus laughed, stretching his wings out as soon as he was outside.

"You don't mean..." the Treasurer said, looking up at the shear cliff.

"Yes... these wings are not ornamental."

The Speaker's face went pale. "But you could drop us."

"Hasn't happened yet," Jason laughed as he wrapped his arms around one of the senator's waists.

"Don't worry, just enjoy the ride." Varrus smiled as he took the two remaining senators, one in each arm.

Jason lifted off the ground first, making his way quickly up the side of the cliff wall. Varrus, carrying two people took longer to lift off the ground and flew slower than Jason. Still, Jason and his passenger were only just entering the room from the balcony when Varrus landed.

"Follow me," Varrus said, leading the party through a pair of iron doors. Inside, the halls were patrolled by black and red skinned, red-eyed men armed to the hilt with weapons.

"What are these things?" one of the senators asked, looking scared.

"They are Demon Spawn," Varrus explained.

"What an appropriate name for them," the second senator gulped.

"They look... dangerous," the Speaker agreed.

"Philip has taken it on himself to convert the entire Eastern Army to Demon Spawn, to protect Jason."

"Why would his majesty need such protection?" the Balus asked.

"Let's just say there are people very interested in Jason, to the point they would try to kidnap him," Varrus explained.

"I told Philip that all I need is Varrus and him, but he won't listen to me." Jason sighed.

"Which reminds me, Jason... when are you going to pick out a new Saint? You do know that Gideon is hoping you will ask him," Varrus said casually.

"I know... I don't think he would be happy being a Demon Spawn. That is why I told Philip not to do that to him," Jason said as he leaned against one of the heavy doors.

"Then why don't you?"

"I don't want to love Gideon like I love you and Philip."

"Is that what you will think will happen?"

"Yes..."

"Well, let's look at Philip... he now has over a hundred Demon Spawn. Does he treat them all the same?" Varrus said calmly.

"No... the only one he is close to is Darius."

"Then I think the same will be true with you and Gideon. The two of you will only be as close as both of you want."

"I think he wants us to be pretty close," Jason sighed.

"I think you are right. Back when I was an instructor at the Academy, we took bets to see who would you would date first, Alex or Gideon."

"You dated Alex?!" Claudius said shocked.

"Yes... why, has something happened to him?"

"He has been sentenced to life in prison when he should have been executed," Balus spat.

"What did he do?" Varrus demanded, moving close to the senator.

"He killed a Legatio!"

"Which Legatio?" Varrus pressed.

"Senator Perils."

"Then I can easily say the man most likely deserved it," Varrus grunted.

"That was for the courts to decide and we Legatio to handle. It is forbidden for a Centurion to kill a Legatio."

"Well, I am no longer a Centurion, so I could kill any one of you and not give it a second thought," Varrus warned.

"You wouldn't dare...that would go against everything you were taught." Lucius said shocked.

"As I said...I am no longer a Centurion, so why should I follow the old traditions? Just remember that, when you think about causing trouble."

The rest of the trip through the Keep was made in silence, until the party stopped in front of a pair of double doors.

"Try not to look shocked...that will only make him angry," Varrus warned before opening the doors.

That turned out to be impossible since, inside, Philip stood completely naked, the white veins etched on his body glowing against his black skin. During recent weeks his retractable claws had grown out, as well as a long tail that he wrapped around his waist. His ears were now pointed and two small bumps were growing on his forehead, signs of the horns that would eventually emerge.

On seeing Jason, Philip grinned, showing off his white fangs. He let his tail fall behind him, which swished as he walked over to his Angel before he pulled him into a kiss. Once they finished greeting each other, Philip wrapped his tail around Jason's body.

"Demon Philip... may I present the Domus Senate's Speaker, Treasurer, and Defense Minister," Varrus introduced.

"Why are they here?" Philip growled, glaring at the three men with his white eyes.

"Xavier has seized power. We need your help," Balus, got the courage to say.

"Why should we care?" Philip grunted.

"Because this will mean the fall of Domus...your home," the Speaker pleaded.

"As you can see, I have found a new home," Philip said, wrapping his arms around Jason protectively, sending shudders down the spines of all three senators. To see Jason, with his Angelic beauty, embraced by what they saw as a monster was too much for the three of them.

Philip saw the disgust in the men's eyes. To him his new body was beautiful, even though he knew that most people would not see it that way. That is why Varrus had convinced Philip to remain hidden here in the Labyrinth Keep, with his growing army of Demon Spawn. Still, he did not like having to deal with fools who could not see the loving relationship he had with Jason.

"What do you want of us?" Philip demanded, trying hard to control his temper for Jason's sake.

"We wish to speak to Field Marshal Darius and order... I mean... request that he send his army back to Domus to remove Xavier," Lucius explained.

"I am not sure you would be happy with the Field Marshal's decision," Varrus warned.

"We insist," the Speaker demanded.

"Very well... Senators, may I present to you Field Marshal Darius," Varrus said, pointing at the shadow in the corner.

Out of the corner came Darius. He, too, had progressed in his physical change. The parts of his skin that had not turned black had gone from a tanned brown to a blood red. He did not have the tail or horns that Philip had, but his teeth and nails had definitely sharpened.

"What trick is this?" the Speaker demanded.

"Here is Field Marshal Darius... Demon Spawn, servant to Philip." Varrus grinned, loving the confusion on the three men's faces.

"Senators." Darius bowed politely.

"What are we going to do?" the Treasurer said, panicked.

"We are going to get to the bottom of this, is what we are going to do," Claudius insisted. "How did all this happen?"

"Philip truly loved Jason and Jason loved him in return. All you see is because of their love," Varrus said in a warning tone.

"But none of the records speak of this," the Speaker insisted.

"No, but that is what happened. Now, when Philip gives his anima to other men they become his Demon Spawn. Jason, when he bonds to a Centurion such as I, creates a winged Saint."

"This sounds like a bunch of Jadoorian nonsense," the Defense Chairman said cynically.

"That makes sense because Jadoor is where we originally came from," Varrus replied.

"I see... that is what we saw outside. You think you are the Sons of the Mother... Gods for us to worship! What you really are is just a bunch of deluded Centurions who forget where their loyalties lie!" the Defense Minister accused.

Varrus grabbed the back of Claudius neck tightly. "That was not our doing! It is Qul Tos' old legends that foretold an Angel would come from heaven to save them. I did not know that freeing the serfs would make them believe that the legends were coming true," Varrus explained.

"But you don't correct them," the Speaker pointed out.

Varrus waved the complaint off with his free hand. "Why should I... It gives the people hope when they really need it."

"But when they find out you are a fraud," Claudius squealed, trying to free himself from Varrus's grip..

"Am I a fraud?" Varrus smiled.

"You are just a Centurion with wings," the Defense Chairman smirked.

"I am much more than that," Varrus grunted, letting go of the senator. He then took a sword from the wall. Taking the hilt and blade in both hands, he proceeded to bend it until it broke in half.

"Neat trick," Claudius laughed.

Having heard enough, Philip let his tail unwrap from Jason's waist and shoot out into the laughing senator's mouth, causing the man to fall down to the floor, gagging and failing to remove the invading object.

"Now you listen to me. You will receive our help only if WE agree to give it to you. If all we give you is moldy bread, then you will eat it and be grateful to us for it. If we hand you a shovel and tell you to dig your own graves, you will do it and be happy we are giving you a sense of purpose. We no longer care about the Senate, Domus, or the war with Jadoor. If you want to live here, it will be as citizens of Qul Tos, not the empire," Philip shouted so loud that the windows shook.

"You have no right..." the Speaker said in a near whisper.

Varrus went to the desk and picked up a piece of parchment, which he read for the benefit of the senators. "I... Xavier, first Emperor of Domus hereby free Field Marshal Darius and the Western Centurion Army from any future service to Domus. I also grant Qul Tos it's independence from the empire, to be ruled as Field Marshal Darius sees fit, on the condition that the Field Marshal and his men accept exile from the empire."

"But he has no power to do that!" Lucius insisted.

"He controls Domus so he can do whatever he wants. Since I have accepted his offer, as long as he stays on his side of the mountains, I will not interfere with what is an internal problem in Domus," Darius replied.

"But what of us Legatio... where will future Centurions come from if we don't have children?" Claudius pointed out.

"I see no problem. We Centurions can have children of our own... we just do not find it as enjoyable as you Legatio."

"But that will take decades... in the mean time you will all die," the Speaker said nervously, his eye frozen on the Defense Minister's thrashing on the floor, Philip's tail suffocating him.

"Well, until then we have you to give us children." Varrus chuckled.

"What if we do not cooperate?" Lucius replied.

"You will, because, if you don't, we will send you back to Domus and, trust me, you will find Qul Tos much more hospitable than your old home is now."

His shoulders slumped and head bowed, the Speaker's demeanor showed that no resistance remained. "We will do whatever you wish,"

"Yes, yes, whatever you want!" the Treasurer sputtered out.

"Good... I'm glad we are in agreement." Philip smiled evilly waving three Demon Spawn closer.

"No no no... we promised we would do whatever you want!" the Speaker shouted as the black and red men took hold of him, leading him away.

"Yes...but I want you to know what you will face if you ever cross me again." Philip laughed.

"Nooooooo!" the Treasure yelled just as the doors were closed behind them.

Philip chuckled softly as he let his tail slip out of the Defense Chairman's mouth. Varrus did not need to check the man's pulse to know that he was dead. "Was that necessary?"

"Yes it was... that one would have spurred the other two to cause trouble for us whenever possible. Better to kill him off now than having to kill all three of them," Philip explained.

"What do you want done with the refugees?" Jason asked.

"Bring them into the city, but separate the Famulus from their Legatio masters. The troublemakers will stay here where we can keep an eye on them, while we settle the others around the city."

"Where would you like me to put them until then?" Varrus asked.

"The Famulus... in the palace, baths, and here in the Labyrinth. I believe they will be able to handle working with my Spawn, and I think you and Jason would like having trained servants for a change.

"The Qul Tos Famulus are not that bad," Jason said in their defense.

"No, but they are uncomfortable working in the bathhouse or anywhere when you are not fully clothed. Domus Famulus don't have such problems. I am also hoping that you will find more Saints among them, as you have not found any among the Tosians.

"I..." Jason wanted to protest.

"I think Jason wants to know the possible candidates first before changing their lives," Varrus said in Jason's defense.

"Why?" Philip asked, not understanding. Every day he picked three or four Centurion guards to convert into Demon Spawn.

"I am not saying the emotional connection you have with your children is not as strong as Jason has with his. I am sure they are just as passionate. Jason's children, though, need a lot more attention than yours do...he actually has to take care of them," Varrus explained.

"I take care of mine!" Philip said defensively.

"Yes, but yours need so little... a slap on the back, a little sex, and a good whipping. Jason has to talk to his children, ask them how they are feeling, and comfort them."

"Infants!" Philip laughed, avoiding the glare Jason was giving him. "Fine... so Jason will never be the breeder I am!"

"He could not even take care of the same number of children as you have now," Varrus agreed.

"Still, Jason... you need more than just Kristen, Caleb and Varrus."

"I know..." Jason said guilty.

"How about Gideon? I know you like him," Philip asked.

"I am going to ask him today," Jason agreed.

"Good... I guess that leaves only Rondus from our old party." Philip laughed. "You want him?"

"I don't think he could stand being happy all the time." Jason grinned.

"And I know he would not like me telling him what to do, so how about we just call him a lost cause," Philip agreed.

"Alright." Jason laughed.

"So we agree. We expand our little family a little... you bring in Gideon and a few of the Domus Famulus. I'll try to keep my Spawn below five hundred."

"I'll try."

"Good. Varrus take Jason back down so he can ask Gideon. It will be dark soon, and I want my Angel back up here with me before nightfall," Philip instructed.

"Don't trust my night flying?" Varrus laughed.

"Not since you banged my head against the cliff wall that one time." Philip grinned, his fangs glistening in the torchlight.

"Goodbye, Philip," Jason said before planting a kiss on his lover's face.

"Goodbye, Jason." Philip grinned. He let his tail wrap around Jason, lifting him off the ground so they could be face to face. "I'm going to need some of your special attention tonight."

"I'll be here." Jason smiled back.

"Oh, I love you so much," Philip almost cried as he hugged his lover tightly.

"I love you too," Jason agreed.

Philip, relaxing his tail, let Jason's feet return to the floor. "Go now, or else I will take you right here and now, and you need your strength for Gideon."

"I can talk to Gideon tomorrow," Jason offered.

"No... you need to do it today. I'll manage," Philip replied.

He watched out his window as Varrus and Jason flew back down to the Palace knowing that, as long as Varrus was nearby, he didn't have to worry about Jason's safety. A hand placed on his shoulder finally interrupted his vigil at the window. "I am ready, sir," a black-and-red armored Centurion private said nervously.

Philip turned around and looked down on the young man in his early twenties, just out of the Academy. His body was shaking but his eyes were determined.

"Follow me, Koltus." Philip smiled, leading the man to a spare bedroom.

Philip, already naked, climbed onto the black silk sheet, stretching his body. "Undress," he ordered, but said it more to give the man something to think on instead of what was about to happen.

"Yes, sir," the man agreed. He had short-cropped blond hair, blue eyes and the slender build and strong arms of a bow master, as verified by the tattoos on his back.

Philip looked at the handsome man, feeling lust slowly building inside him, but something was holding him back. It might have been that the man was much younger than most of the veterans who had volunteered to become Demon Spawn. It might also have been how the young man's body shook, not with anticipation like most of the Centurions, but with fear.

"Why did you volunteer to become one of my children?" Philip asked after a long moment of thought.

"I want to be the best," Koltus replied.

"The best what?"

"The best of the best, the best Centurion I can be," Koltus replied.

"And you think becoming one of my Spawn will do that?"

"Yes... they are stronger than any Centurions I knew at the Academy."

"It is a major change in your life, and you are very young," Philip noted.

"But..."

"Do you know why only the veterans are coming to me and asking me to make them Demon Spawn?"

"To become stronger?"

"No... to live longer. Most of the men are in their late thirties with two or three years of life left to them. When they come to me, it is with eagerness, knowing they are escaping what they thought would be their death. They have some fear, but nothing compared to the stink you are making."

"I'm sorry... I am sure I will be braver after you make me one of your Spawn."

"I'm not going to."

"But you said you would!" Koltus protested.

"You would never make a good Demon Spawn. A Demon Spawn must always be in control of his emotions... something I think you will never be able to do."

"Then I will always be mediocre," Koltus pouted.

"No... you will just have to take a different path to greatness. Instead of becoming a Spawn, I am going to make you part of Jason's personal bodyguard. Stay close to him. Talk to him. He might never pick you, but at least you will be free to express yourself."

"What will happen if he picks me?"

"You know Varrus?"

"Yes," Koltus nodded.

"He is a child of Jason, just like Field Marshal Darius is my child."

"You mean Jason gave Varrus his wings?" Koltus said amazed.

"Yes he did." Philip smiled.

"Varrus is stronger than a Demon Spawn!"

"Well... most of them," Philip chuckled.

"Will Jason do the same for me?"

"That is up to Jason, but I can tell you he is looking for a few more people to bond to, so if you are around him, and tell him you are interested in becoming one of his Saints, then I think you stand a chance."

"Thank you." Koltus smiled, running over to the bed and giving Philip a kiss.

"You better go now and tell the Famulus to paint wings on your armor."

"I will... thank you again."

"You're welcome. Please send the Field Marshal in as you go," Philip asked.

"Yes."

Five minutes later Darius walked onto the room and proceeded to undress before joining Philip on the bed. "That was nice of you."

"I am glad you can see that." Philip grinned as he rolled on top of Darius.

"Hmmmmmm." Darius grinned looking at Philip's tail with a wicked smile.

"Yes...?" Philip smiled back

"That tail of yours." Darius licked his lips.

"What would you like to do with it?"

"I would like to suck on it and then have it shoved inside me, sir."

"Well, since you said sir, I guess I can allow that." Philip grinned.

