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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 - 4. Book IV: Road to the Future

The Centurion

Book IV

The Road to the Future

 

 

Prelude:

              

********************************************************

 

Harper could not remember the last time he had seen a flower, tree, bush, or even a weed. For a sea captain, used to seeing endless blue, the ocean of yellow sand was getting to him, as it was the rest of the men… all but Warren. Even with his burned and scared skin peeling, he continued their forced march across the endless desert.

 

Not taking the advice of the Isilians, Warren had insisted on taking horses instead of camels, believing they would allow him to travel faster across the giant dunes. It was not long, however, before he learned how wrong he was, as the horses died from the heat and lack of water.

 

For Harper, walking on foot across the hot sand was bad enough, but not as punishing as breathing in the fumes from the tar and oil pits that speckled the desert. Everyone but Warren complained of the headaches, dizziness, and the nausea they caused. The High Inquisitor marched on, determined to reach his goal regardless of his suffering and that of his followers.

 

Warren did one smart thing in his rush to reach the Lahorian Empire; he carried a ship’s compass and the best map the Isilians had of the Desert of Flames. With those tools, he led his Inquisitors halfway across the desert to the only known oasis in the middle of the endless waste.

 

Having learned early on it was better to travel at night, Harper gazed across the moon-lit landscape, his eyes searching for any sign of a settlement, or life of any sort. It took seven weeks of traveling before he saw the gathered fires of the oil traders’ camps around the only known source of water for hundreds of miles.

 

Harper’s hopes rose, only to find them dashed when he discovered the settlement was under the firm control of the Lahorians, who charged small fortunes for access to the three wells that made up the oasis.

 

Still, Harper handed over his officer’s insignia, made of gold, to the Lahorian well guards, just for the pleasure of having a few buckets of lukewarm water dumped over his head to wash away the sand and sweat, and cool his sunburned skin.

 

Using his black shirt to keep his hair wet, Harper returned to where Warren had set up camp. On seeing the sea captain in some resemblance of cleanness, and the captain’s new dark tan, Warren waved Harper over to his tent, where he took his pleasure from his body.

 

After his near burning at the stake, Warren kept his body wrapped in white bandages; his face behind a Centurion mask to prevent the scar tissue from becoming more burned or dried out as the skin slowly healed. That had made the sex Warren demanded difficult at best. It was done while Warren remained clothed but Harper naked. The only skin Harper was allowed to touch or look at was Warren’s manhood, which he allowed to slip out of his pants. When it was over, Warren handed the Sea Captain a small diamond as payment.

 

Harper understood a little of what Warren was feeling. Back in his youth, he had taken on an older lover for a few months. Years later, when the man was in his sixties, Harper found out that he had to pay three gold standers just to have a younger man touch him.

 

It was all part of living in the past, a man who was once sought after by youths in their twenties one day finds that they will not even talk to him. A man’s skill at seduction, once a source of pride, was now seen as an act of desperation. That was where Warren was now, his only means of seduction being his power over his men.

 

Harper was not willing to reject his superior’s advances, however, and not just because he knew Warren could order him killed. Warren's machinations, manipulations, and charisma went well beyond his looks. Harper no longer believed in the dream of the Inquisitors rising to power. He did believe that Warren would get his revenge and, when that day came, Harper would be there. After years of service as an Inquisitor spy, betraying his Admiral and the Church of the Mother, he would one day have a chance to redeem himself; all it cost was his body.

 

It was on the third day at the oasis that the Lahorian clerics came. For days, Warren had demanded to be guided to Purrsha, the capital of Lahore. Not speaking Lahorian, he had been forced to use the oil traders to speak with the Lahorian soldiers.

 

The Lahorian clerics did not come bearing warm greetings from the emperor, however. Instead they arrested Warren and all of his followers, tying them together with leather ropes, and setting them to marching eastward towards the end of the desert that very night,into the empire.

 

As he followed the man in front of him, Harper was at least relieved that the Lahorian guards kept them well fed and stopped often for rest. Still, the eager looks the Lahorians gave him and the rest of the men worried Harper. He was sure they were being led to Purrsha, but for what purpose he only had his nightmares as guides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter One: War Crimes

             

 

Field Marshal Lukas stood before the Federation court, his legs and hands in chains, stripped of his uniform, dressed only in red, the color that symbolized slavery in the west.

 

He had been taken to Sol, the heart of the Federation, instead of Jadoor since all the Federation nations had a claim on the man they blamed for so much suffering.

 

Standing at the head of the court was Aidan, King of Jadoor. Representing the strongest of the Federation nations, he sat in the chair of the High Judge. To his left was Supreme Matriarch Ashella of Manthannon. Since it had been her new weapon that had allowed the city walls of Sol to be breached, Aidan had found himself obliged to give her a seat on the panel. To his right was Lord Gustav, fief-Baron of Eb. His lands had been the most ravaged during the Centurion occupation.

 

All three sat on a high podium looking down at the accused. To their left, in a box, sat the witnesses. To the right, was the jury, made up of Federation Ambassadors from the different kingdoms.

 

After Aidan hit the gavel three times, he stood up to make his opening remarks. “Today, after a year of war we have a chance that we have never had in our history… to criminally punish the man who caused so much suffering to our people… the former Field Marshal from Domus… Lukas.”

 

To this there were a few cheers, but mostly curses were thrown in Lukas’ stoic face.

 

“In the summer of the year 4210, the Western Centurion Army under the command of Field Marshal Lukas began an all out invasion of the Federation, attacking Freen, Dorsa, and Yelding… making it as far as Uul. It was only then, by our united might, that we were able to turn the tide of the war. Jadoor, with its fleet, wiped out the Centurion armada at Eb. With aid from Manthannon, we were able to retake Sol, the heart of our Alliance. That, combined with the men of Rapa, Gladmore, Drakor, and even Austrola, forced the Centurions to do something they had never done before: surrender. That fact, though, does not bring back the tens of thousands of lives lost, or repair our looted cities. And that is why we are here today, to see the man who caused so much pain and sorrow face justice.”

 

Aidan sat back down and waited for what Lukas would have to say. “I am a Field Marshal of the Domus Empire and as such I do not recognize this court as having any authority over me. In any case, I am guilty of nothing. Men… men worse than I, should be facing trial here. Men like Zophar and Aegis, men who betrayed me and the empire. As the ruler of a nation, I am above such petty laws as you claim enable you to judge me. As a Field Marshal, I cannot be judged by anyone, for it was my right to make the decisions I made and I refuse to have them second guessed! If you hold me guilty for my actions as a leader of men, then all of you are equally guilty. No man or woman given the power over life and death is innocent of the lives that have been ruined by their commands.”

 

That was the Former Field Marshal's only defense. For as long as there had been men in position over other men, there had been universal law protecting the rights that the nobility had as military officers.

 

In response, Aidan only smirked. “But you are no longer a Field Marshal Citizen Lukas. Your rights and privileges as leader of a nation are gone. You will face the judgment of this court, and it will be your own men who will condemn you.”

 

The first to take the witness stand was Lieutenant Grast, a survivor of Eb, his body was skeletal from his time trapped on the island, but his voice was strong and determined as he addressed the court. He told about Lukas’ selfish reasons for ordering the invasion… falling for Senator Peril’s trick of framing Jadoor for an assassination attempt. Grast then spoke in great detail of how his men tried to follow the Field Marshal’s orders to escape from Eb with the result being more death and suffering.

 

“So, do you feel the invasion of Eb was a mistake?” Ashella asked when he was done.

 

“It was obviously a trap from the beginning. Most of the captains felt so… they would tell you so if any survived,” Grast replied. During his entire testimony Lukas refused to look at the man.

 

“One did survive… and has spoken to us about his attempt to escape Eb, and he agrees; any competent leader would have seen Eb for what it was.” Ashella smiled.

 

“That is not the issue! I would have won and my men rescued if the Famulus rowers had not betrayed me!” Try the traitors not me!” Lukas insisted as the witness was dismissed. So enraged was Lukas that he strained against the chains that held him in place. With the strain on the chains, the wooden boards the chains were bound to began to break. A guard, seeing Lukas was about to break free, grabbed hold of an iron candlestick from the defense table and hit him on the back of his head.

 

His mind suddenly plunged into a fog, Lukas was helpless as more chains were tied to him and a pair of iron stocks bound around his legs. It was only as the court returned to order that Lukas felt his mind clear enough to see who had taken the witness stand: Commander Aegis.

 

“The court presents Commander Aegis Calador.” Aidan banged the gavel.

 

Aegis was now sporting a pair of black wings, given to him by Aidan’s bond; a bond only given in order to protect him from Dorian who thought Aegis was as much a traitor as Lukas.

 

This time, Lukas did turn his eyes toward the witness stand, hating the man with all his heart. He had learned that it was he, not Zophar, who had allowed the city to fall. Still, that did not mean his heart had softened towards the General. He held the general responsible for trusting his commander.

 

“Aegis, when Lukas says you are a traitor, do you believe him?” Aidan asked on Dorian’s insistence.

 

“Did I betray him? Did I also betray Zophar? Yes, I did. But what I did was because of my loyalty toward my fellow men trapped on Eb, Sol, and to my lover. Just like at Eb, Lukas had sent us on a suicide mission to hold Sol. As a Centurion Commander, it is my job to protect my men above all other orders. As a Field Marshal, it was Lukas’ responsibility to look out for the lives of his legions above all else. I held my oath to protect my men, he did not… that is why Lukas is the true traitor, not me or my general,” Aegis spat.

 

A look of confusion and doubt appeared beneath the anger Lukas was showing, as Aegis left the witness stand.

 

After Aegis, came the villagers whose homes had been burned, and the merchants who had lost everything during the traditional looting of the cities. There were also the widows and orphans of men who had died at Centurion hands. During all their testimony, Lukas showed little or no emotion. He knew from the start of this sham trial that he would be found guilty. All he needed to do was wait for them to sentence him to death.

 

After all the testimony had been given, Aidan stood to give the judgment of the jury. “You, Lukas, the former Field Marshal of the Eastern Centurion Army, have been found guilty of crimes against both the innocent and your own men.”

 

“So kill me… it will not bring back your loved ones. As you spill my blood, I see the future and prophesize that the unity you have today will one day fall. You will betray each other as my men betrayed me. The coming blood bath will make what I did to you look like a drop in an ocean.” Lukas replied, almost laughing.

 

“That will be enough, Famulus.” Aidan ordered, giving Lukas a deadly insult.

 

“Famulus! I am a Centurion!”

 

Ignoring him, Aidan continued with the sentencing. “As part of your punishment, the skin from your back is to be flayed, removing every tattoo that marked you as a Centurion. After that you will only be allowed to dress in black.”

 

“I would rather be naked.”

 

“I think you will find that quite impossible… as you are to be sent to the gulag in Drakor, where you will find it very cold.”

 

“And you think I will mind that… I am 38 years old. Do you know what that means for a Centurion? It means I will be dead in two years. I have sentenced common thieves to lesser punishment.”