After sucking and wetting the leathery tail Darius lifted up his legs so he could be impaled. Standing up on his knees Philip let his tail slip between his thighs, his manhood resting on top of it. It slid easily inside Darius. Wrapping his hand around his cock and tail, Philip pulled six inches in and out, letting the tail rub against his sex, letting it become engorged with blood. He used his other free hand to reach over and take hold of Darius's manhood and massage it.

Philip pulled his tail out and replaced it with his own hard manhood, quickly shooting his poisoned seed inside his Spawn. Within moments the madness overtook Darius, forcing Philip to pull him into a bear hug, his claws extended and digging onto the Field Marshal's skin.

The combination of Philip's will, and the pain he was inflicting drew Darius back from the brink. Slowly he calmed down, his eyes losing their madness.

"You need to go see Varrus," Philip chided Darius.

"I can handle it," Darius said as he gasped for breath.

"You need the antidote. Varrus can give it to you."

"He is not as passionate as you. He sees no pleasure in pain," Darius protested.

"Yes... he is a Saint. Do you actually think Jason and I do the same things that we do?" Philip laughed.

"I'll see Varrus, then, but I won't stay to listen to him ramble on! I don't need to talk about my feelings with him!"

"Of course not. You are a Demon Spawn. You don't talk about your emotions; you go find someone and fuck or fight your feelings out."

"That's what I like about you, sir... I get to do both." Darius grinned.

"I like it as well. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened between us if the thing between Jason and I had not happened.

"We would be doing the same things we are doing now."

"Yes... but would things have been better?"

"I am perfectly happy being your slave." Darius chuckled.

"You are just a horny bastard who knows one of his own when he sees one." Philip laughed.

Darius reached over to rub the nubs of Philip's growing horns. "Not as horny as you are getting."

"Get going!" Philip laughed, getting off Darius.

"You going to whip me to get me out of here?"

"That's just what you want me to do," Philip pointed out. "It does not make it much of a punishment."

"True." Darius laughed.

"Leave... I plan to spend the entire night with Jason this time. After he is back the palace we can have a little fun," Philip offered.

"Alright... but I get to pick the instruments," Darius insisted.

"Fine... now get out of here. I need to get things ready for Jason," Philip ordered as he started to clean up the bed.

     

Chapter Twenty-Three

     

Friendship's Bond

     

Gideon had been feeling very isolated lately. Philip and Darius were high above the city in the Keep. Jason and Varrus were busy running the kingdom, with Caleb and Kristen's help. That had left Gideon alone with Rondus most of the time, and that had been less then enjoyable.

Gideon didn't understand why Jason had not asked him to become one of his Saints. He was sure that he could do just as good a job watching over him as Varrus. Gideon also had to admit that he was still in love with the Angel. Even though Jason was taller, stronger, and looked older than him, Gideon still saw him as the skinny kid he had first met at the gymnasium in Domus.

He was in one of those depressed moods when Caleb walked into his room. "Yes?"

"Jason would like you to meet him in the garden," Caleb replied.

"Alright..." Gideon nodded. He stood up, tying his rapier to his severed arm. He knew it made him look weird, but having the false limb let him feel more whole, and who knew when the Sindar would come for Jason again? Walking through the palace, he was escorted by Caleb and a new, young-looking guard. The man, Koltus, beamed with pride, his eyes always looking down at the freshly painted white wings on his breastplate as he escorted them to Jason. Stepping into the garden, Gideon saw Jason dressed in red pants and a white shirt, the same uniform he had liked so much back at the Academy. It reflected his being a Legatio, but related more to Centurion culture. Gideon was sure that Jason's pick of clothing was not an accident.

"Just like old times." Gideon smiled, wrapping an arm around Jason's waist.

"I wish it were," Jason sighed. "Alex has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a Legatio Senator."

"Oh no... Which one."

Jason hesitated before replying. "Your father... Perils."

"I don't blame him," Gideon replied after a long silence as he tried to fight back the tears.

"It makes me think he should have come with us." Jason sighed.

"You miss Alex?" Gideon asked, even though he could see the tears also dropping down Jason's face, but for different reasons.

"Yes I do, but what I miss more is what the three of us had together. We were such a team."

The way Jason said that made Gideon feel that Jason was talking about something that had happened many years ago instead of several months. He had to admit that he felt the same. So much had happened and changed since they had fled the Academy together.

After a long moment of silence, Jason spoke again: "I want to get some of what we had back."

"How would you like to do that?" Gideon asked with anticipation, already knowing what Jason was going to say.

"With this," Jason said as he turned quickly to face Gideon, bending his head down to give him his anima fluid. Gideon responded by lifting himself up on his toes and wrapping his arms around the back of Jason's neck. Jason's hands kept busy unbuckling Gideon's rapier, unbuttoning his pants and shirt, and letting them fall to the ground. Jason let his white wings embrace Gideon's naked and hard body, covering him from Koltus's spying view. In Jason's wings the change began to overtake Gideon. His body grew by five inches, until he was taller than Jason. It then thickened out with muscle as his body grew stronger. His skin paled but did not turn into the marble white of Jason's. His eyes turned glowing white and his hair changed from blond to black as the final changes occurred.

Slowly at first, then faster, the stump of Gideon's arm began to twist and grow, branching out into a hand with five fingers. Gideon watched with amazement as his limb was restored in less than twenty minutes. At the moment when the arm and hand were fully formed, a pair of black wings emerged out of his back, causing a brief moment of pain.

Gideon brushed Jason's check with his new hand, now looking down, instead of up at the person he loved. Spreading his large wings, he pushed Jason's wings back. Then, after giving his new arm a good look, he used it with his other one to lift Jason off his feet, carrying him back to the palace, and to his bedroom.

Koltus, still curious, followed after them and listened at the door to the wild yelling and laughter coming from the young lovers. All the disappointment Koltus had felt at being turned down by Philip was gone. Saints were definitely more impressive than Demon Spawn.

     

     

When Varrus came for Jason at sunset he had to hold back his laughter. The room was a mess of sheets, pillows, and loose feathers. Both boys were on the floor, satisfied grins on their sleeping faces. Varrus first lifted Gideon up, placing him on the bed. He then took Jason in his arms, letting the young man's head rest on his shoulder. Carrying Jason out of the bedroom and back to the garden, Varrus leapt into the air, returning to the Labyrinth Keep and right to Philip's bedroom.

"I see Gideon made him pay for his lack of attention over the past few weeks." Philip chuckled, on seeing Jason so tired.

"The two of them did make quite a mess," Varrus agreed.

"Good. He needs one of us to have a little fun with," Philip said as he made his way over to the bed.

"When shall I come for him?" Varrus asked after laying Jason down.

"At dawn. I need to ask you a favor though," Philip said.

"Yes?" Varrus asked, curious.

"The poison is getting to Darius. I've told him to go to you, but he is resisting the idea," Philip explained.

"I know... he finds me... boring."

"Yes... that is why I was wondering if you would mind slapping him around a little before making love. Maybe use a whip?" Philip said, offering one in his hands.

"I thought that was your job." Varrus laughed.

"Darius is Demon Spawn. According to what Kristen has told me, the sensation of pain and pleasure become almost one and the same. Trust me, Darius would not mind your tender form of love making, if you started it off with a little pain."

"Fine... I will do this for you." Varrus sighed, taking the whip from Philip's offered hand and leaving the Demon alone with Jason.

"Hello, my love," Philip whispered while his tail tickled Jason's earlobe.

"Hello, my Demon." Jason smiled as he opened his eyes.

"You seem to be missing a few feathers," Philip smirked as he played with Jason's wings.

"Things got a little out of hand." Jason blushed.

"Well, so long as you enjoyed yourself," Philip said as he spooned behind his lover.

"You were right; I should have bonded to Gideon a long time ago. He felt left out and, in truth, I sort of miss what he, Alex, and I had."

"Well, I am sure the two of you are now caught up."

"Yes." Jason chuckled.

"I bet he looks amazing with his wings," Philip added.

"His wings and his new arm," Jason took pleasure in adding.

"His arm grew back?" Philip asked surprised.

"It did indeed," Jason grinned, nuzzling against Philip's white-haired chest.

"Good for him."

"Yes..." Jason sighed, holding back the sadness he could not hide from Philip.

"What's wrong?"

"I miss Alex... even more, now that I might never see him again."

"I know. It was my fault. I made him stay back at the Academy," Philip admitted.

"Make love to me...but slowly this time," Jason said in a pleading voice. He needed reassurance that no one else close to him would disappear from his life again.

"Yes, my love," Philip agreed right before he used his tail to extinguish the remaining candles.

     

     

Chapter Twenty-Four

     

Crusade

     

Undergoing the change from Famulus to Angel had put a lot of stress on Aidan's body, leaving him bedridden for weeks. When he was finally ready to get back on his feet, it was to discover that major changes had occurred while he had been recuperating. As he walked through the tunnels of the monastery, he found both Dorian's Centurions and his own personal bodyguard covered with strange black and red markings, their eyes glowing with red fire.

"What has been happening?" Aidan asked the nearest of his men.

"You need to talk to Amplexor, your majesty." The man bowed.

"What happened to your body?"

"Dorian..." was the man's one word response before running off.

The whole monastery was alive with activity. The snow had all melted and the roads were just drying out. Men were busy filling wagons with supplies as if they were planning on leaving soon.

Going to the chapel, Aidan found Amplexor supervising the transport of his lover's coffin to the wagon that waited outside.

"What is going on?" Aidan demanded.

"Civil war has broken out. You are needed back at Meltor," Amplexor explained.

"What?"

"Most of Admiral James's officers were arrested by the High Inquisitor on charges of heresy and are in the capital to face execution. The Admiral brought the armada back to the capital to rescue his men, but he was betrayed and is now with his officers awaiting execution. High Priest Niles is threatening to excommunicate the army still loyal to the Admiral... that is over eighty thousand men. If you can't stop the execution, there will be a war that will destroy Jadoor."

"What about my men... their eyes, the markings on their bodies."

"That was Dorian's doing. He has been very busy converting all of them into his Demon Spawn."

"Demon Spawn?"

"The bonded children of a Demon."

"My men?" Aidan said, panicked.

"Your men are now unbeatable. We will need them if we are to stop this conflict from spreading," Amplexor explained.

"Where is Dorian?"

"I am here," Dorian said in labored Jadoorian as he came from behind Aidan

"My men?" Aidan asked his dark-skinned lover.

"Stronger... better." Dorian grinned.

"They don't look human!"

"What do I look like?" Dorian grunted.

"Like a god... a true Son of the Mother." Aidan grinned, unable to resist his lover's appearance. Aidan even reached behind Dorian and played with the stub of what appeared to be the beginnings of a tail.

"They are my children. Please treat them as such," Dorian said in a pleading voice.

"I will," Aidan agreed as he rested his head on Dorian's massive chest.

"You need children too," Dorian sighed as he held Aidan tight to him. He led Aidan to one of the bedrooms, where Diana stood, looking lost. "I saved her for you. Make her your child."

"My child?" Aidan asked confused.

"Kiss her. Give her your anima."

"Alright..." Aidan nodded going over to Diana, shocked by how empty she looked.

"Aidan," Diana said, his eyes containing a pleading look.

"Yes."

"Please kiss me," Diana begged. "I want to be a part of your life."

"I will," Aidan agreed. He did not know what had happened to his old lover, but the woman looked more broken than when she had lost her spot as Prime Minister. "Now why did you want my anima?" he asked after he had given her his kiss.

"It will turn me into a Saint, your spiritual protector."

"Is that what you want?" Aidan asked concerned.

"Yes... I miss you. I know that Dorian is your soul mate, but I still want to be part of your life," Diana explained as the color faded from her skin and her eyes picked up a white glow.

"You did not have to do this, Diana," Aidan insisted as he saw her face take on a pained look, a pair of black wings ripping out of her body.

"It was the only way." Diana replied.

"The only way for what?" Aidan demanded.

"According to Amplexor... it was the only way you would make love to me again."

"Not true!" Aidan said defensively even though he could not remember the last time he had.

"Then make love to me now, my king."

"But..." Aidan said, as he looked at Dorian's face.

"Make love to her... there's time," the Demon urged.

Taking Diana's hand, Aidan led his Saint to one of the monk's cells, closing the door after him.

     

     

From the very start of the trial, James knew what the verdict would be. He was amazed, however, that it took the ecclesiastic court two weeks to reach its decision... purification by fire or, put more simply, burned at the stake. It even took two days for the court to go from officer to officer, list his crimes, bemoan the man's lack of repentance, and expound on how the Mother would be their final judge. Each officer of the court made several long speeches.

     

Just as James knew he would be declared guilty, he also knew that he would be the last man sentenced. Standing in the box of penitence, dressed in the red robes of the guilty, the Admiral glared defiantly at his two judges, the High Inquisitor Warren and High Priest Niles.

Standing up to bring silence to the courtroom, Warren read the Church's decision. "Under the gaze of the Mother, and by the holy laws she passed on to us, this court has found you, James Warwick, Admiral of the fleet, guilty of heresy, more specifically, sins committed by the body, and for raising arms against the Church of the Mother. For these crimes your body should be purified by fire but...due to your past service to the Church, we have decided to give you this one chance to repent and join the Church as a sworn brother."

James had known he would be given this "out". The night before, Warren had come to his cell, offering him one last chance to serve him and lead his men in overthrowing Niles. The High Inquisitor did not ask for a reply. He said he would wait until the Admiral was faced with his death.

James had thought long and hard what his reply would be. So, when it came for him to speak, he took a deep breath before pronouncing the first word. "I repent..."

"Then you shall be forgiven..." Warren grinned, believing the man was finally broken, but James had a lot more to say and did not stop talking.

"I repent that I allowed you to attempt to seduce me in the bathhouse. I repent for failing in my duty to the fleet, and falling into your trap. I repent for not seeing how you broke some of my men with your torturers. Finally, I repent that I ever thought of joining you, Warren, in removing High Priest Niles for your own gains. I support the end of the persecution of my fellow gay men, but I will not resort to the tactics you are willing to use to achieve that end."

The fact that James had enough self-will to defy him left Warren too stunned to stop the Admiral before it was too late. Hearing the sound of heavy breathing next to him, Warren turned to see the furious red face of High Priest Niles.

"We will discuss this later," Niles warned, as two of his guards went to stand behind the cowering High Inquisitor. The High Priest then returned his attention back to James. "I find no repentance in your statements, so your sentence will stand. Tomorrow at noon, you and your fellow sinners shall be purified by fire. May the Mother forgive you and welcome you into her arms."

With the final banging of the gavel, James was led out of the courtroom and into Temple Square, where the holding pens were set up for the condemned men. The six wooden cages were arranged in a hexagon and were crammed full with over two hundred men.

James, not finding Kyle in the same cage with him, moved to the center where he shouted his name. Soon, Kyle was looking across at his lover.

"Why are you in here with us? I thought Warren would offer you a deal!" Kyle demanded.

"I turned him down and told Niles about his plans to betray him. I would not be surprised to see the High Inquisitor join us soon," James said, as he took measure of the distance separating him from him lover. "I wish I could hold you now."

"I know... we have so little time left. Do you think the army will come to our rescue?"

"Make it past all three walls to the center of the city?"

"There are the royal guards at the palace," Kyle pointed out.

"Yes, but look, Niles has a small army guarding the gate. Our rescue will not come from that direction," James replied, hating to take away the little hope Kyle had of surviving.

"Then I guess we will die tomorrow."

"Yes... and I am fine with that. I mean, if it takes facing death to find the one person you can't live without, I would have to say it is a fair trade."

"Not me... now that I know that I love you, I don't want it to end," Kyle admitted.

"But at least we will be together."

"Yes."

Reaching through the cage, James tried to reach Kyle. Together, with their arms outstretched their fingers could just touch.

"I love you," James promised, his eyes frozen on Kyle's.

"I love you too," Kyle agreed.

The two maintained the contact for as long as possible but then their arms became tired, forcing them to pull back. During the night before their execution, the two continued to talk, fantasizing a life they would have had together.

     

     

Chapter Twenty-Five

     

Fire

     

When Aidan and his men approached the besieged capital of Jadoor, they saw the camps of the naval forces loyal to Admiral James. Reaching a barricade, they were finally forced to stop.