 

“No you will not die,” Aidan laughed knowingly. This was the part he had been waiting for. Two Demon Spawn entered the domed room and grabbed Lukas, holding him as Aidan approached. As the King of Jadoor joined Lukas on the defendant stand, the Spawn pried opened Lukas’ mouth.

 

Aidan, giving the former Field Marshal nothing but a look of hatred, kissed him, letting his anima flow into Lukas’ body. Once it was over, the Demon Spawn drew their swords and held them ready. Just as Lukas’ black raven wings grew from his back, they were chopped off by the Demons’ swords. Aidan picked them up and threw them into a fireplace, watching as the Spawn went to work slicing away skin and flesh from Lukas’ back. It was only after the skin had healed with a layer of scar tissue that Lukas was released.

 

Humiliation. Lukas was filled with rage. Lunging forward, he tried to take hold of the king’s throat, in a desperate attempt to strangle the life out of him. His hands barely moved three inches when they froze up in pain.

 

Aidan chuckled as he watched Lukas struggle. “You are part of me now… there is nothing you can do without me knowing. You can never act without my permission. From now on you will only be allowed to chip away at black shale, as you live out an empty life for the next eight hundred years,”

 

“I don’t believe you!” Lukas swore as the Demon Spawn began to drag him away.

 

“You will, and on that day you will know what true suffering is… to live a life without freedom,” Aidan swore as he watched the former Field Marshal taken away, content that justice had been done.

 

 

 

Chapter Two: Emptiness

            ********************************************************

             

Jason awoke to a large empty space by his side. Not since Gideon’s death, had Philip felt comfortable sleeping in the same bed with him. Jason missed the warm and comforting feeling of having his back up against Philip’s strong chest, his lover’s massive arms wrapped around his waist.

 

Sliding out from under the silk sheets, Jason dressed in blue trousers and a white shirt before slipping on the sapphire ring Philip had given him only nine months ago, but in another life.

 

Jason went searching… searching for the love and comfort he now missed. He would not find it inside the walls of the Keep as the place was filled with Philip’s Demon Spawn and they would never touch him. Jason knew he could turn to Varrus, but as his High Chancellor was occupied with keeping the kingdom together, he did not feel right bringing his trouble to the second love in his life.

 

That left his Winged Guards, those that remained protecting the palace. The only problem was that Philip had ordered him to remain in the Keep, for his own safety. But, led by his loneliness, Jason let his wings glide him down to his old room in the royal palace.

 

The blue and silver decorated room filled with the history of past kings had always felt like one of the Domus museums to which Philip had taken him. Such memories caused tears to fall down his face, as a cold shiver ran down his spine. Jason closed his eyes, leaving the chill of his isolation as the only sensation he felt.

 

After a long period of time, two Winged Guards walked in. “Your majesty?”

 

The sound of voices broke the void into which Jason had placed himself. “Yes…” Jason asked as he opened his eyes to see Koltus and Geoff standing in their silver armor, worried expressions on their faces.

 

Geoff… one of Jason’s Winged Guards spoke. “I sensed something was wrong. For some reason I knew you were here. Koltus was on patrol with me and so followed me here.”

 

“I’m so alone…” Jason cried as he curled into a ball on the floor, the tears falling down his face.

 

“What should we do?” Koltus asked Geoff, who was not only older than he but his superior.

 

“Let me take care of this… just help me with my armor. Logan will be here soon.”

 

“Logan, the blacksmith?” Koltus asked as he worked to undo the leather straps of Geoff’s plate armor.

 

“Yes.” Geoff took off his metal wrist guards, letting them fall on the floor.

 

Just as Geoff was lifting his padded shirt off, Logan made his way into the room, walking past Geoff and Koltus, right up to Jason. “Shhhh… I’m here now… you are not alone.”

 

Jason let the large blacksmith lift him off the floor and place him on the blue-sheeted bed. Logan’s body was dirty and covered with sweat from working in his shop, but he ignored the fact that he was soiling the sheets.

 

Koltus watched as Geoff continued to undress, the blue glow of his eyes intensifying. Geoff was slightly below six feet in height but, because he was so slender, he appeared taller. The former knight then made his way to the bed, stopping there. He hesitated, not sure what to do.

 

Jason, with a bare-chested Logan on top of him, turned his wet eyes toward Geoff, reaching out his right hand.

 

Geoff continued to hesitate, not able to resolve his old life with his new. Back in the days when he was an assassin, he had slept with neither women nor men, unless the mission called for it. No person he had ever been with had ever remained alive for long.

 

Seeing Jason on the bed, his arm outstretched brought waves of conflicting emotions from the Winged Guard. Jason wanted his love, and he wanted it physically demonstrated. For a man who had only experienced such love ending in death, Geoff could not separate the fear from anticipation. He could not free himself from his past as easily as Jason had thought making him one of his Saints would allow.

 

Frozen between fear, need, and desire, Geoff did not move, not until he felt a pair of warm hands on his tanned shoulders.

 

“Is this your first time?” Caleb’s voice asked from behind Geoff.

 

“No…”

 

“Then what is it?” Kristen’s voice spoke up, also from behind.

 

Not sure how to confess his dark past, Geoff stuttered. “I have never… I’ve… When I have been with another person I have always… afterwards.”

 

“Jason, do you know what this is about?” Logan asked as he tried to pull down his work trousers, leaving the black smear of ash on Jason’s white body.

 

Jason knew why Geoff was frozen as he was. He could see into the minds of his Saints and so knew the source of his fear. He knew that, if he told the others the reason behind Geoff’s nervousness, they would lose what little trust they had in him. So instead of revealing Geoff’s dark secret, Jason reached out again, taking hold of Geoff’s shaking hand and pulled him closer before saying, “I trust you.”

 

“How can you?” Geoff whispered as he let himself be pulled closer to the bed.

 

“I just do,” Jason replied. He let go of Geoff’s hand, taking hold of Geoff’s manhood instead, which was now within reach of his mouth.

 

Geoff let out a deep sigh and closed his eyes as he felt his manhood surrounded by damp warmth. He felt Caleb and Kristen kissing his back and neck. Soon, the two of them guided him the rest of the way to the bed, until all five were under the sheets. While Caleb and Kristen concentrated mostly on each other, Jason focused on Geoff. Logan, though, was consumed by Jason.

 

“Is this alright?” Jason asked Geoff between kisses while their manhoods dueled beneath the sheets.

 

“Oh, Jason,” Geoff sighed, wondering again how he could have ever thought of hurting the young man.

 

Jason took the back of Geoff’s head and pressed it against his neck. He soon felt Geoff’s mouth sucking and licking the white flesh, leaving a gray mark. Suddenly Jason let out a sharp yell followed by a deep moan.

 

“Did you forget about me?” Logan cooed as he penetrated Jason, who only continued to moan.

 

“Jason… are you alright?” Geoff asked, wanting only for Jason to press his wide open mouth against his own.

 

*****************************

 

Geoff did not know when he fell asleep. From his position, on his right side, he could see that Logan had not stopped. He continued to kiss and lick the side of Jason’s neck and back, while his rough hands played with the front of Jason’s chest, only acknowledging Geoff with a wink. Geoff looked Jason in the face and, while his eyes were closed, the smile and movement of his head told Geoff that he too was awake.

 

Geoff turned back to looking at Logan, who now had a serious expression on his face, looking right at him. “Do you love him?”

 

Geoff nuzzled up against Jason’s white body and sighed, “Yes, I do.”

 

Jason opened his eyes and rolled himself on top of his guard. “Come with me.”

 

“I will.”

 

As Jason and Geoff left the bed, Logan had a disappointed look on his face. Turning to Koltus, who had watched everything, but not taken part, Jason nodded to the bed.

 

Leaving Koltus in the hands of his blacksmith, Jason led Geoff to the palace bath. Walking down the halls of the palace, naked, Geoff did his best to keep himself covered. Jason, as usual, walked past the Centurion guards and Famulus servants without embarrassment. Only when his body was soaking in the hot water of the pool did Geoff let himself relax. That was until he saw Jason swim over to him with a hungry look on his face.

 

“Jason?” Geoff asked nervously.

 

“Yes?” Jason said in a rich tenor that sent a shiver down Geoff spine.

 

“What are you going to do to me?”

 

“I am letting you love me.” Jason smiled as he played with Geoff’s blond curls.

 

“I did not know I needed your permission,” Geoff replied before he knew it.

 

“You don’t, but a part of you thinks you do.” Jason laughed as he pressed closer, until Geoff could feel the warmth of his breath.

 

“I… I do not know why, but I need you to love me.”

 

“And I need your love as well. I might be weak in that I have to have people love me.”

 

“Well, from what I have learned, your mother did not show you much love,” Geoff pointed out.

 

“I know… do you think I am just afraid that everyone who does not love me will treat me like my mother did?”

 

“You are living back where it all started,” Geoff agreed, not sure if his face was flushed from the warm water or the attention Jason was giving him.

 

“I am… the last time I was here, everyone died.”

 

“Do you now fear the same?”

 

“I do… I know what Philip wants me to do so it does not happen again… I just can’t allow it.”

 

“I see.” Geoff nodded. The longer Jason remained so close to him the stronger Geoff felt his passions rise.

 

“Is it bad that Philip and I are fighting?” Jason asked in a weaker, less confident voice that bespoke his true age.

 

“I have never been in a true relationship, but I think fights can happen without the feelings between two people changing.” Geoff’s voice shook. He did not want the talking to end, knowing that he would have nowhere else to go but to ravish his Angel.

 

Jason seemed to think the same. “You can touch me.”

 

“I want to do more than that,” Geoff stuttered.

 

Jason leaned down so his lips brushed against Geoff’s as he talked. “Then do it.”

 

No more was said. Geoff wrapped his arm around the back of Jason’s head and pushed it forward so that their lips pressed harder against each other. His other hand reached down and took hold of Jason’s manhood and squeezed the blood engorged flesh.

 

After Geoff had made the first move, Jason did not remain as passive as he was with Logan and Philip. He pressed back, hard… pushing Geoff up against the wall of the pool. Geoff could feel Jason’s hands slipping between the cheeks of his ass. The sudden shock of penetration led Geoff to break off the kiss, and let out a sharp yelp. Jason for his part just grinned as he lifted Geoff out of the water.

 

While Jason climbed out of the pool as well, three of the Domus Famulus spread out towels on the tiled floor. Out of the water, Jason led Geoff to the towels, letting Geoff lie on his back. Jason then turned his back to Geoff before climbing on top of him. His back arched and wings spread out, Jason lowered himself on top of the winged guard.

 

For a few moments Geoff just lay there, willing to play the role of the receiver of pleasure. “Jason…” Geoff sighed, the power of the emotions he had for the young man overwhelming him to the point of exhaustion.

 

“Jason…” a deep baritone spoke as well. Looking up, both Jason and Geoff saw Varrus hovering over them.

 

“Varrus…” Jason looked up, the tears building in his eyes.

 

“Now, now, if you were feeling so bad, you should have come to me.”

 

“But…” Jason protested. He thought he had been considerate in not disturbing his mentor.

 

“Jason… I know I have been occupied, but you always come first. Do you understand?”

 

“I do.” Jason nodded standing up so Varrus could wrap one of his raven wings around his Angel.

 

“Well, Geoff… it seems we will need to have a little ceremony.” Varrus chuckled as he looked down on Jason’s Saint.

 

“Ceremony?” Geoff asked confused.

 

“Yes… it seems you have a little extra skin on you.”

 

It suddenly hit Geoff that all the other men he had seen were circumcised. “Can you let me get royally drunk before this 'ceremony'?"

*********************************************************

Chapter Three: Promotion

*********************************************************

 

When Geoff was finally led to Varrus’ quarters, he hoped -- no, he prayed that it was to be taken by the black winged man. Since his transformation into a Saint, the faces of Jason, his Saints, and Varrus had dominated his dreams, both awake and asleep. Instead of the bedroom, however, he was led to Varrus’ office.

 

“Have a seat.” Varrus waved to one of the wooden chairs in front of his desk.

 

“We are going to discuss business?”

 

"Yes… you are being promoted."

 

"I am?" Geoff said in surprise.

 

"Yes you are… please sit."

 

Geoff went to one of the chairs, a good seven feet from Varrus and waited.

 

"Captain Gideon has had an accident," Varrus started.

 

"What sort of accident."

 

"A permanent one."

 

"He's dead?" Geoff said in shock.

 

"Yes, as far as we are concerned," Varrus said flatly, trying to hide his grief.

 

"What can I do to help?"

 

“You are to be the new Captain of the Winged Guards. Do you accept?”

 

"I do," Geoff said without a moment's thought. "I am honored, but may I ask why?"

 

"Yes… It is partly because of your skill, but mostly because Jason trusts you. You are one of his children after all."

 

"Child…? I am much older than he is." Geoff laughed.

 

"So am I, but when he kissed you he made you his child." Varrus smiled.

 

"I see… I guess that explains why I can't stop thinking about him."

 

“You have to understand something, Geoff; you are now part of a large family that is bonded by one thing… our love for each other. As a result, Jason has several lovers but only one true love… Philip. Be warned to not try and change that."

 

"But he’s a Demon!" How can he love him?”

 

"Yes… a Demon with his children… his Demon Spawn. Since you will be spending most of your time up here in the keep, you’d better get used to them both."

 

"But they look…" Geoff said not trying to hide his disgust.

 

"As I said, you better get used to them. In fact you might actually come to enjoy them…" Varrus laughed, ignoring Geoff’s protests.

 

"To be honest, sir, I have never fantasized about sleeping with another man before Jason… not to say… well, I do still like women."

 

"I see. Well, just tell Jason that. I'm sure he will watch out for you," Varrus said as he flew with Geoff to the keep and to a room where laughter could be heard.

 

Not even bothering to knock, Varrus pushed the door open to where Jason was being tickled by a recovered and energetic Logan.

 

"You two enjoying yourselves?" Varrus laughed at Logan.

 

"I never want to be away from this man," Logan declared as he rolled himself on top of Jason and began to hug him tightly.

 

"Why don't you go join them?" Varrus elbowed the former knight.

 

"The more the merrier… you too, Varrus." Logan winked.

 

"No… I think three will be more than enough." Varrus just smiled as he excused himself from the room.

 

*******************************************************

Chapter Four: The Weight of the Crown

*******************************************************

 

Aegis wrapped an arm around Zophar’s waist, wishing he could take away the pain his lover was feeling. Even after Lukas was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in Drakor’s shale pits, Zophar could not get past his own guilt.

 

After losing both his brothers, Aegis was not about to lose the man he loved. This time, however, he knew that he could not use his manipulations to fix their relationship. With great effort he let his need for control slip away. “What can I do to save us?”

 

“Is there still an “us”?” Zophar sighed.

 

“It is why I did what I did. Now I am asking that you tell me what you need done to keep you, my love.”

 

Zophar remained silent for a long moment before speaking. “I want us to leave.”

 

“To leave Sol?”

 

“No… I want us to go someplace where we won’t be bothered. I want to go someplace where I will not have to worry about you manipulating others.”

 

“Where would you feel that?”

 

“Eb…” Zophar replied.

 

“That cursed isle!” Aegis said, shocked.

 

“Yes… living in exile there is the only place where I believe I can find peace and experience what they did.”

 

Aegis had to admit that Zophar’s idea did not appeal to him. On Eb, he would not be able to rise through the ranks and become a general one day. But Aegis had to admit that he owed Zophar a debt for betraying him.

 

“Alright… we will go to Eb,” Aegis relented.

 

“And you will promise never to leave?”

 

“Yes… if that is what it takes.”

 

“It will. A ship is sailing back to Eb to rebuild the town tomorrow. We will both be on it.”

 

“Yes...” Aegis relented.

 

It was not what Aegis had wanted… his ambitions were higher than living in exile on a tiny island but, even in such a remote place, a man could still make his own destiny.

 

************************

 

Aidan, having just arrived back from Sol, watched as his lover Dorian dealt with the mountains of paper work that the church produced each day. He was used to Dorian’s constant complaining that being High Priest involved more than just praying and preaching. There were bills to be paid, bishops to appoint, internal squabbles to be settled, and large grants of land to manage. As a Demon, he would rather be off at war.

 

Due to the need to communicate daily with the church’s clerics, Dorian had become fluent in Jadoorian. Galen, the Archbishop of Koor, only helped out when he was needed, and some decisions he insisted Dorian make personally. None of them wanted Dorian to be considered just a figurehead.

 

“Have there been any more riots?” Aidan asked as he sat down on one of the black cushioned chairs.

 

“A few… mostly ex-conscripts demanding their pensions,” Dorian sighed.

 

“You have not released your children on them have you?” Aidan asked, concerned.

 

“Do not tempt me. Also Austrola is begging for assistance against Manthannon. It seems the Arch Matriarch used the Battle of Sol to experiment with her new weapon. Now that she knows that it works, she was using it to blast through Austrola’s defenses.

 

“And what do you think we should do?” Aidan asked, knowing his lover would have already come up with a plan.

 

“Well according to Diana… officially, the conflict is an internal problem and not covered by the Federation Charter. But I do not see why we cannot ship the most troublesome of the conscripts over to Austrola.

 

“That would take care of the immediate problem of paying them while our treasury is empty.”

 

“That it would. Until the first payments of tribute arrive from Aquanos, money will be tight.”

 

“I just hope that James is able to pay the massive tribute we’re expecting from his Dukedom.”

 

“I am sure he will find a way. He has turned most of those warships you gave him into trading vessels. With the Gate closed, the Domus Empire must rely on Aquanos as its source for any quantity of goods. From what I understand, James has placed a high toll on the roads heading in or out of the empire.”

 

“Good for him.” Aidan laughed. He liked it when a friend did well.

 

“Now that you are back from your vacation… I think I will I take a little leave time myself.”

 

“I do not see how sitting in a trial is anything that can be called a vacation.” Aidan frowned.

 

“True, but you have not been busy trying to keep the kingdom together. There is also a small issue I need to look into.”

 

“And what would that be?”

 

“Well, since I have been so busy leading the church, my children have felt ignored.”

 

“IS that a problem?” Aidan asked almost laughing.

 

“A Demon, not under a firm hand, is bound to cause more trouble than not,” Dorian warned.

 

“So you need to go off and give your men a little discipline.” Aidan burst into laughter.

 

“Yes… and a little love as well. Remember, they were Centurions before they became my Spawn. As their superior officer it is my duty to see to their emotional needs,” Dorian reminded Aidan.

 

“I understand.” Aidan nodded. From his lover he had learned a great deal about Centurion culture… not the least of which was how officers took responsibility for their men.

 

As Dorian stood up to leave the office of the High Priest, he looked down on his lover one more time. “When I come back, I expect two things from you.”

 

“Yes.” Aidan chuckled, finding anyone giving him orders humorous.

 

“First, I want you to be ready for me to ravish you on my return.”

 

“I am ready for you to do that now.”

 

“Good… second, I want you to have picked out four of the remaining Centurions to become your Saints, to act as your personal guard and messengers.”

 

“I do have Diana,” Aidan pointed out.

 

“She’s too busy with politics and running the Merchant’s Guild. I want you to find some men you find personable enough to be around you most of the time.”

 

“By personable are you saying attractive.”

 

“Well, I did know this teacher at the Academy who would have been perfect… Varrus was his name, but I am sure you will be able to find a few select officers among the exiles.

 

“As you say.” Aidan laughed. He had never had a lover who had ordered him to find additional lovers before. But with the way Centurions looked at fidelity, it was not a big surprise.

 

“Now I will leave you. In two weeks I will want to inspect your new bodyguards.” Dorian bowed with a humorous smile on his face.

 

“I will be ready.” Aidan chuckled, sure that an inspection in the horizontal position was what Dorian had in mind.

 

Once Dorian was gone, Aidan stood up to leave the office only to have the double doors open for three priests carrying stacks of papers.

 

“Where is his Holiness?” the first priest asked.

 

“He has gone on sabbatical,” Aidan explained.

 

“But we need his authorization on several items,” the second priest insisted.

 

“Can you not take these matters to the Archbishop of Koor?” Aidan pleaded.

 

“It was his grace that sent us here,” the first priest explained.

 

“Then leave the papers on the desk. His Holiness will see to them in two weeks.”

 

“Two weeks!” all three priests shouted.

 

“Your Majesty, these matters need immediate attention,” the last of the priests insisted.

 

“What is so urgent that they can not wait until his Holiness comes back?” Aidan demanded.

 

“There is the opening of the grain stores to the hungry and needy in Freen and Yelding. Five archbishops have retired and need replacement… any delay in appointment will only lead to chaos in the dioceses. The review of the accounts needs his approval before a new budget can be written. Finally, we need his signature on at least three dozen documents approving the actions of other priests.”

 

“Fine… will my signature be sufficient?” Aidan gave up, feeling as if Dorian had just set him up to do his work for him.

 

“As one of the Sons of the Mother, yes your Holiness,” the priest said, switching titles on Aidan.

 

“Then leave them on the desk. I will see to them.”

 

“Yes, your Holiness.” All three priests bowed before passing him to reach the large ebony table.

 

Soon Aidan found himself alone, sitting in Dorian’s chair, looking forlorn at the documents that covered the entire desk. “How am I ever going to get out of here?” Aidan sighed, as another delegation of clerics came in to leave more documents.

 

As the sun set, a nun arrived to light the fire and oil lamps in the room. Aidan was about to give up and leave the entire mess for Dorian… If only he had a secretary to go through all these documents and just point to him where he needed to sign. With the amount of paperwork present, Aidan was surprised that Dorian did not have several.

 

Just as the nun was about to leave, Aidan spoke up to stop her. “Excuse me, but does the High Priest not have a secretary.”

 

“Archbishop Galen is the High Priest’s secretary.”

 

“I am not referring to the official one, but personal.”

 

“Oh yes… his Holiness has several.” The nun nodded.

 

“Why are none of them here?”

 

“Why, they joined the High Priest on his sabbatical.”

 

“That idiot!” Aidan grumbled, feeling as if he had been set up.