"Halt!" one of the soldiers demanded, wielding a pike.

"You one of the Admiral's men?" Aidan asked.

"Yes... are you?" the man asked, trying to figure out what was hidden underneath Aidan's cloak.

"Take me to the man in charge. I need to speak with him."

"First of all, I do not know who you are. Second, even if you told me, how would I know you are not just an Inquisitor spy?"

"Because I am your king," Aidan said sternly, throwing off his cloak to reveal his white wings.

"Son of the Mother!" the soldier exclaimed as he and his companions bowed on one knee.

"Now, take me to the man in charge and be quick about it. We don't have much time before the Admiral is scheduled to be executed," Aidan demanded.

From the guard post, Aidan was led to a cottage, just outside the city's wall. Inside, the small building was crammed with the remaining officers who had tried to keep their forces united. On seeing Aidan walking in with his wings and pale skin, all of them stopped their arguing, their eyes frozen on the godling.

"I am King Aidan the Third, Son of the Mother. I hereby take command of your forces for the purpose of rescuing the Admiral and your fellow officers."

"Thank the Mother you are here... none of us have been able to agree on what to do," one of the Captains spoke up.

"And your name is?" Aidan asked, as Dorian and his men began filling the tent.

"Harper, your majesty."

"Well, tell me where things stand."

"Our spies say that the executions will be at noon tomorrow, but our men are nowhere ready to make a full-scale attack, let alone reach past the third wall into the Temple Square."

"And why not? You have been camped here for several days."

"We have been debating if we are willing to accept excommunication if we step up our aggression against the Church."

Aidan stretched out his wings, giving himself a commanding presence. "As your king, and as your living god, I order you and your men to prepare for an all out attack by dawn."

"And High Priest Niles?"

"May I present my soul mate..." Aidan waved toward his black-skinned lover. "He, not Niles, is the reincarnated spirit of my brother, a Son of the Mother."

"Then you are telling us...?" Harper asked.

"That, as far as I am concerned, Niles is no longer worthy of the title High Priest... that I excommunicate him from the true church."

"Then we will do as your holiness requests." Harper bowed. "The army will be ready to march at dawn."

After getting commitments from the other captains, Aidan, Dorian and their men left the tent for the cool spring air.

"We need to attack now," Aidan said, determined once he was alone with Dorian, Diana, and Amplexor.

"The walls are thick and high. Over fifty thousand Templars are guarding the city. The siege equipment is only half built and, even if they were ready, they would kill more slaves than any of the enemy," Diana replied.

"What can we do then?" Aidan asked.

"All you need to do is show up. Carry Dorian in your arms and fly straight to the Temple of the Mother. The people will see you as their gods returned," Amplexor recommended.

"No!" Dorian shot the idea down.

"Why not?" Amplexor laughed. "You are not afraid of flying are you?"

"No... too dangerous," Dorian insisted giving Aidan a look daring him to challenge him.

"Believe me, the only way to end this crisis is for the people to see both of you," Amplexor repeated, pointing at Aidan and Dorian. "You saw how the officers reacted to you."

After thinking about it for a long moment, Dorian offered a compromise. "Not without my children."

"How will we get them into the city? It would take a long time for me and Aidan to fly all five hundred of them over the walls," David sighed.

To that Dorian grinned and pointed at one of his Demon Spawn. Nodding, the man raced over to one of the towering granaries and began to race up its sheer smooth walls, reaching the top within a few blinks of an eye.

"Impressive," Diana said, her mouth agape.

"Then it's settled, we will storm the walls and make a dash for the Temple of the Mother," Aidan said, eager to begin at once.

"I suggest we attack at dawn. The temple is at the center of the city and requires we pass three series of walls."

"We would stand a better chance if I could get my own men at the Palace to help out, or do you think Niles has had them arrested?" Aidan asked.

"I can fly to the palace at night and find out," Diana offered.

"Why not I?" Aidan demanded.

"Well, first of all, I don't think Dorian would let you. Second, it will be easier to blacken my body for night flight as my wings are already black. I am sure that Dorian would kill anyone who soiled your beautiful wings."

"Thanks." Aidan grinned, giving Diana a hug.

That night they moved closer to Meltor's walls, just beyond the range of arrows. Diana was gone for over three hours before she came back to give her report. "Your men are ready. When Niles demanded they surrender the palace, they barred the gate and prepared themselves for a siege. Then the Admiral's army arrived and that was more of a threat than your men posed, so the gate is only guarded by a few hundred Templars to make sure no one tries to escape.

"They know to attack at dawn?" Aidan asked.

"Yes."

"Good... go get some rest."

"Nah... I would rather take a bath." Diana replied scratching the itchy soot on her skin.

"Go to it then." Aidan smiled.

"It will be dawn in a few hours. Are you going to get some sleep?" Amplexor asked as he joined Aidan at his vigil.

"No... I am afraid I will forget something, or I might sleep right through it all," Aidan replied.

"I don't think Dorian will allow that."

"I know... I'm the one who's supposed to be in charge, but he seems to make all the decisions.

"It is all about control. Dorian must keep a tight rein on a lot of powerful emotions at all times or else go mad. That makes him a little controlling. Gladius, my lover was the same way. Keeping you on a short leash gives him one less thing to worry about."

"I'm the king, I thought. It is my job to rule."

"You do rule... but just a smaller kingdom than you think you have. The only person you rule is Dorian, just as my kingdom was made up of only Gladius. Your days as supreme commander of the army are over. Dorian will insist he take that role. Still, if you really want something... something that will not endanger your life, all you have to do is ask Dorian and he will give it to you."

"I am king," Aidan repeated as if saying it again would make it true.

"Yes... but with limitations. Just as you would not like Dorian doing something behind your back, Dorian needs the same respect. He will try to make most choices for you, but you always have the final say. You just need to remember that, regardless of how menacing he gets."

After a moment of silence, Aidan felt compelled to change plans. "I have come to a decision. I want the attack to begin now. My men back at the palace are poorly trained. They will need every chance possible to make it to the Temple of the Mother. If Dorian's men attack early, more of Niles' Templars will be drawn away from the palace."

"Then go tell Dorian." Amplexor grinned, pointing to where Aidan's lover was talking to his men.

"I will, and thanks."

"My pleasure." Amplexor waved, enjoying how history seemed to be repeating itself.

     

     

History was almost repeating itself. The Mother had warned Amplexor and Gladius that her fellow Masters would be coming for them. It was time for all of them to make their escape from the burned out world of Mordel and flee to the healed new one of Ares where they would be safe. The great barrier had become unstable, leaving holes through which a small fleet could escape. All they had to do was capture the port and the large transport ships located there.

With them were five thousand Centurions, the very first legion, two hundred Legatio, and tens of thousands of desperate Jadoorians. There were also the dark-skinned Rapas, the mix of tribes that made up the eastern kingdoms, and the narrow-eyed peoples who eventually settled in the southern isles. The plan had been for the Mother to open the prison cells and arm everyone for a suicidal dash to the ships. All this was to happen at dawn, but Amplexor, feeling unsure, insisted the escape happen that very night. In the end it turned out to be the right decision for, while the port fell quickly and the transports loaded, the sensors picked up a large fleet of attack ships approaching from afar, too far to intercept the transports. But if they had waited until dawn, the escapees would have been trapped between the shore and the Masters' attack boats. That would not be the last time Amplexor had such premonitions. He hoped that Aidan had that gift as well.

     

     

Warren and his Inquisitors stood before High Priest Niles, grim expressions on their faces. "This is not what we agreed to."

"Well, it was what I had planned all along... a three-front war fought with three armies... our main army wiping out the Centurion Western Army, our fleet and marines taking care of the Home Guard, and the armies of the Eastern Confederacy eliminating the Centurion army at Qul Tos."

"The plan... MY PLAN... had been to get Domus to surrender, not to wipe it off the map!" Warren shouted, grabbing the top of his cane threateningly.

"Domus will surrender, and I will give it to you as we agreed, but not before every single Legatio is dead. They are the true problem. Without them there will be no new Centurions."

"I have plans for the Legatio and the Centurions," Warren insisted.

"Yes, I know... you want them build up your own power base. I've read the secret histories. I know that once Jadoorians, Legatio, and Centurions lived together in peace. But I also know that it was a Centurion who killed our sacred Mother. They all deserve to die for that crime, and I will be the High Priest who sees that they finally pay for it."

"I will not let you," Warren said menacingly, drawing the sword from his cane.

"And how do you plan to stop me HERETIC!" Niles laughed just as the room was filled with his armed Templar guards.

"I am the High Inquisitor!" Warren said, as if that declaration would defend him.

"Yes, and I am going to enjoy seeing what kind of fire you make!" Did you think I would not look into what the Admiral said about you?" Niles shouted back.

Seeing that their leader was in danger, the robed Inquisitors drew daggers in a vain attempt to free Warren. All of them were soon dead at the more skilled hands of the Templar guards, their blood spreading across the black marble floor.

"You will not get away with this!" Warren spat as he was being dragged away.

"But I already have," Niles smirked. "Soon the rebellious army will lose their leader and come back to the church, looking for forgiveness. I will give it to them, and then send them as the vanguard in the attack on the Gate. I will leave it to fate and the Mother to see them through what will be a slaughter, but at least their souls will be pure."

"I will see you in hell!" Warren swore as he was forced out of the office.

"Not for a long time, my dear High Inquisitor," Niles sneered as he turned away to look out at the massive bonfire before the steps of the Church of the Mother. He wondered what color flame Warren would produce as his body burned to ashes.

     

Chapter Twenty-Six

     

Revelation

     

The Templars guarding the city did not know what they were seeing at first. Advancing quickly on the city walls were a thousand points of red light the size of lightning bugs. Not able to see what was really happening beyond the light of the torches, one of the guards lit an arrow and launched it into the air. It landed in the middle of the red lights, revealing the movement of hundreds of men, their eyes the source of the red lights. One of the guards almost turned to jump right off the wall to the city below, but the other guard caught him while yelling out the alarm. Then they began firing more arrows down on what they suspected were creatures from hell. It did no good.

In a matter of moments, all five hundred or so Demon Spawn had climbed over the walls, overwhelming the guards. Due to the natural armor their bodies now possessed, the Spawn were able to move much faster and attack more quickly than the heavy-plated Templars. After twenty minutes of fighting, the Spawn had built a corridor of control from the outer wall to the first of two inner walls, and continued to spread out. Only then did Dorian give permission to his lover to fly into the city, followed by Diana, her skin still ash gray. By the time Aidan caught up with Dorian, his Demon Spawn were half way to the third and final wall. Only the bravest or most desperate of the Templars stood between them and the Temple of the Mother.

It was after joining Dorian in the fight that Aidan felt a new sense of dread. This drove him to fly up above the city to see what was happening. Beyond the point where Dorian's men were fighting, several columns of Templars, armed with heavy spears, were lining up against the innermost wall in an attempt to try and hold back the attackers. Behind them was a barrier that would prevent any sort of retreat for the defending troops, except for the few gates that led inside the Temple Square. On the other side were the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Mother. Aidan could now see that, between the palace and the temple, a huge pile of logs had been set up with over a hundred stakes springing up from it like a small dead forest. Already well before noon, the prisoners were tied to the stakes in groups of three.. Time was running out.

     

     

"Sir, we can't light the fire until all the prisoners are in position!" the Templar insisted.

"Then your men have to work faster!" Niles screamed at the man. "As soon as you have three tied together set them ablaze."

"We are trying our best, Your Holiness, but the Demons are near the temple wall and the Inquisitors are trying to free their leader. We are short on men."

"Take the soldiers we have guarding the palace," Niles said as if that was obvious.

"Sir... there is a lot of activity around the palace. Are you sure they don't plan to join the fight?"

"Those cowards!? They are more likely praying that our men hold back these so-called "Demons. As soon as the bonfire is ready, I want it lit! Make sure that the Admiral and High Inquisitor are the first to burn."

"Yes, Your Holiness." The Templar bowed before leaving the High Priest.

High Priest Niles went to the balcony, trying to see beyond the high wall protecting the temple. Ever since the attack had begun he had been receiving confusing reports of demon men and angels flying over the city but he didn't believe any of it. Niles knew the real history of Jadoor, that once it had been ruled by an Angel king and a Demon high priest. The only remaining evidence of that time was the Angel and Demon etched into the gold doors of the Temple of the Mother. If the common people started to believe that real demons were upon them and storming the temple they would see it as a sign from the Mother of disfavor... that the Mother had sent her sons to punish the Church for its sins.

Knowing that Warren understood the secret histories of Jadoor, Niles suspected that what people were believing were demons were no more than an army of Inquisitors in disguise, running through the city, causing chaos. He did not know how they made it past the second wall, but Niles was sure that the thirty thousand men he had ringing the Temple Wall would hold them back. The High Priest only hoped that a few of the Inquisitors survived so they could be paraded in front of the people to prove what fakes they were. If not, Niles could always find some worthless slaves to play the part.

Turning away from the balcony, he was just about to receive the latest report from the army he had defending the Temple Walls, when the High Priest saw something fly up above the city just on the other side of the walls. At first he thought it had to have been smoke but, as it continued to hover above the city without diminishing, he began to take in its true form. Flying in the air was a man with white wings, taking in the scene of chaos below. Soon, it was joined by another winged man and then a third whose wings were black.

"Angels!" Niles swore. Angels were approaching the Temple, which meant that, if the Angels were real, so were the Demons. Niles would have liked to believe that the divine creatures had come to issue judgment to the men he had staked for burning, but he very much doubted that. They were coming for him... to punish him for all the crimes he had committed in the name of the Mother. His plans were falling apart, for he did not believe he could survive divine judgment. That left only one thing... revenge.

     

Chapter Twenty-Seven

     

Last Words

     

The three men most hated by Niles were tied to the same post: Kyle, James, and Warren. Both James and Kyle could not hold back their laughter when Warren was tied, against his will, with them, even though they too were doomed.

"I see that they were able to find one guilty man out of hundreds," James smirked. "That justifies everything."

"Laugh all you want. The pain you will suffer will be the same as mine," Warren spat as he was tied with them.

"We will at least die knowing that our souls are pure," James returned.

"Do you really believe that will make a difference? That the Mother really looks down upon us, and welcomes those deserving into heaven."

"Are you saying that, as High Inquisitor, with all the heretics you've killed, you are an atheist?" James laughed.

"Oh, I believe that there was a Mother and two Sons, but they were mortal just like us." Warren smiled, taking pleasure in trying to destroy the man's faith.

"That's all that matters," James said, a sudden calm coming over him as he looked up into the sky.

"Why do you say that? I told you they were never gods!" Warren shouted, not having the effect he had hoped for. Just then he noticed High Priest Niles running out of the gold doors of the Temple of the Mother, carrying a torch.

"But they were once real," James said, now laughing even more loudly.

Kyle, whose spirit and faith had long been broken by Warren during their voyage to the capital, did not understand how James could be laughing. "What is going on?"

"You can't see it from where you are, love, but it looks like a miracle is happening." James continued to laugh.

"What is it? What do you see?" Kyle said excited.

"Three Angels, flying above the temple walls!" James shouted just as High Priest Niles reached them.

"That's right, heretic, and do you know who is behind them?" Niles spat.

"No... and I don't care." James continued to laugh.

"Demons! They have come to cleanse the city, but before they get here, I will be sure that the sins of you three are removed first!" Niles spat.

"Give up, Niles...the only people the demons are coming for are you and Warren." James grinned.

"I am master of my own fate and, before I let the Demons claim me, I will see you in hell," Niles sneered as he dropped the torch onto the fuel-soaked wood near Warren before running back to the temple.

"See... no Demon or Angel is going to save us now!" Warren laughed, lacking any remaining sanity.

"James?" Kyle said, scared as the flames moved ever closer.

"I'm here," James said calmly, his eyes never leaving the three Angels hovering over the city.

Even though the two of them were bound tightly to the pole, they tried to stretch their hands to each other. With a great deal of effort the two of them were able to just touch, the smallest of each others' fingers making contact even with the pain it triggered from their exposed fingers. This connection was broken the instant that Warren began screaming as the hungry flames reached him.

"I'm afraid!" Kyle shouted over the cracking of wood and Warren's yelling.

"Don't be." James coughed as his lungs took in the smoke. His eyes were stinging with tears, but he could just make out movement in the sky that was approaching closer and closer. Just before losing consciousness, he felt the wind of an Angel's beating wings on his face.

     

     

     

From his balcony Niles saw it all... the rescue of the prisoners, the rush of troops pouring out of Aidan's palace, and the surrender of nearly all his Templars to what they believed was a divine force. All he had left was the Temple of the Mother, and it did not look like it would be his for much longer.

Seeing the red-eyed demons for himself, Niles knew this had to be the ‘end times'. It was better that all those loyal and faithful to the Mother leave this world, and go to her welcoming arms before the Sons of the Mother corrupted the faith to which Niles had committed his life. Ordering the priests in the temple into the sanctuary, he had them drink a fatal draft of Mandrake juice. Before doing so, however, they released carrier pigeons to every church in Jadoor and the Western Federation ordering that all the other priests join them in escaping the judgment of the Sons. This was to be Niles' final act of defiance. He would leave the Sons of the Mother without a single priest to worship or honor them, the churches and monasteries empty. The people, without their spiritual guidance, would fall into despair. The holy crusaders would lose their will to fight and drop their swords. Domus, not Jadoor would win the war, ending thousands of years of history. Better to die now than see such a world.

Passing the dead bodies now filling the sanctuary, Niles returned to his empty office. He looked down from the balcony and saw the Demons approaching the gold doors of the church. Already some of them had taken one of the stakes from the bonfire and were using it as a ram against the barred doors. Hearing the sound of clawing from underneath where he stood Niles noticed three red-eyed Demons scaling the walls of the temple like ants searching for food. Seeing his capture was imminent, and not willing to face judgment, Niles climbed up the rail and plunged the fifty feet down to the hard stone-paved square below. "They will never have me!" were his last words.

And so died the High Priest of Jadoor.

     

     

Compared to the number of men actually killed, Dorian's Demon Spawn were less destructive than the scene of death Aidan saw when he walked into the Church of the Mother. Over five thousand priests were dead, killed in a senseless act of mass suicide. It was all made worse when Diana showed Aidan copies of the messages that had been sent across the world ordering the same act of self-destruction to be committed at every church and monastery.

Hoping to put a stop to it all, Aidan raced to where the messenger pigeons had been kept only to find the few remaining ones slaughtered. He then ran to the palace and had his own scribes send messages to as many cities as they could. As the palace had fewer outposts than the church, the pigeons were only able to reach the largest cities. That left most of the monasteries, as well as some of the more isolated towns, unreachable. Still, he had to find some way to end the pointless deaths.

Diana, in seeing the stress Aidan was under, soon left, flying for the port city of Koor, the second largest city in Jadoor, containing the next highest number of priests after the capital. It was eighty miles away, but Diana was sure she could beat the messenger pigeon and stop the priests from killing themselves. Amplexor, knowing where most of the monasteries were located on the main island, flew off also.

After that, there was only waiting. It took three days for all the dead bodies to be removed from the temple. As there was no time for proper burial of so many corpses, the bonfire Niles had intended for his enemies was used to burn the bodies of the dead priests instead.

Word of the appearance of Demons and Angels in the capital spread throughout the kingdom. Pilgrims started to camp outside the city gates, but Aidan, Dorian, and his Spawn remained hidden inside the palace. This left Admiral James, the temporary spokesman for the government, to work hard at trying to calm the people.

The first to come back was Diana, carrying Galen, the Archbishop of Koor. It turned out that Diana beat Niles' pigeon by over a half day. After seeing Diana with her black wings, the archbishop agreed at once to send his own messengers, declaring High Priest Niles a heretic, and his order for mass suicide void. The archbishop had then flown back with Diana, since the death of High Priest Niles left the church without a leader. That made Galen the ranking member in the church hierarchy until Aidan picked a new High Priest.

Two days later, messages started arriving from all over the kingdom. Most of them demanded that Niles explain his orders further, a few went as far as calling him insane. Only five messages came back saying that Niles' orders would be followed.

After a good week had passed, Amplexor finally returned, looking tired. He had been able to stop the killings at every monastery except the last one, where Niles' message had beaten him. He had spent the last two days burying the dead.

With everyone back, and with the growing crowds demanding entry to the Temple of the Mother, Aidan held a council to try and decide what path Jadoor would now take.

"The first thing that you need to do is decide what to do about the pilgrims," James insisted once the meeting had started. "I have used the church stores of food to feed them, but their numbers grow each day."

"You and Dorian need to present yourselves to your people," Amplexor agreed. "They have heard the rumors... they now need to know the truth."

"But won't they be frightened, seeing Dorian and his Spawn?" Aidan asked nervously.

"What have our legends about Demons always said?" the Archbishop of Koor spoke up. "In our teachings, they are always the ones who punish the sinful. The people will be scared of having the judges of old back, but will also be comforted, knowing that true divine justice will now reign, especially since all the Inquisitors have disappeared...which brings up a new issue."

"Yes," Aidan said, turning his attention to the plump, but thoughtful man.

"When are you going to name a new High Priest?" the archbishop asked.

"You want the job?" Diana laughed.

"No... I don't think I could lead the people during these chaotic times."

"I know that Warren wanted the job," James said with disgust.

"Do we know where he is?" Amplexor asked.

"No... he disappeared along with his followers, including their small fleet of black sailed ships," one of Aidan's generals reported.

"Good riddance," Aidan sighed.

"No. It would have been better if we had kept a hold on him, your majesty. Trust me. That man will cause you trouble in the future," James warned, also worried about Harper, who had also disappeared.

"Let's not worry about unseen problems for now... we have enough known problems to deal with as it is," Amplexor said, ending the debate.

"Who do you have in mind for the role of High Priest?" the archbishop asked again.

" Amplexor and I have talked about it, and I am going to name Dorian to the post."

"But he is not even a Jadoorian!" Galen said in shock.

"Having a man with... uhmmmm... Dorian's appearance might pose a problem, your majesty," James agreed nervously.

"The people are saying that their gods have returned. What better role could I give Dorian than the same post as the first Demon had? He was not a Jadoorian."

"Be that as it may, your majesty. The people might not take well to a ... a Demon as the head of their church, especially one that can barely speak the language," Diana spoke.

"He is learning..." Aidan said as he looked lovingly at Dorian, whose tail, now two feet long, was swishing behind him.

"He would make a good symbol," the Archbishop agreed. "But he needs help getting the other bishops to endorse him."

"Are you offering to fill that role?" Aidan smiled, seeing the game the man was playing.

"I'm willing to help teach him church protocol." Galen bowed.

"Then it is decided," Aidan said. "Dorian will be High Priest of Jadoor and you, archbishop, will be his personal secretary."

"There might be just one problem, Aidan," Amplexor, never big on titles, said.

"Yes?" Aidan asked.

"With the archbishop spending so much time with Dorian, there is a risk of himself becoming less acceptable to the people," Amplexor said.

"What do you mean?" Aidan said, confused.

"What would happen if our good friend the archbishop became one of Dorian's children?" Amplexor explained.

"A Demon Spawn?" Aidan sighed.

"Yes," Amplexor nodded.

"What's this about?" Galen asked suddenly nervous.

"Let me just say you don't want Dorian to kiss you, your grace," Aidan chuckled.

"Are you saying that, if he kisses me, I will turn into one of his Demon Spawn?"

"Yes." Aidan grinned, loving how the color was draining from the old man's face.

"Thinking of withdrawing your offer?" James laughed.

"May I, your Majesty?" the archbishop said in a pleading voice.

"There is a way around that problem," Amplexor offered before Aidan could reply.

"Yes?" Aidan asked, curious.

"You could kiss him and make him one of your children," Amplexor told Aidan.

"And grow wings?" the archbishop laughed.

"Yes... you will also become younger, giddier, and completely loyal to Aidan. Also you will be bisexual if not totally gay," Amplexor explained. "In the days of the First King and High Priest, the army was made up of the High Priest's Demon Spawn, while the church's clergy was made up of children of the King... who were called Saints."

"I would not mind looking younger... but I would rather not deal with the rest of it, thank you."

"I don't think you will have much choice." Aidan grinned. "With me as King and Dorian as High Priest, there will be significant changes taking place. To start with, there will be major changes in what the church teaches on sexuality. You might find that easier to accept if you share our feelings on this."

"I see..." the archbishop said after a long moment of thought. "Well, if you can stand kissing an old goat like me, then I am willing to become one of your Saints, your majesty. Who knows? A sunnier disposition might do me some good."

"Good... we will take care of that latter... next, what to do about the war?" Aidan asked, going to the issue most on Dorian's mind.

"Peace..." was Dorian's one word response.

"That's harder than you think," James sighed.

"Why can't we just call the troops back home?" Aidan demanded.

"Because our generals would never agree to it. They are winning this war. Why would they want to give up a chance to defeat the Empire for good. To avoid a civil war, you must let them continue until either we lose or Domus surrenders."

"The Centurions will never surrender, though," Aidan pointed out.

"I know, but you have to give our generals a reason to not fight. With all the progress they have made, they will not be in any mood to give up, especially since it was Domus who attacked first," James stressed.

"Would the army turn on me if I called them back home?" Aidan asked his other generals, only to see them nod their heads.

"Fine... but they are not to enter Domus proper. Force them back to their mountain passes and seal the valley shut." Aidan sighed as he looked sadly at Dorian.

"We also need to retake Aquanos," James added.

"Why?" Aidan demanded.

"It is their only deep water port. If we don't hold it, our shipping will always be in danger of raids. I ask your majesty permission to seize the port."

"Fine."

"I would also like to be made governor there."

"Why governor?" Aidan asked suddenly curious.

"All I can say is that I found myself a home there. I know you want Jadoor to become a more accepting place, your majesty, but it will take time. At Aquanos I don't have to wait. It already has all I need."

"You want to take Kyle back there," Aidan smiled knowingly.

"Yes... we and my men were happy there."

"Then you have my blessing and the governorship, my friend."

"Thank you, your majesty," James bowed smiling, not noticing the interested look Amplexor was giving him.

The rest of the meeting was taken up with the change of power. Diana was to be reappointed Prime Minister of the Merchant Guild. The state of holy war, with the heavy taxes it involved was to be ended, and the pilgrims were finally going to be allowed into the Temple Square. All of these were easy decisions to make, and all was going well until there was a knock on the door.

The Eastern Confederacy ambassador came in, looking pale and nervous. Not a word had been heard from him since the siege. "Your majesty." The man bowed.

"Yes, ambassador?"

The man shook as he spoke in a voice that did not match his words. "I am here to report that the great Eastern Confederacy, seeing the injustice suffered by Jadoor at the hands of the tyrannical Domus Empire, have joined their brothers in the west by declaring war against Domus."

"No..." was the only response in a near silent room as Aidan looked at Dorian's ashen face.

     

     

Captain Harper looked at the small flotilla of warships and merchant vessels that were massed together. With all sails set, and oars moving in their circular pattern, the fleet pushed rapidly south, away from Jadoor and certain punishment. At his side, wearing the facemask of a dead Centurion to cover his fire-scarred face, was the High Inquisitor Warren.

It had been Harper and his men who had rushed the burned man out of Meltor to the port city of Koor, hiding aboard a war galley while Harper tried to gather the surviving Inquisitors to the fleet of ships he had confiscated.

Then, when word came for his arrest, Harper knew he could wait no longer. Of over a thousand Inquisitors, only three hundred had reached the relative safety of the ships.

The question that Harper had not yet dared ask Warren, was what to do now. The Inquisitors were not just unpopular in Jadoor, but in the entire Federation. Going to Domus, where they would be treated as slaves was not an option, which left only the Confederacy. But to which kingdom should they attempt to flee?

The day finally came, however, when he could no longer wait, as they were now reaching the wilderness gap between Qopo and Domus, beyond which were the kingdoms of the Confederacy.

"Where to now, your grace?" Harper asked after taking a deep breath.

"The Empire of Lahore," Warren said in a voice muffled by his mask.

That took Harper aback. "Lahore, across the Desert of Flames?"

"Yes... does that prove to be a problem for you, my servant?" Warren asked, his violet eyes glaring at the sea captain.

"No your grace...I just do not see the wisdom of it."

"That is because I have not told you the true history of this half of the world, nor will I tell you now. What I will tell you is that the knowledge of the appearance of Angels and Demons on this side of the world would be of great interest to them... knowledge for which they will give us sanctuary."

"But they will demand that we follow their tribal beliefs.

Warren hardened his fist and slammed it against Harper's face. "Have you not guessed, you fool, that there is no true faith? What difference will it make to our goals if we worship the Sons or Kaal? They both come from the same source, so it makes no difference.

"Then who do we worship?" Harper demanded.

Knowing that in his weakened state, his fellow Inquisitors were looking toward Harper for leadership, Warren kept a patient tone to his voice, even as rage boiled in his mind. "You may worship me."

     

     

Chapter Twenty-Eight

     

The End of Peace

     

The last month had been the happiest Jason could remember, as much from stability, as from the reassuring love he was receiving. Each morning he woke up in Philip's arms, his lover purring softy. He would quietly leave the bed and go to the balcony, where Varrus would already be waiting for him. Together the two would fly around the city, hand in hand, until they reached the main courtyard of the palace. There, they would continue their exercises by practicing the quarterstaff. With wings, their sparring had taken on new dimensions, with higher jumps and diving attacks. The practices would always arouse their passion for each other as they let articles of clothing fall, and as they became covered with sweat. Nearly naked, they would end their practice with some hand-to-hand combat, Varrus always making sure that he ended up on top of Jason, their limbs entangled.

In Varrus' strong arms, Jason would be carried to the small bathhouse where the two would make love on the heated marble floor. Varrus was always the guide to their lovemaking. After both had been sated, they would wash off the results in the bath. When dressed for the day, they would join Gideon, Caleb, and Kristen for breakfast before going to the throne room to hold court.

Jason's presence there was less for him to make decisions than to appear before the nobles and learn the ways of government. Decisions about the direction the kingdom would take were always made the previous night, during meetings held with Varrus, Philip, and Caleb.

After the nobles and petitioners were gone, Jason would eat lunch and spend the afternoon with Gideon. His relationship with his old schoolmate had grown since he had bonded to him. Unlike with the others, Jason could relax and act his true age around his similarly aged friend. It provided him a welcome break from the formality of court. Often the two would play tag, with the skies over the city being their playing field. They would then fly off to the nearby woods, where they would make, not necessarily passionate, but definitely energetic love that would usually involve the loss of a few feathers. When the two were finally tired, they would then fly back to the palace, where they bathed and put on fresh clothes in time for dinner.

Dinner was always in the Labyrinth Keep with the entire old group at the table, including a moody Rondus, everyone discussing their day. Afterward, Philip and Jason would go to a separate sitting room to talk with each other before retiring to bed. At the end of the day, Jason would make love to Philip for the third, and by far the most passionate, time before falling asleep.

     

     

When certain his lover was sleeping, Philip would leave Jason tucked in bed and meet with Varrus and Caleb to discuss the business of the kingdom... just as they were doing tonight.

"How is the building progressing?" Varrus asked Caleb.

"The foundation for the public baths has dried and is ready for the building. It will take until autumn before it is completed."

"But at least there will be hot water for winter." Philip smiled.

"Yes... but you still see the Domus Famulus boiling their pots of water every night." Caleb laughed.

'You could always open the palace bath." Philip smirked.

"For all twelve thousand of them? No, thank you. The palace baths can't handle that many people," Varrus argued.

"It has made competition for palace jobs fierce." Caleb grinned.

"How are the fortifications?" Philip asked, returning the conversation back to topic.

"The city walls are completely repaired, and the artisans have finished carving the demon and the angel on the towers at the gate... very formidable looking if I do say so myself. The carvings of the Demon Spawn and the Saints on the palace walls will take some time, however. Five of seven barracks are now finished, and three more are being built inside the Labyrinth. The garrison stands at fifty thousand, not including your Demon Spawn," Caleb listed.