 

Seeing that his Majesty was perturbed by the work before him, the nun walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Your majesty, it is not as hard as it looks. All you have to do is find some assistants of your own.”

 

“Do you know where I can find some?” Aidan asked, a pleading look on his face.

 

“Why yes, many of the Centurion officers served as secretaries for their superiors. That is where his Holiness found his.”

 

“Very well, can you select at least… four to come over and help me with this mess.”

 

“I shall, your majesty, but what should I look for when selecting them.”

 

Knowing that the papers before him represented vast areas of specialty, Aidan nodded his head in understanding. “Two should be good at accounting. Another should have good organizational skills. The last needs to be assertive enough to make sure the clerics do what the documents say.”

 

“I will go looking for such men then. For now, however, why don’t your majesty have supper and stop working.”

 

Looking at the elderly nun, Aidan found it hard to argue. “Very well, but when should I expect to have help with all this bureaucracy.”

 

“Before you wake tomorrow, I should have found the men you need, your Majesty.”

 

“Thank you, sister.” Aidan nodded to the nun as she left to order his supper.

 

Twenty minutes later, a rich fish stew and a loaf of rye bread were brought to Aidan in Dorian’s office. More hungry than he had thought, Aidan ate everything that put in front of him, ending his meal by breaking into Dorian’s liquor cabinet and pouring himself a chocolate liqueur.

 

Lightheaded, Aidan left Dorian’s office, the papers on the desk in chaos. As he did not feel like making the long walk across the square to the palace, Aidan went to the High Priest’s bedroom, a room that Dorian had used only on a few occasions.

 

Tired, but still feeling a sense of dread about what he would have to face in the morning, Aidan covered himself with one of the soft thick blankets and went to sleep.

 

*******************************

 

Opening his eyes Aidan found another man’s face staring back at him. Looking around he saw that he was not the only one; four men were looking at him from around the bed. Two were blond, while the other two had light brown hair. All of them had bodies that looked like they had been sculpted from marble.

 

“Good morning, your Majesty. Sister Clare sent us to you.” One of the four said as they all bowed. They were dressed in the blue and sliver armor of the now defunct Western Centurion Army.

 

“Well, good morning.” Aidan smiled. He did not know if the nun had selected these men for their skills or their bodies, but they were definitely nice to look at.

 

“Is his Majesty ready for a long day?” one of the blond Centurions asked.

 

“With your help it will hopefully be better than yesterday,” Aidan sighed as he slid out of the bed, just to have three of the men circle around him to dress him for the day. While they did so, Aidan was near certain they were also giving his body an explorative search.

 

The rest of the day passed like a well-oiled clock. All of his assistants knew exactly what needed to be done, and only interrupted him when an important decision or his signature was needed. By lunch most of what was left over from the day before was finished.

 

It was after the noon meal that the flirting began. During the break, the Centurions took the chance to remove their heavy breastplates, leaving only their white tunics on. Without their armor, Aidan could feel the hard muscles under their clothes as they purposefully rubbed up against him while they handed him more papers. Then there were all the hands, a squeeze of his shoulder, a holding of his hand, the nuzzling of noses into his black hair.

 

Aidan had to struggle to not let the building lust take over and interfere with the work that needed to be done. He knew he could order them to stop their attempts to arouse him but, after living with Centurions for so many months, he had seen lower ranking officers do worse to gain the attention of their superiors.

 

That all changed when the sun started setting, letting its still warm rays stream through the large windows of the High Priest’s office. When the room started to warm up, the white tunics came off revealing the bare upper bodies of his Centurion servants. Aidan could no longer hold off the hardening of his manhood, under his royal robes. The men would now add kisses between the handing of reports. Hands not only patted or rubbed his back but now worked to remove the heavy robe he wore.

 

“Are you not hot under all those clothes,” a brown-haired Centurion with dimpled chin asked, as he lifted them off Aidan’s shoulders, leaving only his shirt and trousers.

 

Aidan was indeed sweating, but it was not from the heat in the room. While, during the morning, he had not been able to keep his eyes off the Centurion officers, he now kept his eyes adverted lest he lose all control. He was so lost in holding down his lust that he did not notice that all work had ended for the day.

 

“Your Majesty?” one of the officers asked.

 

“YES!” Aidan jumped, looking up from his desk for the first time in over an hour.

 

Standing in a row were all four officers, all of them fully dressed in their armor.

 

“It’s time to retire for the day,” the same Centurion replied.

 

“Thank you…” Aidan said, abashed, starting to wonder if what had happened during the afternoon had just been his imagination.

 

“Well sir, if there is anything more you need or… want from us don't fear to ask,” the dimpled brunet said with an almost wicked smile.

 

Feeling his groin stir, Aidan almost said yes, but forced himself to look down before dismissing the four for the evening.

 

That night in bed Aidan could not stop stirring, the visions of the bodies of his four assistants stuck in his mind. After exhausting himself on his own, Aidan prayed that tomorrow his secretaries would seem more homely than they did today.

 

*******************************************************

Chapter Five: The Burden of the Past

*******************************************************

 

“So this is where my brother died.” Aegis sighed as he looked over the cliff where his brother had jumped after hearing of his older brother’s betrayal.

 

From this spot on the wooden platform, from which Admiral Urrack had portaged his ships over the mountains, he could see all of Eb. Aegis gazed at the whole southern coastline, a layer cake of forests, plains, and beaches. Down below he could see where his lover, Zophar was busy building their new home, a bungalow built on stilts to stay safe above high tides.

 

The place was so peaceful. Even the sand-filled wreckage of the beached Centurion ships just added to the isolation and, therefore, the calm of the place. This, however, was not how Aegis had planned to spend the rest of his life, especially now that he had eight hundred years of it.

 

Stretching out his black wings, Aegis let himself tip over the side of the cliff, imagining he were his brother. Falling like a dead weight he let himself aim for the ground only to pull out of his dive just before reaching the rocks and trees below.

 

Gliding, Aegis let himself land near where Zophar had built a fish trap. “We could always fly into town for food you know.”

 

It is better that we catch it ourselves,” Zophar insisted in a cheerful mood. Since coming to the island and being freed from the weight of command, he had been at peace with himself.

 

“Have you heard? War has broken out between Manthannon and Austrola. Manthannon is using their new explosives to break through the Austrolian defenses.”

 

“So?” Zophar asked with dread, sensing his lover had a scheme planned out.”

 

“So, Austrola is looking to hire some mercenaries before Manthannon drags too many of them back to the breeding pits.

 

“I am done with war.”

 

“A Centurion is never done killing.”

 

“I kill fish,” Zophar grunted, as he aimed a small spear at one, skewering it.

 

“You also kill men… how long can you go without doing that?”

 

“As long as I will live,” Zophar insisted.

 

“We could just advise the Austrolians; most of them are just the descendents of freed slaves. They have no real skill in warfare.”

 

“But what about our plans to live here, I have not even had a chance to finish the house!”

 

“There will always be time for retirement. Now are the most exciting times in our lives. It is now that we can make the most difference!” Aegis said excitedly.

 

Zophar was about to take hold and shake his lover. “We already made a difference. We helped cause our homeland to lose the war!”

 

“We did what needed to be done… now let’s do what we want to do,” Aegis insisted.

 

“That is what I am trying to get us to do… make a small peaceful life here!”

 

“But that is not what we are meant for!” Aegis shouted back. We are meant to lead men and win battles, not lay on a beach pretending we are Famulus. You are a Centurion and it is about time you acted like one!”

 

“If I am a Centurion… then why do I have these ridiculous black wings? If I am a Centurion, then why did I let myself be led into betraying Domus? If I am a Centurion, why have I not killed you?”

 

Very calmly Aegis drew a dagger from his belt and offered it to Zophar with both hands, the tip of the blade pointed at his abdomen. “I offer my life to you again. If you hate me so, then kill me. But, if you love me, you will stay by my side, you will leave this island for a short time while we have adventures in Austrola and Manthannon. Kill me if you do not love me, but do so knowing that I love you totally.”

 

Zophar knew halfway through Aegis speech that he was left with no choice. He took the knife from Aegis’s hand and sheathed it back into his lover’s belt.

 

“What would be the point of me living on this island alone…” Zophar said as an excuse for agreeing with Aegis.

 

“What would be the point of me having adventures without you by my side,” Aegis said back, a small smile growing on his face. Soon the two of them were rolling over each other on the gray sand of the beach.

 

“Why can I never say no to you?” Zophar sighed as he penetrated his lover.

 

“You say no to me all the time… it is only when it is important that I make you say yes,” Aegis laughed.

 

“I love you… even though you are a bastard!” Zophar declared near the moment of climax.

 

“I know.” Aegis smiled wickedly, as he felt Zophar collapse on top of him.

***********************************************************

Chapter Six: The Monster

***********************************************************

 

With his gift finished, and since Philip had admonished Jason to no longer travel to the palace because of the danger of assassination, Logan had the choice of either walking the miles of tunnels through the Labyrinth, or take the shortest route and fly. Having never used his wings, and having no wish to, Logan chose the former.

 

After hours of traveling through the maze of tunnels, Logan reached the mountain keep. He was then led deeper inside until, as far as he could tell, he was at the center. There, he waited in front of a large iron door while he listened to the metal clang of several heavy locks being removed. The room Logan entered was a well-decorated sitting room with heavy red carpets and carved wooden furniture, lit by several oil lamps. Talking in the room were Caleb and Kristen at one of the tables. Jason was standing, holding what looked like a glass of cider.

 

"Jason… Logan is here." Varrus grinned.

 

"Hello, Logan." Jason smiled nervously.

 

At first, Logan did not know why Jason seemed so nervous. Then he felt the tightness in his pants.

 

"I have a gift for you." Logan blushed, trying to cover his hard-on with his gift.

 

"You didn't have to."

 

"I know, but I wanted to make you something special. At least, I will feel better if you wear it," Logan said as he handed Jason the large heavy package.

 

The package was in the shape of a suitcase. In a depression in the fur-lined box was a breastplate of polished steel, etched with gold and decorated with a collar of silver feathered wings. When Jason turned it around to look in the back he found holes where the joints of his wings could fit through.

 

"Let me show you how to put it on." Logan grinned, proud of his workmanship, but also eager to feel Jason’s body with his hands as he helped him put on the armor.

 

"Alright." Jason grinned.

 

Logan unbuckled the back of the armor and opened it up like a pair of double doors. After Jason had put on the front, Logan closed the metal panels and latched the armor, Jason's wings still free to move.

 

"Very good, Logan." Varrus clapped, after Jason turned around a few time to show it off.

 

"Jason, you better not grow anymore." Caleb laughed, noticing how the armor was very form fitting.

 

"If he does, I will just make him a new one," Logan offered.

 

"What I want to know is, how you were able to make it with no measurements," Kristen asked.

 

"I did take measurements," Logan said as he tapped his head.

 

"Impressive." Kristen laughed.

 

"Do you like it?" Jason asked Caleb.

 

"It looks nice, but I bet Logan prefers to see you with it off," Caleb laughed.

 

"Hey!" Logan shouted. Yes, he had hoped to see Jason naked, but he did not want to seem like he was trying to buy Jason’s attention.