"Good!" Philip grinned, trying to hide his nervousness.

"Philip!" Varrus laughed.

"Yes..." Philip said guiltily.

"How many Demon Spawn are there now?" Varrus demanded.

"Uhmmm... a lot," Philip said evasively.

"More than the five hundred you told Jason?" Varrus smiled wickedly.

"More or less." Philip grinned.

"Alright, keep your secret. Just be careful that Jason doesn't find out." Varrus gave up.

"Oh he knows... I don't keep secrets from him. He just doesn't demand I give him a specific number."

"I'm glad he is so understanding." Varrus sighed.

"I tried to keep it at five hundred but I kept on getting requests from thirty eight-thirty nine year old Centurions. It was hard, but I told them that I had promised Jason that there would be no more than five hundred. I guess some of them went to Jason because, a few days later, Jason told me I could have as many as I felt were necessary."

"Lucky you." Varrus grinned.

Just then Darius came strolling into the room wearing a sleek red and black leather outfit that matched his skin, carrying a whip in his hand. He strolled over to Varrus, pulling his chair back so he could slide his backside down Varrus' chest into his lap.

"You seem to be pretty lucky as well." Philip grinned.

"He's your pet... you are the one who should be taking care of him," Varrus moaned.

"Maybe you should not have been so energetic the last time. Darius told me you are really quite skilled." Philip chuckled, loving how Darius was looking at Varrus with puppy dog eyes.

"I only did what you asked me to do," Varrus insisted, trying to avoid the giant grin Darius was giving him.

"And you did it very well. So, unless we have anymore business, I suggest we all retire to our lovers," Philip proposed as he left the conference table.

Back in the bedroom he shared with Jason, Philip looked at his lover, admiring his white skin in the moonlight. While Jason was now better built and stronger any Centurion, he still looked fragile in Philip's eyes. He watched Jason sleep, the white veins of Philip's skin glowing, something that happened whenever he touched or thought of his love. Letting the red silk robe he was wearing slip off his taut body, Philip moved closer to the bed, sliding up the black sheets while pulling them off Jason's body. Philip was happy to see that Jason was sleeping on his stomach, which made the round mounds of his ass so easy to get to. Climbing between Jason's legs, he licked the underside of his Angels thighs, triggering black veins to appear on Jason's perfectly white skin.

When he reached Jason's ass, Philip nuzzled his nose between his lover's cheeks, taking in the smell of the perfumed water he bathed in. Philip ran his tongue up and down the crack, leaving a wet trail. He pulled Jason's cheeks apart, letting his tongue probe deeper until it was up against his rosebud.

By this time Jason was awake, trying to hold back laughter and moans of pleasure. He lifted his rear to meet Philip's tongue and moved side to side so it would hit the right spot.

Philip, his passions rapidly climbing and his manhood now engorged, flipped Jason over onto his back, lifting his legs over his head. Philip pushed his manhood inside Jason, gaining the satisfied feeling of finding the correct key to a complex lock. Philip knew, deep down, that Jason preferred the slow gentle lovemaking he had with Varrus, and he tried to do his best for the first half to give that to Jason but, in the end as always, the demon in him needed to be sated, leading him to thrust harder and faster, his pelvis slapping against Jason's body.

When Philip released his seed he was not only releasing what he felt was his love for Jason but also removing the poison that could drive him into a true demon's madness. Only Jason and his Saints could contain the rage inside Philip and his Spawn. That is why Philip wanted Jason to make more children...more Saints, so that his own children, his Spawn, would not fall into madness. As things were, a pit had been dug for his Demon Spawn to deposit their seed into, to remove the poison. The pit had become foul, the ground around it blackened and lifeless.

Depositing his seed inside Jason though, was only half the process. Next Philip needed Jason's own seed to remove any of the remaining poison in his blood. Letting Jason's legs fall back down to the bed. Philip nestled his head in Jason's groin and proceeded to put Jason's manhood in his mouth. Even with all the care he took, Philip was amazed that his now sharp teeth didn't cut Jason as he sucked on him. It did not take him long to receive his antidote and reach the greatest level of calm he could experience. Afterwards, with his massive body, he would climb up Jason until they were face to face. They would then kiss each other with a fierce intensity, Jason wrapping his white wings around Philip's dark body. Finally, when they were ready for bed, Philip rested his head on Jason's shoulder and purred his lover to sleep.

Tonight they were asleep for only two hours when Varrus came in through the balcony, a look of worry on his face. Philip, his ears never asleep, recognized the sound of Varrus' approach and so stood up calmly before going over to his friend.

"Your report?" Philip asked.

"The ambassadors from the other Eastern Confederacy nations have all disappeared. They were supposed to meet with me tonight to discuss the unusual activity on their borders.

"Any strange activity from their embassies?" Philip asked as he went over to pick up his red robe from the floor.

Smoke is coming from their chimneys. With all the warm weather we have been having I doubt it is to keep out the night's chill."

"They are burning documents," Philip realized.

"That would be my guess," Varrus agreed.

"When will we next hear from our border scouts?'

"Tomorrow afternoon."

"See if we can find out sooner," Philip requested.

"I will send my best men after them."

"See Gideon. With his wings he should reach the border and be back by dawn."

"I will," Varrus nodded. "I will also start bringing in supplies."

"I thought you had filled the city warehouses to the brim?" Philip laughed.

"I have, but, with all the new people moving in, we will need more food if this is an attack," Varrus pointed out.

"If it is war we face, and it looks like the city will be besieged, the people cannot stay here," Philip replied, more as an order than a suggestion.

"But this is their home."

"Their lives are more important. Before the city is cut off, we will need to move most of the Qul Tos population out to the neighboring towns. In fact, you should start making preparations for their evacuation."

"What of the Domus Famulus and Legatio?" Varrus asked.

"The Domus Famulus have been trained for siege life. They can be of use making arrows, cooking meals, and acting as healers. They would not be underfoot like the Qul Tosians. As for the Legatio, I bet that when word comes of war, they will wish they had gone someplace other than here, but they are now too important for us to let go."

"Too important?" Varrus asked, confused.

"Darius and I have been talking to the other generals in the Eastern Army. I was going to tell you this, sooner or later but, now that it looks like we are facing war, I might as well tell you now... the Eastern Army is defecting to Qul Tos. It would have happened sooner but without Legatio to give birth to new Centurions it would never work. Now that we have a thousand of them however, we have a chance to keep Centurion culture alive." Philip smiled.

"So we are accepting Xavier's deal?"

"Yes. Xavier has his own problems. With the Western Army about to fall, he will be up against the entire Federation army. The type of force he will be facing will be a fraction of what the east can send after us; after all they still have to worry about the Empire of Lahore beyond the wastes."

"Do you know much about Lahore?" Varrus asked, thinking of a possible alliance.

"No, and neither do the Easterners. Before the East felt threatened by us, they were allied to protect themselves from the suicide attacks the Lahore Empire made across the Desert of Flames. Only once has the Confederacy tried to counterattack, sending tens of thousands of men across those endless sands. Not a single man came back to tell what happened. For all I know, no one on this side of the world has ever seen the empire, but its existence was the reason General Agamemnon, Jason's father, did not crush the Eastern Confederacy in the last war. He insisted that we needed a buffer between Lahore and us. So trust me, while Jadoor can send every man woman and child against Xavier, the Confederacy will always keep a significant number of troops on their eastern boarder just in case Lahore tries to attack," Philip explained.

"Lucky for us, then."

"This will not be an easy fight, regardless. Just as the Federation has gotten better, I am sure the east has learned a few lessons about fighting us. I would prefer to beat them on the open field, but our best chance is to wear them out as they try to break into the capital."

"But I have just started rebuilding the place," Varrus pouted.

"And it was going to be a beautiful city. I'm just glad you had enough sense to also improve the fortifications," Philip joked. "You'd better get back down to the palace and wake up Gideon."

"Fine... If I'm late coming for Jason, tell him to wait for me."

"I will... I know how important your time with him is."

"Yes... Gideon and I can never thank you enough."

"Each of you give Jason something he needs... how could I ever deny that to him?" Philip asked in an impossible attempt to give off a friendly smile in spite of the threatening look of his fangs.

"You know he loves you most of all." Varrus grinned.

"I don't need you to tell me that. Now get going, and tell Gideon that if he comes back before dawn, he can spend the remainder of the night with Jason and me."

"Oh, he will love that... he's heard stories of the things you do with that tail of yours. He might fly across the kingdom, aroused by just thinking about it."

"I don't mind, as long as it gets him to fly fast. Now go!" Philip laughed.

"I'm going." Varrus laughed, walking back to the balcony, and then flying down to the palace below.

Philip sighed... he would not have minded if tonight he could have taken Varrus into his bed... just to feel what Jason experienced with him. Due to his connection to his Angel, Philip could tell when Jason felt strong emotions. And, that was why Philip timed his love making to Darius to coincide with when Jason and Varrus made love. Philip knew what he was...he was Jason's soul mate. Varrus was Jason's teacher and mentor, not to mention the most handsome of his three lovers, and that left Gideon as his comrade and confidant. Each met a need Jason had, to be loved by the man he cared most about, to be loved and respected by his role model, and to be able to relax with a friend. Philip wished he had such friends but, besides Darius, none of the other Demon Spawn triggered much emotion from him other than lust. Philip guessed that was why it had been so easy for him to create over a thousand Spawn while Jason had only four Saints. The emotional cost of being attached to so many people would have been too much for Jason.

Noticing that Jason had rolled over on his side, Philip returned to the bed and spooned up behind him, kissing the back of his neck. Right now, the last thing Philip wanted to do was wake Jason and give him the bad news. He wanted his Angel's sleep to be left undisturbed.

Looking out the balcony window from the bed, Philip could not help but be reminded of the first night he had slept with Jason, back when the Labyrinth Tower still stood. The location of the room he had chosen in the keep as his bedroom had not been random at all. As close as he was able to tell, it was at the same location as Jason's bedroom in the Labyrinth Tower. Varrus had torn the tower down to build the much larger keep. At sunset Jason often stared out the balcony window, making Philip wonder if Jason noticed that the view was the exact same one he had had for those many years when his mother kept him a prisoner. If so, Philip hoped it did not pain Jason, but gave him a sense of comfort. How ironic that the place, from which Philip had rescued Jason nine months ago, was now his home again. Hopefully, it would turn out to be a much happier place this time.

     

Chapter Twenty-Nine

     

Scout

     

The offer to spend the entire night with Jason was indeed just the motivation Gideon needed. He flew so fast to the first border checkpoint that he was almost exhausted when he landed.

It was only thanks to the legend of the Angels of Qul Tos that Gideon was not shot at as he landed within the wooden fort's walls. Still, several Centurions with long pikes surrounded him as soon as he landed.

"Anything strange happening?" Gideon asked innocently.

"Well, other than an Angel landing in the middle of our camp... no," the commander laughed.

"Darn... that means I have to go on to the next fort."

"Oh, don't go yet..." all the Centurions begged. It was not often that a half naked Angel visited them at their isolated base... in fact it had never happened before.

"Sorry, I have a schedule to keep and a bed waiting for me." Gideon laughed, as he got ready to take off again.

"Wait..." the Commander shouted. The appearance of Gideon had gotten more excitement out of his men than they had had in months. He was not going to allow this young morale booster leave so soon.

"I'm sorry, I really have to go," Gideon insisted.

"One of our patrols will be back in a few minutes. They can give you some idea if anything is happening at the border. That way you won't have to go to the other forts."

"That would save time," Gideon agreed, seeing the logic of it. If he got back before dawn he could fly up to the Labyrinth Keep and give his report to Philip in person. Philip might even be so grateful as allow him to slip between the sheets with Philip's luscious tail wrapped around the two of them. Just thinking about it was exciting him, which of course the Centurions were glad to witness.

"Would you care to bathe while you wait?" the commander offered.

At first Gideon was keen to accept the Centurion's offer, but noticing the lustful looks the hundred or so men were giving him, Gideon was betting he would not be given a chance to relax so declined the offer.

Then, as the Centurions began to move in closer, Gideon felt hands rubbing the soft feathers of his wings. "Now come on, men... I know you are glad to see me...but I must really be going."

Feeling that his safety was in danger, Gideon lifted himself off the ground and soared into the air. Glad that he was away from the men's hungry gazes Gideon made his way over to the next fort, which was closer to the border. Halfway there, he started smelling smoke, a scent that became stronger as he got closer to where the next fort was supposed to be. Finally, when he crested a hill, Gideon found the source of the smoke. The wooden fort that had been built on the next hill was in flames. But that was not the most startling thing. In the valley below was a sea of red torches, marking the presence of tens of thousands of armed men. Now knowing that what Varrus had feared was actually happening, Gideon made a u-turn back to Qul Tos.

On the way back Gideon flew close to the first fort. He was tempted to not warn the men of the army heading right for them, but that would not have been honorable, so he flew close but this time remained in the air.

Inside the fort Gideon was surprised to find the four men who had tried to grab his wings, stripped down and being lashed. On seeing that Gideon had returned, the Commander bowed to him and apologized.

"Thanks, but that is the least of your worries. The fort three hills away has fallen to a massive army from the east that is heading in your direction. You need to flee back to the capital," Gideon explained.

"I am sorry, but we can't do that. We are Centurions and it is our job to hold the border at all cost." The Commander bowed.

"But you will be slaughtered!" Gideon said, panicked.

"If that is our fate, so be it. It is your fate to fly back to Field Marshal Darius and tell him what is happening. Go!"

"I will...one day I hope to collect your skulls so your story will be remembered," Gideon said solemnly.

"To be immortal would be our greatest reward." The Commander saluted.

After that, Gideon flew as fast as he could back to Qul Tos, heading right for Philip's balcony to report what he had seen. The sun was far from rising when he gave his report and he was indeed allowed to join Jason in Philip's bed. But, as for Philip joining them, that did not happen. Philip, Darius and Varrus spent the rest of the night making plans and sending out orders.

     

Chapter Thirty

     

The Offer

     

It was a grand homecoming when James led the fleet back to Aquanos. Once again the Centurions, or more precisely Xavier, had not believed that Jadoor would come back so soon after having left Aquanos so unexpectedly,. The newly crowned emperor was more concerned with the threat of revolt from his own men who were uneasy about his treatment of the Legatio, than another attack. As a result, the city fell faster than in the first invasion. But, this time, James pushed his men beyond the walls of the city, further inland, and taking over several farming villages and three medium-sized towns. He now controlled the highlands that separated this part of Domus from the rest of the empire. He also controlled over two thousand square miles of territory, twenty percent of the empire.

Quickly declaring himself governor with the title of Duke, James designed a new flag... two gray vertical strips on either side with a blue one in the middle. A pair of Angel's wings was on each gray stripe, and on the blue stripe, an anchor. It now flew over the old Governor's mansion as well as the bathhouse, where James was building new offices and a mansion as his residence. With his loyal officers lounging in the hot water, James held meetings to discuss the future of his new home. These tended to be very long meetings, as he had to deal with Kyle and the torturously slow lovemaking he would always insist on afterwards.

It was after another planning meeting, and deep into the sex that usually followed, that Amplexor surprisingly walked into the pool, stepping right into the water still wearing his white robe. He went straight to where Kyle and James were engaged with each other.

"Amplexor!" James said, surprised when he saw the Angel come up from behind Kyle.

"Don't mind me..." Amplexor smiled while Kyle gave him an annoyed look.

That proved hard to do; Amplexor had his wings stretched out in full view.

"Why are you here... I thought you would be helping Aidan and Dorian back in Jadoor," James asked.

"They don't really need much help from me. Dorian can understand enough Jadoorian now that he does not need me to tutor him anymore. As for running the country... Diana is politically savvy enough to guide Aidan."

"Then why are you here?" Kyle asked, a little annoyed that all this talking had ruined the moment. He had been planning to take his time ravishing his lover.

"I want to make the two of you an offer." Amplexor grinned.

"What sort of offer?" Kyle asked, suddenly a little interested.

"I would like to offer you the chance to become like Aidan and Dorian."

"Like them how?" James asked, confused.

"He wants to change us like he did the King and High Priest." Kyle elbowed his lover as he slipped off his lap, deeper into the water.

"You mean into Demons?" James said warily.

"And Angels," Amplexor added.

"How can you do that?"

"I would have to take you to a special room I have on my ship. You will have to spend some time in a tank, but after that the two of you will be a bonded pair.

"I guess I would be the Demon and Kyle my Angel?" James asked.

"No... I agree that you would make the better Demon between the two of you, but you are too old to become one." Amplexor sighed.

"Too old... I am only in my mid-forties."

"Yes, but during the process you must spend some time as a Centurion. Regardless of when you become one, if you are over the age of forty, you will die. That means Kyle will have to be the Demon."

"But Kyle... he's soo..." James laughed looking down at his smaller, blond lover."

"I can take care of myself you know!" Kyle pouted.

"I know, but I like being the "man" in the relationship."

Amplexor gave James an amused grin. "I would not worry, James... yes, Kyle will grow larger and be stronger than you, but the nature of your relationship will not change. The reason Dorian is so dominant over Aidan is that Dorian was raised to be a Centurion Commander... he is used to giving orders and protecting his men. Kyle will find a new desire to protect you, but you will always be the "man" in the relationship."

"You've seen how Dorian looks..." James said to Kyle with a worried look in his eyes.

"Yes... and I have seen how Aidan looks. I would love to see you with wings." Kyle smiled. "I also wouldn't mind looking a little more... well, masculine."

"You look perfectly fine to me." James smiled as he waded closer to Kyle and embraced him."

"If it is physical appearances you are worried about, there is a way to disguise yourselves so you look the same as you are now... there is only one negative side effect," Amplexor offered.

"What is that?" Kyle said.

"You will feel uncomfortable with your bodies... especially Kyle. In the end both of you will want to look like the Demon and Angel you are, but it might help you adjust," Amplexor explained.

"Alright, how long will the process take?" James asked.

"Six weeks for each of you."

"Why so long?" Kyle asked.

"I need to grow an anima core inside you. That takes time."

"So six weeks without sex?!" Kyle said shocked.

"Yes." Amplexor smiled.

Kyle took hold of James like a wife being told her husband was leaving for a war. "How will we survive?"

"I've gone months without sex." James laughed.

"Yeah, but that was before you had man sex... do you think you can do without now?" Kyle pointed out.

"Well, I'm sure that, as long as I am with you in the tank, your company will be enough for me."

"I'll take that as part of your naiveté!" Kyle grumbled.

"Awwwwwww," James pouted as he hugged his lover tight.

"I can't wait until I can wrap my tail around you," Kyle giggled.

"I can't wait until I take you flying," James agreed.

"Good... when the two of you are ready, meet me at my ship in the port," Amplexor instructed.

"We should be there by nightfall. I want a few more hours with my Admiral... just to make sure he will be missing me while we are in the tank." Kyle grinned, enjoying the hungry look Aidan was giving him.

When they arrived at the pier Amplexor had told them to go to, they found it empty. Then, with a gush, the water under the pier began to bubble and rush apart as a giant metal ship rose up.

Kyle remained stunned, not sure what was happening, but then a door opened in the ship's black surface and out came Amplexor with several of his blue-eyed Disciples.

"Are you ready?" Amplexor asked a stunned Kyle and a wide-eyed James.

Kyle took a few deep breaths before responding. "Yes..." he managed to stammer.

"Do you think I could explore your ship first?' James asked eagerly.

"I could let you explore, but there is little you would really understand." Amplexor smiled, as his two men took Kyle and James by the arm and slowly led them to the entrance of the black submersible.

Kyle looked back only once, right at the door, looking at Aquanos as if he would never see the city again or, if so, knowing it would not feel the same. The door then closed and he and James were led down a series of ladders until he found himself in a large room. Amplexor's monks were working at glowing panels, with the tank in the middle of the room.

Amplexor walked up behind Kyle and put his hand on his shoulders. "It's time."

Soon, Kyle was stripped down and in the tank, feeling the warm blue fluid engulf him and James. These were to be his last moments as a Jadoorian. When he finally came out of the tank, he would be a Demon, a Son of the Mother. He hoped that his Admiral would still feel the same about him. He could not help but be reassured by the eager smile James gave him from within the tank.

     

Chapter Thirty-One

     

Defeat

     

     

Zophar watched from General Darren's tent as the Western Federation Armies began preparations for their final assault against the remaining forces of the Western Army. To the south of the Jadoorian camp, was hill country dotted with Centurion forts guarding the mountain pass to the Gate.

After his lover's betrayal at Sol, Zophar had been treated as a guest. Yes, he was under constant guard and not allowed to ride his horse without a bowman escort, but he did have his own spacious tent and dined often with the generals and their interpreters.

Tonight, though, there would be no feasting of any sort until the fate of the battle was decided. Regardless of who won, Zophar knew he could never go back home. By Aegis's actions, he was a traitor and had not forgiven himself for it.

After Aegis, and the men loyal to him, had arranged the fall of the Federation capital, Zophar had remained distant from his lover... if they were still that. Aegis spent hours each day in meetings with the Jadoorian generals, teaching them how to overcome Lukas's tactics. When word reached Aegis that his younger brother had killed himself, rather then be saved by the treacherous actions, Aegis's commitment to see Lukas defeated became his obsession. That left Zophar feeling that his life was now purposeless.

Things finally reached the point where Zophar offered Aegis a knife, telling him he would have rather died at Sol with the other men then to live as a traitor. He wanted Aegis to kill them both and end their treachery. Aegis said he would agree on one condition... Zophar had to admit he no longer had any feelings for him. Aegis, of course, still loved Zophar deeply and, even if Zophar had told him he no longer loved him, he would never let Zophar die, especially now that his younger and last brother was dead. Zophar, for his part, could not deny that he loved Aegis; he just could not look him in the face.

     

Zophar sighed, thinking about all his problems with Aegis. At least the Jadoorians had kept their word and rescued the men on Eb. He just wished he felt Aegis' betrayal was worth it.

Feeling a warm arm wrap around his waist, Zophar saw his lover looking up at him with a sad expression. "You've come to see the final assault before the Federation attacks the Gate?" Aegis asked hopefully.

"I'm here to mourn the death of my fellow Centurions. You should be doing the same. They are warriors... they know how to die," Zophar said, before realizing the hypocrisy of those words passing his lips.

Aegis did not miss the irony of such a statement coming from his lover. "At least some Centurions know how to die."

"I'm sorry..." Zophar said with a pained expression on his face.

"You have told me that over a hundred times since I betrayed you. You may feel you guided me into my treachery, but it was Lukas who made me do the things I have done."

"But your brother!"

A short twang of pain crossed Aegis' face, but soon disappeared. "I know...and I understand if you can never forgive me for it, but I could not let you die."

"You let the other men die," Zophar spat.

"Yes," Aegis said sadly. "As I said, you can kill me anytime. We would have died anyway if we had followed Lukas's orders."

"I can't kill you...you know that." Zophar began to weep.

"Then please forgive me."

"I can't do that either."

"I don't know what to do with you then," Aegis sighed.

"Let's run away. We don't have to stay here and help them kill our own people. There has to be a place where we can go to pretend that we are not traitors."

"There is a place..." Aegis replied, deciding to tell Zophar about the Centurions who escaped Eb.

     

"Eb? Where are they?"

"A ship escaped the Jadoorian blockade of the island and shipwrecked on a beach under the control of Jadoor. There, the King of Jadoor found them. From what I have heard, the king fell in love with the Centurion sea captain. Now the king is bringing all the other Centurion survivors back to Jadoor to live in the capital.

"Could live there too?" Zophar asked eagerly.

"Yes, we could."

"Then let's leave now... go ask the generals if we can go to Jadoor," Zophar pleaded.

"I will... after this battle," Aegis replied.

"Why... why do you want to see our people killed?"

"I need to see the consequences of my betrayal," Aegis said sternly.

     

     

Field Marshal Lukas looked out over the plains just below the hills on which his forts were built. Marching toward him were tens of thousands of infantrymen, archers, cavalry with siege equipment. It was as if the tide had decided to turn and wipe out the small sandcastles he had worked so hard to build.

There were three lines of defense. First, there was the ditch, lined with sharpened wooden stakes that Lukas hoped would stop any charge by the enemy's cavalry. There, he had placed most of his infantry and bowmen. Five hundred yards from the ditch stood two forts connected by a long wall made of green timber. If the enemy broke past the ditch, the infantry was to fall back behind the wall while the cavalry did its best to slow the enemy down. Inside the two forts and along the long wall between them, were two thousand archers. It would be their job to turn the field into a valley of death... a Mordel, the Centurions called it. Still, seeing the siege equipment being sent against him, Lukas did not know if even a storm of arrows would stop the enemy.

If the second line of defense failed, all that would be left was the third fort, located on the highest hill, guarding the mountain pass to the Gate. There, he and his men would make their last stand, twenty thousand against a quarter million, defending a line five miles long and two miles deep.

Lukas only blamed one person for the hopelessness of the situation. He had counted on General Zophar to stop the Rapas and Dorsians from joining up with the main Jadoorian army. If Zophar had only held Lake Mahka for a few more months, it would have given Xavier enough time to put down what had been reported to Lukas as a Famulus revolt. At least the general paid with his life for his failure.

The Field Marshal did not know for sure what was really happening in Domus. He had neither the time nor the men to go back and find out. All he knew was that it was preventing Xavier from sending more men to the front, which made him angry. If he did succeed in holding the line here, he would bring the leadership of Xavier into question the next time the Field Marshals met.

Not finding aid from the Home Guard, Lukas went looking for Field Marshal Darius for support but, with reports that the Confederacy had invaded Qul Tos, Lukas was sure Darius was too busy to offer any aid. In over a thousand years there had never been an attack by both east and west against the Domus Empire at the same time. If these were the ‘end times', spoken of in prophesy, then dying in such a battle would be worthy of song.

Yet, he still had a sliver of hope. A messenger from Xavier promised that a solution to the war was soon at hand. What kind of solution remained a mystery but, considering the danger the Empire was in, Lukas took the hazy message as a good sign.

Looking back toward the battlefield, Lukas saw that the Jadoorian infantry had already reached the ditch and were working on overcoming its defenses. Lukas could see his own men using their long pikes and crossbows to slash and shoot down the invaders as they tried to breach the ditch.

Lukas watched with pride as his men forced back three waves of attackers, littering the hillsides for miles with the dead. But, with each attack, the western army came closer and closer to removing the sharpened stakes and building bridges over the gap. In the fourth attack, two holes appeared in the Centurion lines, and enemy horsemen charging through. Once again Lukas' men forced the enemy back, piling up the bodies of dead horses to block the gaps in the trenches. Seeing the enemy once again in retreat, Lukas gave out a shout of victory even as he saw the fallen, blue armored bodies of his men on the ground. A few more attacks like that and his men would be spread too thin to hold back a spring breeze, let alone the determined Jadoorians.

While he knew his men could hold back several more charges against the ditch, continued resistance along the five mile line would result in them being unable to disengage and retreat to the forts. Therefore, and not without regret, he ordered the infantry to withdraw while the cavalry moved forward to guard their rear.

With just the raising of a few flags from the battlements of the third and final fort, the infantry began their organized retreat along the entire five-mile front. The enemy, seeing the ditches were no longer guarded, renewed their attack, hoping to catch the Centurions from the rear. They were, however, soon cut down by Centurion cavalry, allowing the infantry to make its withdrawal. Slowly and surely, however, the Federation's own cavalry began arriving on the other side of the ditch. What had started off as a ten to one advantage for the Centurions on their side of the ditch quickly became a disadvantage as thousands of Western soldiers streamed in.

Lukas knew his cavalry could make Jadoor pay three to four times their numbers in blood, but that would not gain him victory. Also, if the two outer forts left their gates open too long, the enemy would overwhelm them before they could be closed and he would still need the cavalry to hold back the enemy. That is, if he were forced to retreat to his final defense.

On the Field Marshal's command, another flag was raised, sending the Centurion horsemen into retreat. By the time the forts' gates closed, two-thirds of them had made it back safely behind the walls, but the remainder, caught up in holding back the enemy's own cavalry, ended up on the wrong side of the wall and were eventually cut down, trapped between the walls and the Jadoorians. Once he could see the Federation soldiers approaching the forts, Lukas ordered the arrows released. With their longbows, his archers could cover half the area between the forts and the ditch with their sharp flying missiles, turning it into a Mordel, a valley of death. After the last arrow hit its target, most of the enemy cavalry and infantry involved in the latest charge were dead, the hills littered with the glittering metal of bloodied armor.

It was now noon, and for three hours the enemy did not launch another attack. During that time, the Federation infantry worked to build more bridges over the ditch and remove the remaining wooden stakes. When the enemy was ready to attack again, they marched in tight formation, carrying heavy shields. The front ranks carried their shields before them, but the dozens of ranks behind carried their shields over their heads, so looking like armored turtles they marched slowly to the forts and the long wall connecting them.

Lukas suspected that, hidden somewhere under all those shields were battering rams and ladders the enemy would use to break and scale the forts' walls. The Field Marshal was not surprised that the enemy was prepared for his archers, knowing he would have done the same. He chuckled, knowing the countermeasures he had planned.

When the attackers reached the steeper portion of the hills, Lukas gave the order for giant oil-soaked bales of hay to be rolled down from the fort walls. It was almost like a game of ninepins as Lukas' men tried to guide the fireballs at the enemy formations. Most would miss completely but a few got close enough to cause the enemy to break rank, cracking the turtle's shell as it were. When that happened, Lukas's archers were ready, sending wave after wave of arrows at the Federation troops, leaving hundreds dead on the ground.

Even with thousands of enemy soldiers being killed, their sheer numbers gave them the advantage. Lukas' men simply did not have the resources to constantly send bales of fire and storms of arrows down upon the enemy. When an archer ran out of arrows, that was that... he became an infantryman. As the sun began to set, the only arrows left were the ones stored at the third and final fort. As fewer arrows flew in their direction, the enemy sensed this and, instead of marching in slow tight formations, they began to run up the hillside toward the long wall, carrying their ladders and battering rams.

From his spot inside the third fort, Lukas could hear the sound of breaking timbers as battering rams banged against the gates. He looked back to the signal flags, now lit by braziers beneath them. Once again Lukas sent up a flag, this time calling for his archers to withdraw to the third and final fort. It would be the job of the infantry to hold the two front forts on their own.

Once he was sure that the order was being obeyed, Lukas went down to the stables where his messengers stood waiting, ready to leave at a moment's notice. "I need one of you to go up the Gate and see if Lord Commander Grecoron will get off his ass and fight."

There was a long moment of silence. Each man knew that it would take three hours of hard riding before he could reach the Gate. He would then need to wait until he received a reply before starting on the three-hour journey back. By then he might find he had no one to whom to give the reply. One of the greatest dishonors a Centurion could face was surviving after all his comrades died in battle.

"Will the defenses hold?" one of the messengers finally asked.

"They will," Lukas promised.

"Then I will take your message as fast as I can. Just promise that the fight will not be over when I return."

"Even if it means it will just be you and I, I promise that we will still be fighting."

"Yes, sir." The man saluted before jumping on his horse and racing out, just as the archers began pouring in.

For several hours, Lukas received reports about how his men were pushing back attack after attack on the broken gates, using the bodies of their dead as barricades. Near midnight, he saw the first balls of dragon fire soar into the air, exploding close to where the forts were supposed to be. It seemed that the enemy had finally moved the heavier siege equipment across the ditch.

Soon there were two giant bonfires lighting up the hills, as the lower forts were burned to the ground. Still, the fighting continued as his men refused to give up the smoking timbers. Two hours after midnight, the fighting drew closer to the last fort as Lukas' remaining men were pushed back. Lukas gave up, ordering the final retreat but, instead of his men rushing to their final sanctuary, only a small stream of men returned and nearly every one of them was wounded.

Lukas continued to hold out hope that more of his men would return. When enemy arrows began to thud against the walls of the fort, though, Lukas knew he had no choice but to shut the gates.