 

"It's fine, Logan… Jason is still dealing with Gideon’s death," Varrus apologized.

 

"I know… It is hard to lose someone so young.” Logan said with sympathy as he hugged Jason while he was in his armor

 

“I am a freak” Jason cried.

 

"No, you're not," Varrus insisted, not liking Jason’s self-pity, as it made it hard for him to see that it was Philip who really needed his help.

 

"How long has this been going on?" Logan asked.

 

"For several long tiring days," Kristen sighed.

 

"And what happened?"

 

"The short of it is that Philip decided to do a little experiment. He wanted to see what would happen to a person already bonded to Jason if he gave him his anima. Gideon’s death was the end result," Varrus explained

 

"A monster," Jason repeated.

 

"If you mean a person who keeps on thinking everyone hates him regardless of what they say, then yes you are a monster." Kristen sighed again.

 

"So it was a learning experience… we know now not to mix the anima of a Demon and an Angel,” Logan said as if that was all that was important.

 

"Well, Philip tried to hide Gideon’s corpse, the wolves got to it and tore it up pretty badly. Philip did not even allow Jason to see Gideon to say goodbye,” Caleb explained.

 

“How is Philip?” Logan asked, not seeing him around.

 

“He is avoiding Jason as much as possible. He blames his own selfish lust for Gideon’s fall. Jason blaming himself is not helping matters, either, for it makes Philip feel worse,” Varrus explained.

 

“Anything I can do to help?”

 

“No… I know what needs to be done,” Varrus replied as he left the room.

 

********************************

 

Deep down in the keep was the common room for Philip’s Demon Spawn. With their bodies not able to distinguish pleasure from pain, the room was decorated with chains. On the walls were shelves holding whips, paddles, and clubs spiked with short nails.

 

That was where Varrus found Philip, participating in another of his children’s orgies of food, sex, and erotic tortures. Finding Philip whipping Darius while the Field Marshal was chained to the wall, Varrus decided things needed to change.

 

“Philip,” Varrus said in a stern voice.

 

“What is it?” Philip lashed out as he continued to let the bull whip fly.

 

“You’ve been down here long enough. It is time you went back to Jason.”

 

“Why… so I can kill more of the people he loves?”

 

“Philip, you do need to go back to Jason to ask forgiveness for that, but not for the reason you think.”

 

“Why? It was my fault,” Philip grunted as he wiped away the sweat and blood from his chin.

 

“You need Jason’s forgiveness because it is the only way you will forgive yourself.”

 

“And how does that work?” Philip demanded. “It will still be my fault.

 

Varrus, now more frustrated with Philip than he was with Jason, tightened his fist and slammed it against Philip’s chin.

 

“Well, well, well… I did not know you were interested in our little games down here.” Philip snickered.

 

“I’m not… in fact they disgust me, but at least it got your attention.”

 

“Fine… tell me how Jason’s forgiving me will help me forgive myself.”

 

“Philip… can you not even remember that you are bonded to Jason. What Jason feels has a lot to do with how you feel.”

 

“If that is so then why has Jason not come down and forgiven me?”

 

“Because, you fool… he has never blamed you. He only blames himself… just like you.”

 

“Then how are we going to forgive each other if both of us are only blaming ourselves.”

 

“That is why I want you to take the first step. Go to Jason and tell him you forgive him,” Varrus explained.

 

“Why me?”

 

“Because you are the adult as far as Jason is concerned. He still takes after your lead.”

 

“Alright… but this had better work,” Philip warned.

 

“Then you will do it?” Varrus said hopefully.

 

“Yes… on one condition.”

 

“And that is?”

 

“You need to finish Darius for me. I owe him thirty seven more lashes.”

 

“I am not one of your Demon Spawn.”

 

“I know… but giving Darius what he wants will drive him into a frenzy.” Philip laughed.

 

“You are setting me up for a rough night,” Varrus responded.

 

“If I am to have one, then you should as well. Goodnight.” Philip laughed as he left Varrus holding the whip, his mouth agape.

 

*******************************

 

Philip found Jason in bed with Logan’s arms wrapped around him. There was a frightened look in the young man’s eyes that Logan could not comfort. “Leave us,” Philip ordered in a tone that sent Logan immediately out of the room. Philip then took Logan’s place behind Jason. This time Jason let out a deep sigh and snuggled back against his lover.

 

“I hear your Saints have been taking care of you.”

 

“They try, but they are not you,” Jason admitted.

 

There was then a long silence before Philip had the courage to speak on what needed to be said. “Jason… about Gideon. I forgive you for what happened.”

 

“It was entirely my fault. It was I who wanted Gideon in bed with us.”

 

“I wanted it as well,” Philip admitted.

 

“I should have protected my friend.”

 

“As your lover, I should have done the same… more, I should not have tried to bond with him.”

 

“You did not know… It was not your fault,” Jason said simply, never having considered that it was.

 

After both had forgiven each other, a weight was lifted from both of them. They felt each other’s bodies relax and breathing soften. Seeing Jason’s shoulders drop from their tense position, Philip could not help but give them a playful bite.

 

Laughing, Jason turned around and planted a kiss on Philip’s nose.

 

“So that is how it is going to be!” Philip chuckled as he started tickling Jason’s sides.

 

Soon the two were rolling all over each other, until they could no longer hold back, and began their lovemaking in earnest. Afterwards, both went to sleep in each other’s arms, all the previous tension gone.

*******************************************************

Chapter Seven: The Lahorian Empire

*******************************************************

 

Harper was amazed at the wealth he saw before him. It seemed that nearly every domed roof of the capital of Lahore was leafed in gold, shining like a small sun. The streets of the city were white, made of large concrete blocks, free of weeds or the foul smell of horse droppings. In fact, not a single horse could be seen in the entire city of Purrsha. Instead, the people moved in small rickshaws pulled by men in short gray pants and straw hats.

 

Compared to the narrow streets of Jadoor, with its limited and decaying sewer system, Purrsha was a city that could truly call itself the capital of the world. Everyone seemed well dressed and well fed without a beggar in sight. Large crews of street sweepers were ever present, removing weeds and any litter that dared to blemish the perfection of the city.

 

With all the imposing structures that made up the capital, two were most impressive. The first, located in the center of the city, was surrounded by roads spreading out from it like the spokes of a wheel. It had the largest of all the gold domes. Hundreds, if not thousands, of fires burned around the rim of the dome, colors dancing along its surface. Under the dome was an octagonal building with five-story towers soaring at each corner.

 

Harper did not know much about Lahorian culture, but he was sure the building had to be the center of power for the empire. That, however, was not the building to which they were lead. Instead, they were taken to the second largest building in the city. It was an arena, eight stories high with benches that could sit tens of thousands. The walls seemed to be made primarily of arched windows, each one decorated by a marble statue of a man dressed for battle.

 

It was to the practice yards and barracks of the arena that Harper and the men were led, while Warren was taken aside and led away toward the road leading to the domed building.

 

As he watched their leader being taken away, Harper hoped that Warren would be able to gain their freedom for, if he could not, the sea captain was sure that the Lahorians would soon use them for their own amusement.

 

In fact, the Lahorian stadium masters did not wait to see what deal Warren would be able to make with the emperor. As soon as the Inquisitors were lined up, the Lahorians started passing out wooden swords to Harper and the other Inquisitors. They were then forced to fight against gladiator veterans while the masters watched. Harper, sensing that it would be better to show off his skill rather than hide it, quickly overwhelmed the man sent to fight him. In return, he was handed a gold-dyed shirt as were most of the Inquisitors. Only the ones still weak from their crossing were given different shirts; some who had tried their best even though they were beaten by the gladiators were dressed in blue. The ones who were too weak to put up a fight were dressed in white shirts marked with a painted lion.

 

It was not hard for Harper to figure out what fate those men had in store for them… food for the beasts.

 

**************************

 

The aged Emperor of Lahore sat on the gold Rising Sun Throne, enjoying the pageantry of the court. He was dressed in gold and white layered robes, his head topped by a tiered crown so encrusted with rubies it made his head appear on fire. The emperor looked as much in uniform as his bonze-armored, brown-cloaked, ceremonial guards as they marched up and down the cavernous granite hall as the two “guests” were escorted in.

 

The Emperor Korish, twenty third of his line, had been looking forward to this meeting since a cleric of Kaal had brought to his attention that a group of men from the “West” had been captured by one of his scouting parties in the Desert of Flames, near the Oasis of Tears.

 

Back during the time when his great-grandfather was just a child, an army from the west had made its way across the Desert of Flames, half dead from lack of water and the constant burning of the desert sun. Still, the invaders were able to break their way past the border guards and take over three small villages before the empire’s Horde overwhelmed them. The survivors were sent to the capital where they were fattened up, only to go back into battle again… this time for the entertainment of the emperor, fighting against each other in the arena.

 

For the twenty years that followed, they proved to be the finest warriors to ever fight in any of the arenas spread across the empire. Then, in a last attempt to escape, the westerners had revolted, taking control over a third of Purrsha. During the three weeks it took to summon the Horde, the collective force of hundreds of thousands of tribesmen, the city and palace guards fought a desperate battle to keep the westerners inside the city. When the Horde finally made its way to the capital, it found the city half destroyed from the westerners’ desperate attempts to burn their way through the tightly packed buildings. With tens of thousands of warriors flooding into the city, it was only a matter of days before the westerners tried to surrender. But, seeing the heart of their nation and religion half gutted, the tribesmen showed no mercy. By the end of the fighting, the grand avenues and streets were lined by the bodies of the westerners, hoisted high on long pikes that ran through their bodies. There they were left to rot until their bones fell to the streets below.

 

Since that day the arenas had lost their luster of blood, and faced a decline in popularity. That tragedy was mostly mourned by the nobles of the cities. The tribesmen, however, continued to train their men in the arenas even if they lacked an audience. They looked forward to the day when an Emperor of Lahore would finally order the Horde across the Desert of Flame, to wipe out the westerners once and for all.

 

Korish, raised on the old stories about the days when the arena had been the center of Purrsha’s life, had dreamed that one day the arena’s former glory would return. Now, with a group of three hundred westerners captured and brought to Purrsha, it appeared that dream would come true

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Chapter Eight: The Secrets of Kaal

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In the entire court, there was only one old translator who recognized the westerner's speech and could confirm that the captured men were not one of the oil tribes that wandered the desert.

 

“Your imperial majesty, may I present Gamesh, the court translator, and the leader of the westerners… a priest by the name of Warren," the court steward announced from the entrance to the throne room. Warren and Gamesh approached the throne where two pillows awaited them. The old translator sat on one pillow with his legs crossed while Warren sat on his knees.

 

Emperor Korish, Chieftain of the Thousand Tribes, Shepherd to the Million Flocks, and Mouth, Eyes and Ears of the god Kaal, looked down at the man called Warren with disappointment. The man seemed fit but did not look like a great warrior. Half of his face was a giant scar that covered one of his eyes. The man looked as if his journey across the Desert of Flames had taken its toll; his skin was dried out and burned. Seeing nothing but a weak man, Korish was sure one of his own grandchildren would be strong enough to beat this … this “priest” in a fight.