Now came the waiting. Lukas had expected the Federation troops to attack at once and take advantage of his men's exhausted state, but the attack never came. Lukas figured that the enemy was waiting until their catapults were within range but, as time passed and dawn approached, the air remained clear of fiery missiles. When the sun finally peaked over the mountains, Lukas could see what lay before him. The hillside was filled with tens of thousands of Federation troops in their array of colors and uniforms. Jadoorian black was the most dominant. Just outside the gates, however, was the messenger he had sent, looking forlorn, and a man dressed in a Jadoorian general's uniform. Xavier was smiling widely, along with two faces he thought he would never see again in his life, General Zophar and Commander Aegis.

"What is going on, Xavier?" Lukas called from the walls of his fort.

"The war is over, Lukas. You can come out from hiding now." Xavier laughed.

"What kind of deal have you made?!" Lukas demanded, knowing that Xavier had to have something up his sleeve.

"I told you, Lukas... I had a way to save your men. I am a man of my word. Now get out here."

"No... not until you tell me what this peace has cost Domus!" Lukas demanded.

"Fair... may I present to you General Darren."

"As of today, Aquanos and the occupied territories now under the control of Jadoor, are part of the independent Grand Duchy of Aquanos. It will remain under the direct protection of Jadoor, to which the territory will pay a tribute," Darren explained.

"Aquanos is Domus territory," Lukas insisted.

"Yes." Xavier nodded. That had been the price he had to pay for the peace, but he also knew that Lukas would have to pay his own price as well.

"Fine...so you sold off a corner of our homeland to gain peace. I promise, though, you have only paid rent on it. When the time comes, I will raise a new army and take Aquanos back," Lukas swore.

"Yes I know...that is why there is a second condition to the peace." Xavier grinned wickedly.

"And what is that? Are we to arm the Famulus while we put on black?" Lukas asked with disgust.

"No... it centers on you, my dear Field Marshal. As part of the treaty, you and your men must surrender to Jadoor, where you will be held as hostages to ensure Domus will live up to the treaty." Xavier snickered.

"Prisoners, you mean," Lukas growled.

"No... from what I have heard, the Centurions they have captured so far have been well treated. You, though, Field Marshal, will stand trial for the deaths this war has caused." Xavier grinned.

"They tried to kill me!" Lukas shouted.

"No, Lukas... that was Perils. It was the senator who tried to kill you. We have a written confession," Xavier replied.

Seeing he had been tricked and betrayed, Lukas turned his anger on General Zophar, the young man he had believed to have died at Sol. "So... you were willing to die to the last man!" He said sarcastically.

Zophar, seeing the anger in the Field Marshal's eyes, knew he could tell the man what really happened, and not be believed. The only result from telling the truth that he could see was his and Aegis' murder. Taking a deep breath before speaking, Zophar placed the full responsibility for what happened at Sol on the man who had given the order. "It was you who was the traitor... making us die for your ego!"

"Liar!" Lukas shouted at the top of his voice, almost jumping off the wall to reach Zophar's throat, only to be held back by his own men.

"The two of you will have plenty of time to discuss things during the trial," Darren interrupted.

"What if we choose not to lay down our arms?" Lukas threatened.

"Now, Field Marshal, do you want to be remembered in the songs as the man who murdered the entire Eastern Army?" Xavier warned. "You've lost, Lukas... do not make your men pay with their lives for your defeat. Surrender.

Looking back at the fort, Lukas saw the despairing faces of his comrades. There was no will in them to continue the fight. It would be a slaughter, not a glorious final stand worthy of song or poem. Turning back to face the Jadoorian General, he dropped his sword over the wall, becoming the first Field Marshal to surrender ever himself to the judgment of a foreign nation.

     

Chapter Thirty-Two

     

Hidden Enemy, Hidden Friend

     

While the war between Domus and the Federation was now at an end, on the other side of the continent another war was just starting. The Eastern Confederacy had pressed deep into Qul Tos territory from the kingdoms of Huron and Tal Sith, joining their armies around the besieged city of Qul Hoth. Still, their forces faced the constant harassment of the Eastern Centurion cavalry.

Philip had decided to issue a scorched earth policy. Anything that could be used by the enemy and not sent to the capital was burned or destroyed, to be made unusable by the enemy. Half the bridges in the kingdom had been torn down, as well as most of the road signs. By making sure there was no place for the invaders to restock supplies, the enemy had become totally dependent on a long line of supply wagons that stretched halfway across the kingdom, prime targets for Centurion raiders.

This, combined with the Centurion fortification of every town and castle, made the progress of the enemy very slow, and gave Varrus time to move the civilian population to safer areas of the kingdom.

That did not mean there were no problems. Many of the old nobles looked at the invasion of their old Confederacy allies as a chance to reclaim their kingdom from the Centurion occupiers. They not only provided the enemy with men and supplies, but also showed them fords over rivers, and paths to lead them past Centurion outposts.

A few nobles, though, remembering how badly the Confederacy did the last time they tried to fight a Centurion army, sided with King Jason in hope of gaining a favorable position after the war. They did add men to the army, but gave Varrus information on the activity of the nobles who had sided with the enemy.

In the first few weeks of the war, Jason made many public appearances to calm the people. When Philip finally told him that the Tosians, needed to be evacuated from the capita, Jason insisted on guiding the people personally to the refugee camps the Centurions had set up, before flying back to the capital. With that act alone, Jason's title of Holy King of Qul Tos became cemented in the minds of his people.

To the Tosian Famulus, this war was not seen as much as a fight between nobles and kings as it was about religious belief. Due to Varrus' freeing of the serfs in Jason's name, Jason was looked upon as a divine liberator. The Eastern Confederacy, made up of member states where the practice of serfdom served as the basis of their economies, was seen as a demonic system coming down to enslave the people again.

It was not long into the war that word came from the refugee camps that the Tosians wanted to be armed and join the fight against the East. Most of the Centurion commanders were heavily opposed to this idea, as was Philip, but Varrus was able to persuade Jason that arming the free serfs would be the final step in showing that they were indeed free. That argument alone convinced Jason to give the go ahead, on the condition that the armed Tosians only be used to raid supply trains or sabotage bridges and road signs. They were not to fight directly against the Confederacy army where large casualties could be expected.

Soon of course, a new demand was made. Many of the Tosians had heard about Jason's winged guards, his personal bodyguards. They also knew that they were made up only of Centurions. Now that they had weapons, the freed serfs did not see why they, too, couldn't be members of Jason's personal guard since he was becoming their god."

This request led to another heated debate between Varrus and Philip. Varrus saw no problem if a hundred or so Tosians wore the white wings of Jason's guard. Philip, though, saw it as a chance for the turncoat nobles to slip in an assassin. After long arguments, a compromise was reached. Both Philip and Varrus agreed that a Famulus bonded to Jason would not willingly betray him. The Tosians could join Jason's guard, but only if Jason was willing to make them into Saints. In this way both Varrus and Philip would get what they wanted. Varrus would raise the morale of the commoners and Philip would finally get the Saints he felt were necessary to help control his growing army of Demon Spawn.

It did put Jason on the spot, though. He now had both Varrus and Philip pressing him to bond more people. He made one requirement, however. Jason insisted that he get to know each of the candidates before bonding them, as he felt he needed an emotional connection before he could give someone his anima.

So, as it happened, Jason had not bonded a single Tosian when there was an assassination attempt made against him. A knight from Ingral, a province not known for its loyalty to the crown, had slipped into one of the refugee camps and signed up for the army. After leading the men through a series of successful raids, his skills were noticed by the Tosian elders. Seeing him as a prime candidate to be one of the first men to join Jason's winged guards, he was sent to the capital.

Jason had been talking to the knight, by the name of Geoff, in the garden when he made his move. For the past week Geoff had found his desire to kill Jason fading. He feared that Jason was putting some sort of spell over him, weakening his resolve. That is why, when he saw his chance, he reached for his dagger and made to stab Jason in the chest. The dagger did strike home but only made it a centimeter into Jason's flesh before hitting something harder than steel.

Seeing his attack fail, Geoff dropped the knife and tried to run away, only to be grabbed by a black and red-skinned man with black hair and white glowing eyes. Holding Geoff by the throat, the Demon Spawn carried the assassin back to Jason.

Jason stood, holding the dagger in his hands, a look of surprise and sadness on his face. The cut was already half healed. "Why did you try to kill me?"

At a nod from Jason, the Demon Spawn dropped Geoff on the ground. "My lord ordered me to," the knight replied.

"But what did I do to your lord?"

"You freed his serfs, stole his crops, seized his silver mines, and burned his fields so the enemy could not have them."

"I did those things to help my people," Jason said, confused.

"Those decisions hurt my lord, though. It is my job as a knight to protect my lord from harm and kill his enemies," Geoff replied.

"Did you really want me to die?" Jason asked concerned.

"I was finding that I didn't want to. That is why I attacked. I was afraid that I would fail my lord."

"I don't want you to die either." Jason nodded, looking at the menacing Demon Spawn with concern. He had not known that Philip had sent his Spawn to watch over him.

"I deserve to die... an attempt to kill the king is punishable by death."

"I know... but I was never in any danger... you can't really hurt me, as you can see," Jason said as he pointed at the already healed cut of his chest.

"I am still guilty."

"But I don't want you to die," Jason replied.

"It is my fate," Geoff said with a weak smile, trying to comfort the younger man. He could already hear the sound of heavy, armored feet banging on the stone trail in the garden.

"Then let me change your fate for you," Jason said, a sudden calm coming over him as he reached over and kissed Geoff on the lips.

Geoff soon felt the same calm Jason had on his face overtake him. Jason wrapped his arms around the man's waist while his wings embraced him. Jason lowered him to the ground as the purple anima entered Geoff's body.

When the kiss finally ended, Geoff' felt that his groin was wet. Now, Jason... the Holy King of Qul Tos, was the man Geoff wanted to serve for the rest of his life. He would start that service by returning to his old lord and killing him. What an irony that would be, for him to kill his own lord but, unlike the king, the man deserved it for wanting Jason dead.

Geoff was deep in those thoughts when he felt Jason lift off him and he was once again grabbed by the throat and held up in the air. This time, however, it was the Demon, Philip himself, who had his hand wrapped around his life."

"Why did you bond to him, Jason?" Philip demanded. "He tried to kill you!"

"He was only doing what he was ordered to do," Jason insisted.

"And how do you know he will not try again?"

"He is a part of me now... to kill me he would have to kill himself," Jason explained.

"I must ask you again... how do you know he won't betray you!" Philip growled while looking at Geoff with pure hatred.

"Because I trust him. I ask you to do the same," Jason pleaded.

"I'm sorry, Jason... I can't do that. Anyone who would try to kill you deserves to face a most painful death."

"Please, let him live..."

After a long awkward silence Philip spoke again. "For you I will, but you are never to be alone with him again."

"I wasn't alone with him. One of your Spawn was watching over me."

"And a good thing he was," Philip grunted.

"Please let him go," Jason begged, looking at the now unconscious Geoff.

"Fine," Philip agreed, letting Geoff fall down to the ground. "But I must ask one more thing of you."

"Yes," Jason nodded.

"There is someone I want you to bond."

"I need to know him first."

"Don't worry. You already know him. You can join us, Logan," Philip called back to the entrance to the garden.

In stepped the large weapons smith Jason had met right before going to the Academy. He was the man who had made him his gold staff. It had been his favorite weapon before losing it when they had to swim through the underwater cave. In Logan's arm was, in fact, another staff... a silver one with angels carved on it.

"This is for you...your majesty." Logan bowed.

"Thank you." Jason smiled as he took the staff in his hands... appreciating the perfect balance of the weapon. "How did you escape Domus?"

I did not so much escape Domus, as I did Aquanos. I had been sent there to help restore the iron gates, nothing that required the skill of a weapons smith, but a job that needed to get done. I had only half fixed the gates to the governor's mansion when the Jadoorians came sailing back in and retook the city. I guess I could have returned to the capital, but, after seeing how Field Marshal Xavier was treating the Legatio, I thought it would be not long before the Famulus would be treated the same. I had heard rumors that a few thousand Famulus and Legatio had fled here, so here I came.

"And Philip has told you about bonding?"

"Yes. He first offered to make me a Demon Spawn but after seeing them, I was sure that I didn't want to be like them. So I talked to Caleb. He seemed much calmer and down to earth than I remembered. Philip told me you were having problems picking out people to bond to. As we had met before, he thought you might find it easier to bond to me than with a stranger."

     

"And do you want to become a Saint?"

"Well, let me just say... now that you have grown a little... I could think of worse things than serving you," Logan said with a wicked grin just before he peeled off his shirt to show his massive and hairy chest.

"I really need to spend some time with Geoff." Jason blushed. With Philip as a lover it was not a surprise that Jason had a weakness for large men. Jason was sure that Philip knew this and that this was one of the reasons he had picked the weapons smith as a possible candidate. The way that Logan was grinning at him, Jason was sure that Logan knew what effect he was having on him as well.

"May I recommend you two retire to one of the palace bedrooms?" Philip chuckled.

"That would be an excellent idea," Logan agreed when Jason did not respond.

While Jason was now taller than the weapons smith, he was nowhere as broad. Logan, with his blacksmith arms, was able to lift Jason up easily and follow Philip back to the palace and to Jason's private quarters. After seeing Jason and Logan into bed, Philip left them to get to know each other better.

     

     

Logan knew that his strength and bear-like appearance seemed intimidating. He had used this to earn the respect of the Centurions for whom he had made his weapons. Philip, though, had seen right through the act and saw a chance for Jason to gain a new friend.

Yes. Philip knew that Jason was a bit of a pushover but, with Logan as one of his Saints, he would have someone who would be less inclined to bully Jason and more wiling to bully the people who tried to bully his Angel, which is something he needed. Logan was to be the big brother, a role that Philip had once held before they became lovers.

Already, behind the door, Philip could hear both men laughing. The temptation for him to turn around, open the door a crack, and peek in to see what was happening was strong, but he knew he would look ridiculous. Still, when he started hearing the slapping of flesh and a few yelps of pain, Philip could not stop himself from running back in to see what was going on.

There, in the bedroom was Jason, leaning against one of the marble pillars while Logan was slapping his ass with an open palm.

"What do you think you are doing?" Philip demanded.

"It is a belated twenty-first birthday present." Logan grinned.

"It is?" Philip said in surprise.

"Yes..." Jason blushed.

"Then you do deserve a good whipping... it being your belated birthday and you not telling me." Philip laughed, swishing out his tail playfully.

"Oh no..." Jason smiled nervously, unable to take his eyes off the tail.

"Don't worry, love... I will be very gentle, but first I must teach Logan what he can and cannot do with you."

"Hey now..." Logan laughed nervously, as he tried to step back from Philip, only to be stopped by a wall.

"Turn around now, Logan, and show me that nice ass of yours..." Philip grinned as he wrapped his tail around Logan's waist.

"Yes, Centurion..." Logan said submissively.

"Oh, I'm no Centurion, Logan... I'm a Demon." Philip grinned, once Logan was facing him, showing off his fangs.

"I can see that." Logan gulped nervously.

"Don't worry,... none of my Demon Spawn have ever complained about my tail."

"That's because they're a bunch of masochists."

"Not with Jason though..." Philip said in a warning voice. "I never hurt him and I don't want you hurting him either."

"It was just a little fun," Logan defended himself.

"I know... the two of you were just playing. Just be sure it stays that way. I don't want to find the King of Qul Tos calling his blacksmith sir or master. Do I make myself clear?" Philip grinned as he moved the tip of his tail close to Logan's ass.

"Of course, sir." Logan nodded just as he felt the forked tip push inside him.

"There you go..." Philip purred as he used his tail to enter Logan's ass.

Philip did not know why his tail had this effect on men but he found that most Centurions and Demon Spawn preferred being penetrated by his tail than his cock. Logan seemed to be no exception as the man turned around so he could bend over against the wall.

"You would have made an excellent Demon Spawn. Are you sure you don't want me to make you one?" Philip cooed into Logan's ear as he continued to play with Logan's ass with his tail.

"Jason, you'd better come over here and bond me or else I will take Philip up on his offer." Logan moaned as more and more of Philip's tail entered him.