 

"Why have you come here… is it to find out what happened to your grandfathers of old?" Emperor Korish snickered while he waited for his words to be translated and for the foreigner to reply.

 

When the man named Warren finally spoke, the old man Gamesh bowed to the emperor before giving the man's reply. "This man says he is a priest from the Kingdom of Jadoor… that he bears a warning."

 

"Threats!" Korish laughed. “The Lahorian people are conquerors who fear no one.” He did not add that this was true, except for the Dorrs, a people to the east who were closer akin to animals than men.

 

"No, your majesty not threats… at least not from him. What he told me is that two new gods have arisen in the west, throwing down the old goddess called the Mother. He says that these new gods are the threat to us here."

 

These words, instead of causing fear, triggered anger from Korish. The Lahorian people had become invaders, having been called by their god Kaal to destroy all foreign, and therefore false, religions.

 

"Ask this priest… did he not cross the great desert?" Korish told his translator.

 

Gamesh bowed to his ruler and then turned his attention to Warren, translating the emperor's words as precisely as the Jadoorian tongue allowed. After hearing Warren's words, Gamesh turned back to the emperor, bowed again and translated the foreigner's reply.

 

"Yes your majesty… he and his men did cross the Desert of Flames. He says thirty of his men died during a sandstorm."

 

"Ha ha ha… then he has seen the power of our god! No so-called gods from the east or west can dare oppose the will of Kaal."

 

Warren, seeing how the emperor was not taking his warning seriously, got up on his feet and began shouting. Almost at once, one of Korish's ever present guards knocked him down with a ceremonial spear.

 

"What did he say?” Korish demanded, debating whether to kill the translator for bringing such a dangerous man into his presence.

 

"He says you are making a mistake, your majesty…" Gamesh said nervously. Another of the guards now held a spear point to the back of his neck. "He says that these gods are different, that they walk the earth like the ones of old."

 

"Has he seen these gods?" Korish asked, not telling the translator that his life depended on Warren's response.

 

Gamesh trembled as he asked Warren the emperor's question. Warren, pinned to the floor by the guard's foot, turned his head to face Gamesh and replied with a long response.

 

Korish could see that the foreigner's response shook the old man more than the danger to his own life, as the color drained from the his sun-dried face. This time when Gamesh bowed he stayed bowed, giving Warren's answer from his bent position.

 

"Your majesty, what the priest has told me is hard to believe. He says that one of the two gods has skin that is whiter than limestone, eyes darker than the black pearls we harvest from the Sea of the Rising Sun, and white wings that allow him to fly. The other is said to be a demon, skin blacker than that of the Qopo, while his eyes shine with a white light. The priest says it also has a tail, horns, claws, and the fangs of a beast. He says, sir, that they are the Angel and Demon of legend.”

 

Knowing at once what his priests, the true masters of Lahore would demand he do, Korish stood on his feet. "Guards… you are to take the foreigner and his men and imprison them at the arena. You will then to go to the temple and take holy vows of silence. If you dare mention what was said here today you will be excommunicated and your souls served to the desert," Korish said, a dead tone in his voice.

 

The guards did not speak a word but went about fulfilling the commands of their emperor. When they and the foreigner were gone, Korish turned his attention on the translator, who still had a guard holding a spear tip to his back, the only loose end left.

 

"You are the only one of my people who can speak the foreigner's tongue?"

 

"Yes, your majesty."

 

"How did you come to know the foreigner's language?"

 

"My grandfather worked at the arena in the days when it held western slaves. He learned two of their languages. The common one was Centurion, the other Jadoorian."

 

"Why two languages… are they not one people?"

 

"In physical appearance they are, your majesty, but they came to have different lands… different kingdoms. Centurion is the language of the lands nearest us, across the great desert. Jadoorian is spoken further west."

 

"I see…" Korish smiled, convinced that the old man had told him the truth, therefore making the problem easy to handle.

 

Korish looked up to the guard who had his spear up against the back of Gamesh's neck and nodded. With a quick jerk the guard thrust the spear clear through the translator's throat, killing him instantly.

 

"Go join the others at the temple and tell the priest that I require that your tongues be removed.

 

The guard bowed and left, leaving Korish alone in the throne room. He stood up and walked to the private sanctuary that had been the original temple during the founding days of the empire. Only the emperor, as the eyes of Kaal, was allowed to enter and view what was drawn on the walls there.

 

Korish moved to the front of the sanctuary where he was amazed at how clear the mosaics remained. While he was the only man living who could view the mosaics on the ceiling and walls, the sanctuary was maintained by a small group of priests who agreed to have their eyes burned out just to have the privilege of caring for this most sacred of places.

 

Korish was bewildered that the blind priests always knew exactly when he entered the maze of tunnels and exactly where he was when inside it. During the first year of his reign, he had not been allowed to enter the sanctuary. The blind priests said it would not be safe for him to enter the holy sanctuary until they had studied him.

 

So, for a year the priests would take turns following the emperor around everywhere he went, including the bedrooms of his many wives. During that time the priests learned the sound of the emperor's step and the noise of his breath, even the smell of his body. To make sure nothing changed the sound he made, the priests required that the emperor walk in the sanctuary barefoot and only wearing a white smock.

 

Even to this day, Korish feared that the priests might mistake him for an intruder and kill him. He had never seen the priests carrying weapons, but that did not mean they didn't have any.

 

After ten minutes of walking the tunnels lit only by the torch he carried, Korish reached the Room of Beginnings. On the walls was a map of the world drawn in a rectangle. In the center were three continents made up of blackened earth, the lands of Mordel. On the edges of the map, across giant oceans, were lands that were green and blue with life. Fleeing to the western side of the map was a man with bright red hair leading his people, the Lahorians, to safety. That man was Kaal, chieftain of the Grau, the chosen of the Dominus, a living god. On the eastern side of the map were more people fleeing the desolated center. They were led by two beings… an Angel and a Demon just as Gamesh had described. They were also known as the Traitors.

 

It had never occurred to Korish, or any earlier king, that both groups would end up on the same landmass. That meant the map had to be incomplete… or else the two ends needed to be put together. The more he looked at the map the more he saw that both ends did fit together like a sphere shaped puzzle. This led to the first thought of heresy to enter Korish’s mind. For as long as the emperor could remember, the rectangular map had been the proof his forefathers had used to declare the world as flat. Any man who dared to say otherwise was judged a heretic and executed. Now it seemed that all those deaths had been pointless.

 

Korish wondered why his ancestors had not let their people know the truth. He could not have been the first emperor to realize that the world was round. The Emperor then thought of what he had just done… killed an old man and ordered his guards to cut out their tongues just so that the rest of his people would not learn that the "Traitors" were so close. Such knowledge would only trigger fear and unrest in his subjects.

 

Leaving the Room of Beginnings, disturbed with what he had discovered, Korish went down several more tunnels to the Room of Ends. There on the wall was the same map of the world, but this time it was the center that was green while the edges were black and littered with skulls. From the western side, the side where Kaal had taken his people, everyone was now fleeing into the open arms of the Dominus in the middle. On the eastern side, the side of Angel and Demon, everyone was also heading for the middle, but with sword, shield and ax in hand. They were met by the Dominus, greeting them with long sharp pikes.

 

"I see you have come back to see the truth of Kaal for yourself," the most senior of the blind priests said, as he hobbled over to Korish.

 

"Yes…" Korish nodded, even though the priest could not see him.

 

"The end times are coming. Best that you be prepared for them."

 

"Are there any more mosaics dealing with the end of the world?"

 

"No… only this room holds Kaal's prophesy and only your eyes and the eyes of the past emperors have seen it."

 

"A great war is what it shows."

 

"Is that all that the mural reveals? We have faced many wars before," the priest said unimpressed.

 

"Against the Demon and the Angel."

 

"Ahhh… against our eternal enemies. More evil, more corrupt, less human than even the Dorrs," the old priest nodded.

 

"Yes… for a long time I felt safe in knowing that they were supposed to be on the far side of the world, but now it seems they are a lot closer than my worst nightmares would have guessed."

 

"Evil is always closer than you suppose it to be. That is part of its nature."

 

Korish let out a deep breath, feeling the real weight of his crown for the first time in his life. "Yes… the evil now feels closer than ever."

 

"Then you must prepare the people for it," the priest told Korish as if he was giving him a holy command.

 

"It will take time, and I am so old. I no longer have the heart to send my men into battle."

 

"Then prepare one of your children for the task."

 

"But my eldest?" Korish said, confused.

 

"He is already approaching his fifties. If war is coming the people need a young strong emperor to lead them," the blind priest pointed out.

 

"You are right…. But which of my eighty grandchildren do I chose."

 

"Only the strongest, the wisest, and the one who would best understand the enemy."

 

"Many of my grandchildren are strong… few are wise however."

 

"Then work from a fresh foundation… I do believe your eldest son has just had a child… his first male child."

 

"Yes… I was beginning to worry that his seed could only produce daughters after so many years."

 

"Take this child under your wing and raise him so he will be able to lead the people in the final war."

 

"But my eldest is still the crown prince. How do I skip him in favor of his infant son?"

 

"Trust in god, your majesty. Pray to Kaal. I am sure he will hear your prayers and open the way for you," the priest offered.

 

"I will," Korish agreed, knowing full well what the priest was hinting at.

 

It had long been part of Lahore's hidden past that the priesthood would act to remove an emperor they did not feel was devout enough to fill the throne. Korish himself had actually been the third son of his father. The eldest had died of illness while the second passed away in a hunting accident. Korish had often wondered if those mishaps had not been triggered by some devout priest praying to Kaal. For the second time that day Korish felt his life was in danger.

 

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Chapter Nine: The Plan

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Warren, returning to his men at the arena, had to give them the terrible but not surprising news that they were to be used for the amusement of the people, fighting as gladiators.

After he was given his test and dressed in gold like Harper, Warren gathered all the gold-shirted men to form a new alliance. As far as the former High Inquisitor cared, the ones who had failed to earn a gold shirt were traitors, men not committed enough to the cause.

 

“We will be competing in five different games,” Warren explained. He had kept it a secret from the all but Harper but he had learned some of the language of the Lahore from the secret histories of the Church of the Mother.

 

“What are they?” One of the men asked.

 

“The first is that you will be paired with one of the blue shirts… chained together. As far as I am concerned I want you to allow them to die, so long as your own life is not put at risk.”

 

“Why?” Harper asked.

 

“The Lahorians believe us to be more than barbaric… let's prove that to them by showing how we treat the weakest of our own,” Warren explained.

 

“That is almost a third of our numbers!”

 

“The weakest third!” Warren insisted.

 

“What other games will they have us play?” Another man asked.

 

“If you have not guessed, the men with the animals painted on their shirts are to face the lions, bulls, leopards, bears, and such. They will not be trained as gladiators but only to serve the purpose of an amusing death.”

 

“And us?”

 

“One will be war games… teams against teams. The last is reserved for the best… one on one combat. It is only by winning a series of such combats that one can earn one’s freedom.” Warren grinned, offering that temptation to his men.

 

“And we are to allow you to be the one who gains his freedom?” Harper saw at once.

 

“Am I not the best with the sword?” Warren insisted. “Am I not High Inquisitor? Do you not serve me?”

 

“Yes, your grace, but how many of our men will die for you to gain your freedom?”

 

“That is why only the best are allowed to compete in one on one combat… the 'Challenge' they call it. Since the Lahorians do not like their champions dying, all that one has to do is yield to one’s opponent and one’s life is spared. You just cannot yield too often or you will see yourself fed to the lions.”

 

“How soon until we can compete in the 'Challenge'?” Harper asked.

 

“We must first make a show of ourselves… Considering some of our skills as Inquisitors I am sure we can give our opponents a death that the crowd will love.” Warren snickered.

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“The enemy is camped thirty miles east from here,” Darius reported pointing on the map. “With the bridges out, it will take them almost a week before they can reach the city.”

 

“Have all the citizens been evacuated?” Varrus asked.

 

“Yes… most of them were more than willing, hearing that the vanguard is over fifty thousand in itself.”

 

“They must always be in need of re-supply then. How are our raiding parties doing attacking their wagon trains?”

 

“I do not know… over the last month the number of reports we have been receiving from them has dropped off. The only information on what is happening to the east of the capital is coming from General Boars in Qul Hoth,” Caleb replied.

 

“It would not be a far off a guess to say that our raiding camps have been destroyed?” Philip grunted.

 

“Yes…” Darius nodded.

 

“What of your followers?” Philip asked Varrus. Since his and Jason’s appearance, an almost religious cult had been growing around them.

 

“You know better than to ask about that. Jason’s position is clear. They can help take care of the refugees, but not take part in the battles,” Varrus replied.

 

“I do not know if you will be able to keep them restricted to doing that,” Kristen spoke up. “They feel this is a holy war, not just against serfdom but in defense of their gods.”

 

“Be as that may, Jason will not allow such an order to be given. Nor is anyone at this table to encourage otherwise,” Varrus warned.

 

Philip sighed. “So be it… but at the rate your followers are growing there soon will be an established religion around the two of you. With that will come both power and responsibility.”

 

“All I can say is that neither Jason nor I have done anything to encourage them.”

 

“Still… they see you as messengers from the gods, if not gods yourselves. If you and Jason keep denying this, it will only lead to disaster,” Darius replied.

 

“If they ever find out that it is not true, the disaster will be greater,” Varrus counter argued.

 

“Let the people believe what they want to believe,” Philip grunted, tired of the argument.

 

“So how are the remaining arrangements for the siege?” Kristen asked after a long silence.

 

“Twenty-five thousand Centurions guard the city, another twenty in the palace, Labyrinth, and Keep. The Backdoor Fort has only five hundred men at the moment, but when we start bringing in supplies, we will send down more men,” Darius replied.

 

“How are our supplies holding?” Varrus asked Caleb.

 

“We have half a year’s wheat crop and all the mixed grain we bought from the other kingdoms, before the war started, is in the silos next to the keep. The whole kingdom is on rations but we can survive a few years,” Caleb said with pride.

 

“Unfortunately Qul Hoth is not in as good a situation,” Darius sighed.

 

“How much longer can the city hold out?” Philip asked.

 

“Since the city was allowed to grow without a wall or any other defensive structure, the only thing General Boars can do is set up barricades and tear down bridges. As for food, they are almost out,” Darius replied.

 

“Why was the city never evacuated?” Varrus asked.

 

“The Hothians, as they prefer to call themselves, refused to leave. Since we only have a few thousand Centurions there, it would have taken too much time to force the whole population out. We are talking about tens of thousands of the most stubborn people in the kingdom.

 

“Then they deserve what they get,” Philip replied.

 

“So they do,” Darius agreed as he stood up to leave.

 

“Meeting over?” Kristen asked?”

 

“Yes, it is late. Tomorrow we will need to see that the nearby farms are burned lest the Confederacy decides to use them,“ Darius answered.

 

“They are already abandoned fortunately.” Varrus sighed as he too stood to leave.

 

 

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Chapter Ten: Surprise Attack

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The meeting over, Philip made his way to Jason’s bedroom and found his lover awake, waiting for him atop the black silk sheets, his white skin almost aglow.

 

The Demon let his tail wrap around Jason's upper thigh, the tip of his tail within reach of the flesh between his legs, which he tickled. At the same time, he slipped his manhood inside his lover, fitting as if it were a key in a lock.

 

Jason, though, noticed something was different. "What's wrong?"

 

"Varrus and I have been… involved with each other… physically," Philip confessed.

 

"And?" Jason replied, not seeing the issue. Philip was the most important person to him but he still gave himself to his mentor.

 

"It was very… nice," Philip said with more difficulty.

 

"You want to sleep more with Varrus?" Jason laughed.

 

"No… it just has me thinking… how can you stand being with me when you have Varrus to love you."

 

"Why do you say that?" Jason asked, concerned.

 

"Well… from how he made me feel… he is a much better lover than I could ever be."

 

"Varrus is… very special. I enjoy being with him. We love each other dearly. It is you, though, whom I love most of all." Jason took control of his lover, lowering him down on the bed and, for the first time, attempting to dominate his partner. Soon it was Jason whose sex was buried inside his lover.

 

Philip, in surrendering himself for the first time in his life, sealed the final strands of the “bond”, allowing him to complete his transformation into Jason’s true guardian. As proof, a pair of gigantic bat like wings, covered in fine black fur, grew out of his back.

 

"I am now complete," Philip purred once he had a chance to catch his breath, folding his wings to form a fur lined cloak.

 

 

Jason made his way up Philip's body until he was face to face with his lover. "You are beautiful."

 

"You know what I would love to do right now?" Philip said with a toothy grin, after a long pause.

 

"What?" Jason asked.

 

Philip jumped off the bed and lifted Jason up suddenly realizing there was something he longed to do. "I want to go flying with you."

 

"I would like that too…" Jason laughed.

 

Since the balconies did not have room for Philip to spread his giant wings, the two men put on light clothes and made their way to the keep's central courtyard. Once outside in the warm early summer air, Philip stretched his wings and began to exercise them. A strong wind arose from them, causing decorative pots to fall over and break. Slowly, Philip's massive form began to rise into the air until he was fifty feet above the roof of the keep.

 

Flying towards him was Jason, his white wings shimmering in the bright moonlight, the force of Philip’s wings almost blowing him away. Since flying hand in hand was impossible, Philip held Jason against his body, rising, diving, and soaring across the night sky.

 

Having never seen the invading army for himself, Philip flew to the southeast where the invader's camp was supposed to be. Thirty miles from the capital, Philip saw it… a sea of red from the glow of the enemy’s campfires. It was a host, numbering over three hundred thousand, the sword of the East pointed at Qul Tos and the fifty thousand Centurions defending it.

 

“Look down.” Philip had to yell into Jason’s ear, the wind from his wings muffling the sound of his voice.

 

“I see… I didn’t realize an army could take up so much space.”

 

“This is not a normal army, Jason… an army of this size can only do one thing and that is destroy… not protect.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“As this army marches, it destroys, it tears up the land, stripping it of wealth, food, and life. What is left is a wasteland.”

 

“I did not know.”

 

“Varrus has tried to hide the truth from you, but I felt you should know what is at stake… This is not just a battle between kings and armies. It is over the lives and future of your people,” Philip said as he flew lower to get a better look.

 

He hovered over the camp, making sure to remain out of the reach of possible enemy arrows. With his sharp glowing eyes he noticed something strange below. While it was almost past the middle of the night, there was none of the ruckus that an army this size should be making, regardless of its discipline. Becoming suspicious, Philip dove for the ground, pulling back up at the last moment. The wind that followed after him uprooted over twenty tents in the process. And all of them were empty.

 

Soon, the few guards that had been left in camp began to surround them, crossbows in hand. Philip had to show great restraint to control his rising blood lust. He anger was being fed over being fooled by such a simple trick. Jason’s safety overrode his desire to kill, however.

 

"Where are they?" Jason asked once they were back to a safe altitude.

 

"I don't know…" Philip sighed. "My guess is somewhere between here and the capital. They are trying to make a surprise attack.”

 

Flying back up the road towards the capital, Philip searched for the missing army. Coming across three of the destroyed bridges on the road to Qul Tos, Philip saw no sign of the enemy. It was clear that the Confederacy was not using any of the main roads to reach Qul Tos.

 

Knowing he would need to search a wider range of area, Philip flew back to the capital to drop Jason off and to wake Varrus and the winged guard to search the countryside. Jason did not like the idea that he was not being allowed to help. Philip insisted that he remain behind while the others went searching. To make sure, Philip had Geoff and Logan brought to Jason's room with orders to keep him occupied.

 

While Philip and Varrus were gone, Caleb and Darius occupied themselves with the final preparation for the siege. The remaining farms close to the city were set ablaze. The herds of cattle, goats, sheep, and pigs were brought inside the city walls and penned up in one of the many city parks Varrus had spent so much time and effort replanting. Except for the milk cows and chickens, most of the animals would soon be slaughtered, their meat salted and preserved to save on grain.

 

Barrels of oil and quivers of arrows were rushed to the walls. The gates, already reinforced by iron beams, were closed with large stone blocks in position, ready as barricades if the situation became that dire.

 

Two hours after Philip and the others left, Varrus flew back, flying directly to the Keep and Darius's office. He had found the Confederate host. It was stretched across three rivers, crossing at fords Darius's men had not known existed. How the enemy had found them was a mystery.

 

The fact was, with the short cut the invaders were taking, the vanguard of their army would be arriving at the city just before dawn. If Philip had not noticed their camp was empty, the enemy would have had the advantage of surprise.

 

Knowing the situation, Darius was able to estimate how soon they would reach the capital. He sent Varrus out again, this time west of the city where twenty thousand Centurions were camped. Also, there was the newly trained Tosian army made up of thirty thousand freed serfs. They would be the hammer, while the city of Qul Tos acted as the anvil when the time came to break the Confederate army. Before that day could come however, the enemy needed to lose at least a third of its numbers against the walls of Qul Tos.

 

Returning an hour before dawn, Philip, with several of the winged guards, flew to the Keep. He had found the invaders just as they were crossing the Qulos River, the last barrier before reaching Qul Tos. He predicted that the enemy cavalry would reach the gates of the city just as the first rays of dawn appeared on the eastern horizon. And, just at dawn, a stampede of over a thousand horsemen raced to the city carrying the white flag of truce.

 

Since Varrus was occupied with alerting their reserve army in the west, and since Philip would not let Jason leave the Labyrinth Keep, Caleb was selected to represent the king and Qul Tos. Under heavy Centurion escort, he exited the main gate on foot and went to meet the envoy of the Confederacy.

 

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Chapter Eleven: The Offer

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Kyle opened his eyes slowly, finding himself in a large and soft white bed, not the tank he remembered. In a near panic he looked down at the now black skin of his body and the sharp claws extending from his hands. Sitting up in shock, he felt the short nub of a growing tail bouncing free.