Jason walked over to Logan and turned his head to face him. Looking at the blacksmith fondly, Jason pressed his lips against him and passed him his bond. So it was between the two lovers that Logan was brought into the family. He did grow until he was 6'6", two inches taller than Jason. His eyes were now blue and his hair was a mix of black and white. While he remained very broad, his waist slimed down.

Logan stood up and walked away from Philip, letting the tail fall out of him. Next, he lifted Jason into his arms and took him back to the bed were he lay on top of Jason's body while his cock humped against Jason's inner thigh.

Seeing that Logan was now completely focused on Jason, Philip sighed and left them alone. Sometimes he wished his Demon Spawn would act tender toward him like Jason's children did. But then, a Demon was not supposed to need any tenderness outside the love given to him by his Angel. What Philip got from his Spawn was passion in its most raw form. While there was little kissing and nuzzling there was plenty of scratching, and biting, pain and pleasure mixed into one.

     

Chapter Thirty-Three

     

Battle Plans

     

When Varrus finally came for Jason, he found him lying on top of Logan, contented smiles on both faces. "Come now, Jason... it's time for your bath and dinner before bed."

"Can't you just wheel dinner in?" Logan grunted. He didn't want to lose his Angel so soon.

"No...we need to talk to Jason about the war," Varrus explained.

"It's alright, Logan... I will see you tomorrow." Jason smiled, giving the man a final kiss on the nose before climbing off the bed.

Logan watched Jason as he was helped by Varrus to slip on a white robe that had holes in the back for his wings. This gave Logan an idea for something to work on later. As soon as Jason and Varrus were gone, Logan dressed and made his way to the smithy, which was busy with the activity of other Famulus blacksmiths. It took some doing but Logan was able to find a workspace for himself. It would take him several days to make his gift for Jason but he was sure his Angel would love it.

At the Labyrinth Keep, Jason was led to the heart of the fortress. There, under the heavy guard of Demon Spawn, he ate, slept, and held meetings with the members of his government. At the table that night were Field Marshal Darius, Gideon, who was now Captain of Jason's winged guards, Varrus, his High Chancellor, Caleb, who acted as personal secretary, and of course Philip, who would soon be declared the king's royal consort.

At that night's meeting, Darius did most of the talking, reporting on the movement of enemy forces as well as that of his own men. During the long report, everyone took the chance to eat their dinner. Philip had a large rare steak covered with mushrooms, a roasted chicken, and to finish it off, several bottles of red wine. Jason and his Saints had developed more delicate tastes. Over the past several months, Jason had found he could no longer stomach beef, pork, or chicken, but had an endless hunger for fish, grains, and fresh vegetables. He and his children dined that night on fresh lake trout, tomato soup, and loaves of hot sourdough bread topped off with a glass of white wine from Huron.

After Darius had finished updating everyone on the war, he took his seat and started digging into his own dinner, which happened to be the same as Philip's.

"So... the enemy is making its way here," Caleb sighed.

"That was the plan... make them pay for every inch so, when they finally reach Qul Tos, they will be too weak to maintain a long siege." Varrus nodded before serving himself a glass of water, finding the wine a little too sweet.

"Still, I would have hoped that the enemy would have given up by now. It's been over a month and they have only made it halfway here," Gideon commented. He was grateful that Jason had insisted that he be named his chief bodyguard and, therefore, allowed into the war meetings.

"The Confederacy is not like the Federation. The Federation has the advantage that Jadoorian generals have control over all the allied armies, allowing them to act as one. The Eastern Confederacy is made up of so many conflicting interests I am surprised that they have not started fighting each other yet," Caleb pointed out.

"Well, that is Rondus' job." Varrus laughed. "The old man seems to have the knack at getting people to fight. Any word from him?"

"The last message he sent said he was behind enemy lines. I don't expect we will hear from him until whatever he sets in motion happens," said Caleb.

"Well, hopefully, he will be able to give us some warning." Philip sighed. Trusting the old man to not cause more problems had been a risk Philip had been unwilling to take. But, with his vast knowledge of the land, had he proven to be an excellent scout as well as a raid leader. So, when Caleb had asked Philip to approve the covert operation, Philip had not been able to refuse. Still, Philip hated surprises.

"What shall I do with Geoff and Logan?" Gideon asked, just as a bowl of strawberries covered with heavy cream was placed in front of him.

"Logan will be busy in the smithy, so I don't think he will need much looking after. Geoff is another matter," Philip grunted.

"Make him a winged guard," Jason suggested.

"You mean give the man who tried to kill you a sword and expect him to watch your back?" Darius laughed.

"He won't do that again," Jason insisted.

"He's your Saint, so it's your choice, even though I suspect that you only made him a Saint because you didn't want me to kill him," Philip said, pointing his fork at Jason.

"I didn't want him to die! It was not his fault. He was only doing what he was told to do by his lord," Jason almost pouted.

"Fine... Gideon, make him a member of your winged guard, but keep him away from Jason... do I make myself clear," Philip insisted.

"Yes, Philip," Gideon nodded.

"Good... how is our supply situation?"

"The Labyrinth warehouses are two-thirds complete. The aqueduct is now connected to the Keep and is filling the cisterns. The basement is being filled with water to make a new bathhouse here," Varrus listed.

"Good... I'm tired of using those cramped tubs." Darius grinned.

"Yes, but heating the water will be expensive, fuel-wise. It is good that the Labyrinth was originally dug out as a coalmine. It still provides most of our coal," Caleb said.

"Speaking of mines... how is work on the escape tunnel?" Varrus asked.

"It is only three hundred yards deep so far." Darius spoke up, as it was the Demon Spawn he supervised who were digging it.

"How much farther will it take to reach the other side of the mountain?" Jason asked.

"We are not even a third of the way through. We predict we will have to dig the tunnel at least a thousand yards before reaching the other side."

"But, when it is done, we will have a way of escaping the siege and bringing in fresh troops," Philip explained.

"As long as the enemy does not find out about it," Varrus grunted. He had been opposed to digging the secret tunnel, as it would bypass all of the Labyrinth defenses on which he had worked so hard.

"Even if the enemy finds it, the plan is for the tunnel to break open sixty feet up the cliff face. The only way to reach the entrance will be by rope ladder or by the elevator we will build there. Already, we have built a small fort on the valley floor to guard the bottom. Also, the entrance to the valley starts over thirty miles away from the capital. The enemy would have to know what they were looking for before they could find it," Caleb took pride in saying. It had been his uncle Rondus who had found the valley for them.

Philip, on seeing that Varrus was about to argue the point again, spoke up to stop him. "The fact is, that having a way to bring in more supplies and men would give us a great advantage over the enemy if they thought they could starve us out."

"I very much doubt they think they can do that. Domus tried that and look at what happened. The siege lasted over fifteen years," Varrus pointed out.

"Then, how do they think they will beat us?" Darius asked.

"All they can do is keep us trapped here while consolidating their hold over the rest of the kingdom," Varrus said.

"They could try that, but it would be hard to ignore over fifty thousand Centurions. They would need to leave at least three times that number just to keep us pinned in," said Darius.

"That is why they will have to fight. They can't ever claim they took Qul Tos without removing us from the capital," Philip agreed.

"Yes, but that means they must have a plan for defeating us here. Except by treachery the Labyrinth has never fallen," Varrus insisted.

"Then that has to be the way they will try to defeat us... by treachery," Jason said, stating what everyone had been afraid to.

"But who would betray us? We have already removed the local Qul Tos population. All that is left are us...the Centurions and the Domus Famulus," Gideon asked.

"The Legatio?" Caleb suggested, adding the group Gideon forgot.

"No offense, Caleb, but we have such a tight leash on them right now that there is no way they could do anything to hurt us." Darius laughed, triggering an embarrassed look on Caleb's face.

"No, Caleb... don't worry. If I were to name a group who would want to betray us for their own benefit, I would say the Legatio exiles as well. But the fact is that we have always known that their loyalty was in question, and therefore have been careful not to give any of them any opportunity to betray us. No...it has to be someone else," Philip said to a deadly quiet room.

Angels Ascending

     

     

     

Chapter Thirty-Four

     

The Traitor

     

So, Lord Rondus... Prince Calebos still lives and you want us to hand the throne to him on a Tosian silver platter," the oily Count Sirrus of Huron snickered.

"Only because I will deliver the heads of the Centurion usurpers over to you on the tip of a bloody pike," Rondus grunted.

"Tell me, Lord Rondus... was it your prince who sent you here or are you doing this on your own initiative?" Sirrus asked, playing with his long black mustache.

The way he said "lord" with such mockery, Rondus had to control his face from turning red with anger. "His majesty is still a young whelp who does not know what is good for him or his people."

"Good... so if we do place Calebos back on the throne, you would not mind if we left a few advisors behind to guide him to make better decisions in the future."

"Qul Tos is a free and independent kingdom!" Rondus shouted, his temper getting away from him.

"Not at the moment, is it? Right now, it is a protectorate of the Domus Empire," Sirrus took pleasure in pointing out.

"Yes..." Rondus sighed, embarrassed at having to admit that fact.

Seeing that he had won, Sirrus turned to more important business, mainly what was Rondus going to offer the Confederacy that would guarantee their victory. "Now tell me, how will we defeat the Labyrinth?"

"Well, first you need to know that it is no longer a tower but a full fortress, which makes it an even more formable target than before."

"But..." Sirrus asked, leaning in with anticipation.

Rondus also smiled and moved closer to the count. "But... in their rush to make the fortress unbeatable they have added two weaknesses to it..."

"And they are?"

"First, they have built an aqueduct that connects directly to the fortress."

"Are you suggesting we poison their water supply?" Sirrus smiled evilly.

"No, you fool... Centurions are immune to most poisons. You can't win that way."

"Then what are you suggesting?" Sirrus demanded, getting annoyed with the old mountain man.

"What I am suggesting is that I lead your army to where the aqueduct connects to a mountain lake. You can then use the aqueduct as a road that will take your men right to the fortress. I only suggest you pick men who are not afraid of heights."

"There is no way I can march the thousands of men needed to take the keep along such a narrow path!" Sirrus shouted, angry that his time was being wasted like this.

"I said that was one of two ways!"

"Then what is this second way... and it better be good" Sirrus said, not hiding the fact that if it proved just as useless, he would make Lord Rondus pay for wasting his time with his life.

It is... in addition to the aqueduct the Centurions are working on, a tunnel that will reach the far side of the mountains. You could send your thousands of men through it."

"Why would the Centurions create such a weakness?" Sirrus asked suspiciously.

"Because they believe no one can capture it. The entrance to the tunnel will be over sixty feet up on the shear side of a cliff. The only way to reach it from that side would be by rope or elevator."

"Then HOW will we be able to use it!" Sirrus said, clearly frustrated.

"That is what the aquifer road is for, you fool!" Rondus shouted back. "You send a dozen elite men to sneak in using the aquifer and take over the tunnel while your army captures the valley floor. Then, before the Centurions know what is happening, you lift the rest of your men up to the top of the tunnel and capture the fortress."

"I see." Sirrus grinned, realizing the possibilities. "It does depend on capturing the tunnel and holding it until we can get reinforcements, but it could work. Now... how do you plan to get the army past all the saboteurs we have been facing."

"Simple... I will tell you where they are all camped. I will also give you a detailed map of the fords that will let your men cross the rivers faster where the bridges are gone," Rondus said as he took out a parchment.

"Good... you made the right decision in coming to us, Lord Rondus. Calebos indeed has a loyal servant in you," Sirrus said with none of the sarcasm as before.

"You just keep your end of the bargain," Rondus grunted, having to work hard to convince himself that he had indeed made the right choice.

Chapter Thirty-Five

     

Fatal Mistake

     

The nature of the war in Qul Tos had changed dramatically in the early months of spring. The success of the Tosian raids against the invading troops had dropped dramatically with many of the raider camps Philip had set up tracked down and eliminated. The Confederacy Army was also moving at a much faster rate than they had at the start of the war and were now only a few days' march from the capital.

At Qul Tos, the preparations for the coming siege were almost complete. A moat dug around the city wall to prevent siege towers from getting close was near completion. The Famulus fletchers had finished making over twenty thousand arrows with hundreds more being made each day.

Jason had not been able to spend much time with his two new disciples. Gideon was under orders to keep Geoff away from him, while Logan was busy with his own project. The other reason was that, with the enemy so close, Philip had put higher security around the young king.

With bathing facilities now complete at the Keep and with most of the Qul Tos nobles gone, Philip saw no compelling reason for Jason to spend his time down at the palace, where he was more vulnerable. He also limited Jason's guests. No one except for Varrus, Gideon, Caleb, Kristen, Darius, Koltus, and himself were to be allowed in Jason's quarters, not even Philip's Demon Spawn or winged guards.

This left Jason to the tender mercy of Gideon as his constant bodyguard. Finally, Gideon had a chance to experience Philip's tail in action to his great enjoyment and pleasure. Philip found that the addition of another bedmate added a little more excitement to his own sex life, as Jason tended to be more adventuresome around one of his own peers than just by himself. In addition, Philip enjoyed having two sets of wings around him, as he usually found himself in the middle between Gideon and Jason after they had finally settled down for the night.

It was hard for Philip to admit it to himself when he lay in bed, his tail wrapped around Gideon's body, that he was falling in love with the younger man. It was a different kind of love, however, a more playful one. Gideon's energy was contagious for both Philip and Jason, as seen by the tossed pillows, clothes and sheets, and feathers littering the bedroom.

Philip almost regretted not taking Gideon when he had the chance and making him one of his Demon Spawn but then Gideon would have not have become the light and jovial spirit he was today.

Still, Philip was curious. He wondered what would happen to Gideon if he gave him his anima. Would he turn into a Demon Spawn, remain a Saint or become something else. In the end it was that curiosity that led Philip to see just "what" would happen.

Shaking Gideon awake with his tail, Philip waited for the man's bright white eyes to open. As soon as they did, Philip moved his head in and kissed Gideon, first gently but then harder until his tongue pushed inside Gideon's eager mouth. Philip could feel his life force joining with the mix of Jason's and Gideon's own life force that was inside him. Philip's tail became tighter around Gideon as the young man entered another growth spurt but instead of growing taller, Gideon began to wither. The muscles around his body tightened around his body, becoming almost skeletal. The black feathers of Gideon's wings fell off only leaving the blackened skin, looking more like the wings of a bat than that of a raven.

Panicked, and not wanting Jason to see what was happening, Philip wrapped Gideon's mummified body in a blanket and raced out of the room to the completed backdoor tunnel. By that time, Gideon felt like an empty husk in his arms, no sign that he was still alive. Philip's eyes dripped with white tears. How could he have allowed his lustful desires and curiosity to let this happen? How would he ever explain this to Jason?

Taking the elevator down to the valley below, Philip dug a grave for the boy before covering him with dirt. He then took the elevator back up to the Keep, going down to the baths filling the basement. There his heart sank as he saw Jason already there, weeping.

Diving into the warm water, Philip swam to where Jason was, in the middle of the flooded catacombs. There he took hold of Jason from behind, wrapping his tail around Jason's waist. "I am so sorry, Jason...I had no idea what I was doing."

"Gideon is not dead... he's in hell." Jason wept.

"What do you mean?" Philip asked confused.

     

"He's dead but he's not gone. I can still feel him inside me."

"And I buried him!" Philip said, shocked, leaving Jason's side, racing out of the pool and out of the basement.

This time Philip did not wait for the elevator to take him back down but instead, clawed down the cliff side with his hands and feet. Hurrying to where he had made the shallow grave he found that Gideon's remains had already been disturbed, a pack of wolves had dug up Gideon's mummified remains and were eating them, their lips dripping with a green glowing fluid.

Philip, filled with the emotions of rage and guilt, attacked the pack with nothing more than his clawed hands and fanged mouth, hunting down each and every one before dawn. But leaving the corpse unguarded had left a lone deer to drink the sickly green fluid dripping out of the broken body of the mummy.

By the time Philip returned, his body covered in the blood of wolves, the deer had long left and with it the tormented soul of Gideon.

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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