 

What he was not, however, was big, tall and over muscled like Dorian had been and he had expected. He was only a few inches taller as far as he could tell, still well under the standard Centurion height of seven feet. He had also remained fairly slender.

 

When he finally let his eyes drift away from his body, he saw the tall, white winged figure of James looking down at him. “So you’ve finally decided to wake up.”

 

Looking up at his lover, Kyle saw the body he thought he was supposed to have; tall, broad, and very strong. “Now why don’t I look like that?”

 

“You’ve noticed I see.” James grinned as he joined Kyle on the bed. “Amplexor explained it to me two days ago while you were still sleeping. Regardless of which one of us is the Demon or Angel, the anima reacts to the one who is the protector. That person is therefore given the strength needed to fulfill that role. Considering that I led an entire fleet to rescue you, I can safely say that I am very protective of you.”

 

“Then what is supposed to be my role?”

 

“You, my little imp, are to be the receptacle for my deep love… my future husband.”

 

On hearing that Kyle arched an eyebrow. “What did you say?”

 

Reaching for the table next to the bed, James picked up two lovers’ chalices. “I want you to marry me,” he said as he handed Kyle the smaller of the two cups.

 

“But we are both men… we can’t marry each other.”

 

“In most places you would be right. Even in most of Domus the idea is laughed at. Aquanos however has always been a little different from the rest of the empire. Not to say marriage between men has ever been common, but every year a few dozen Famulus lovers go through the ceremony. It also does not hurt being able to pass whatever laws I want, being the ruler of Aquanos,” James chuckled.

 

“No it doesn’t. That does not explain why you want to go through with it.”

 

James took a sip of his lover’s chalice before replying. “My family can trace its heritage back to the early days of Jadoor as recorded in the old military records. During it all, my family has had two traditions to which they have been faithful. One, of course, is serving in the royal navy. The other was not to marry until after the end of our military careers, so that when we did start families our children would never have to risk losing their fathers to the sea. Well… since I am now a Duke and no longer an Admiral, it’s finally time that I marry. Do you have any objections to that?”

 

Kyle rolled onto his stomach, shaking his little nub of a tail. “No… none from me.”

 

“Good.” James grinned as he climbed on top of his lover.

 

********************************

 

The oily, mustached Count Sirrus waited on his white horse, snickering as he watched Calebos approach on foot like a commoner. The man looked younger than Rondus had described him, his hair a strange mixture of black and white and his eyes so blue they practically glowed. The man also looked extremely healthy and athletic for a man in his late forties. It was not until the prince came closer, however, that he saw the black feathered wings attached to his back.

 

"Your highness… it is good to finally see you again. I remember you were quite the swordsman, but I don’t remember you having wings, and I doubt you remember me," Sirrus said with a false smile.

 

"In fact I do remember you… you are the son of Count Vor from the Kingdom of Huron. Your father, the Count, spent time as ambassador here," Caleb replied spreading his wings out wide as he recognized the Vor habit of playing with their thin but long mustaches, their symbol of pride.

 

"I am now the head of my family, but I am impressed that you remember me." Sirrus clapped. "It is thanks to my time here that I was chosen to speak for the Confederacy.”

 

"And why has the Confederacy invaded one of its neighbors?"

 

"Invade? No, not at all. We are here as liberators," Sirrus explained with mocking eagerness. “Or has your time as a Famulus caused you to forget who the real enemies of the East are?”

 

"No… I have not forgotten the ones who have caused the suffering of my people. From what I have heard, you have been capturing Qul Tos Famulus and sending them back into serfdom."

 

"Famulus, serf, what is the difference and why should you care?"

 

"The difference is that serfs are treated as property, left illiterate, and starving." Caleb said coldly. “The true purpose of a ruler is to take care of his citizens.”

 

“Yes, but would the people not be better served by being led by one of their own and not some Legatio brat who only does what his Centurion puppet masters command.”

 

“I have no wish to be king. I denounced my claim to the throne a long time ago,” Caleb insisted.

           

“Such responsibilities can not be so easily cast aside. For better or for worse you are the rightful leader of Qul Tos, by right of blood. That is why all Qul Tos’ friends in the Confederacy have come here, to see its rightful king returned to the throne.”

 

"Amazing that you say that… back when Qul Tos was under siege, the Confederacy did nothing to help its dear friend." Caleb laughed.

 

"If we had tried back then, we would have been defeated. Now though, Domus is weak… thanks to our allies in the Federation. The Western Centurion Army has been destroyed. A good chunk of Domus proper is now part of a new and independent kingdom. With the Centurion Home Guard busy subduing internal revolts, the Centurion usurpers here in Qul Tos will receive no aid from Domus. Never in its history has the empire been so feeble. This might be our one and only chance to free ourselves from the Centurion forever. But look at you. Look at what are you doing… the crown prince of Qul Tos coming to an armistice wearing a silly costume. You are worse than a serf, more lowly than a Famulus. You are a traitor," Sirrus said with disgust.

 

"The Centurions here are not your enemy. All they want is to build a new home here." Caleb said calmly.

 

"Yes, but who can say they will not one day want to expand into the wine valleys of Huron, or the cattle fields of Tal Sith, or any of the other member state in the Confederacy?"

 

"If the Centurions had ever wanted that, Agamemnon would have pressed forward and conquered the entire east," Caleb pointed out.

 

"Maybe… but maybe he knew he could never conquer us," Sirrus retorted.

 

"Agamemnon was an honorable man. He respected our right to live our own lives," Caleb replied.

 

"Yes… but there is no way you will convince me that it is in the East's interests to let a new Centurion empire grow on its boarders," Sirrus said, a little of his people’s long-held anger against the Centurions showing.

 

"You will lose this war. You know that."

 

"Strange," Sirrus laughed. "I was going to tell you the same thing."

 

"Then why the flag of truce?" Caleb asked.

 

"To give that false Legatio king of yours a chance to surrender. If he agrees to march his army out of Qul Tos and the rest of the kingdom, and go back to Domus, we promise not to pursue him and his Centurion supporters."

 

"No other conditions?"

 

"He will have to leave behind the royal treasury and disarm his 'serf' army. He will also need to hand over any of the so-called Qul Tos Famulus back to their lords."

 

"Giving up the treasury would be easy, but to hand the people back into slavery?... no, there is no way his majesty will agree to that."

 

“What if we give you the throne?"

 

“I have already said I do not desire it.”

 

"The serfs we have captured say your Legatio king is kind and generous, that he wishes only the best for his people.”

 

“He is all those things, and much more.” Caleb nodded.

 

“Then imagine what future your people will have after we have broken the walls of your city, torched the roofs of your homes, looted the palace of its treasures, and crucified your Legatio king on the walls of his keep. Imagine that you, unwilling to accept the crown the Confederacy is so willing to give back to you, do not take the throne. Imagine what would happen to Qul Tos if a man such as I took it.”

 

The blue light of Caleb eyes flared with rage. "If I were to accept the crown from the hands of men such as you, I very much doubt I would be allowed to rule as I see fit.”

 

"You are correct. Even though the Silver Throne of Qul Tos is yours by right of your blood, your mind has been corrupted by your Legatio and Centurion allies. It will take time for you to come to understand the error of befriending men who should be your enemies. Until then you will need our help to guild you in how a true king of the east should rule.

  

"Then I refuse to be your puppet.

 

"Think about what I have said, Calebos. As king, you could help your people. If you die in this war, however, your kingdom will be sliced up and served to the other kingdoms in the Confederacy like a juicy roast. I know you don't want that!" Sirrus shouted at the former prince.

 

“Do not think I am a fool Sirrus. You are not offering the Silver Throne to me out of any sense of justice or nobility. You know that I am the only person my people would recognize if Jason is dethroned. You know that, even with the massive army you have brought into Qul Tos, none of the eastern kings are eager to spend the time, money, men and effort it would take to keep my people from revolting against what is nothing more than a military occupation.

 

“Jason is the best king Qul Tos has had in generations. It saddens me that Qul Tos' old allies can't see that," Caleb said as he began to walk back.

 

Sirrus, his face now red, seethed. “Believe what you want Calebos, but when we have destroyed your cities and enslaved your people you will come to regret this lack of foresight!”

 

Turning around slowly, Caleb faced Sirrus one last time. “It is you who will come to regret, you and the entire Confederacy. Jason is a kind and gentle king, but in the shadows behind him is a power, a power both great and terrible. Leave Sirrus. Take your army back with you, for if you do not, very few of you will live to see your homelands again.”

 

 

His promise made, Caleb walked back, his chin held high. Once back behind the safety of the city walls, Caleb shouted to the guards. "Close the gates!" He then extended his wings and flew back to the palace.

 

"Where's Varrus!" Caleb demanded as soon as he arrived in the throne room.

 

"He’s just returned from the camps," Logan grunted. Unlike true Famulus, the Tosian Famulus had not been raised from birth to handle the hardships of war. As far as the Field Marshal was concerned, it had been wise that the city’s population had fled rather than remain where they would be in the way.

 

"I need to speak with Darius at once then!”

 

Flying up to Darius’ office, Caleb found the Field Marshal shouting orders at his men. "What did their emissary have to say?" Darius asked when he saw Caleb enter the room.

 

"What we expected, surrender and leave Qul Tos or else," Caleb answered.

 

"What were the conditions of surrendering?"

 

“You are not seriously thinking of accepting them."

 

"To save lives I would," Darius replied cold faced.

 

"They want the treasury, us to disarm the Tosians, and for the Qul Tos Famulus to be returned back to their nobles." Caleb replied, keeping Sirrus’ offer to place him on the throne to himself.

 

"Unacceptable."

 

"I know… none of us want to send hundreds of thousands of people back into slavery."

 

"Then I guess we will just have to win this war," Darius sighed.

 

"We will. Your planning has been flawless. You have taken everything into consideration."

 

"It is the things I don’t have plans for that have me worried."

 

**********************************************************

Chapter Twelve: Sirrus

***********************************************************

 

By noon, enough of the Confederate host had arrived for the army to surround the entire city of Qul Tos from either side of the Tosian Mountains. No one was going to escape… not even from the secret tunnel that Sirrus knew had been built in the back mountains. Already another army, guided by Rondus, was moving towards the fort that guarded it.

 

Entering his command tent as soon as it was set up in the middle of camp, Sirrus began clapping hands with his generals. Never had they thought they would reach the capital without facing the main Centurion force on open land. Now they had the enemy pinned up in their city… a very formidable and wealthy city, but still a dead end. If things went according to plan, Qul Tos would be theirs well before the peasants that made up the eastern host would need to be back for the fall’s harvest.

 

“I never thought that old man would be able to get us here so quickly, not with so many raiding parties attacking our supply trains and every bridge torn down.” One of Sirrus’ generals laughed in reference to the turncoat Rondus.

 

“He has proved useful…” Sirrus agreed. Rondus had given them the locations of every Tosian raider camp. He had also led them across secret fords that only he knew. His true test however would be if the old hermit succeeded in guiding a force of fifty thousand men up the Back Door and succeed in capturing the Labyrinth Keep.

 

Just at that moment a Tal Sithian general stormed into the tent, his face flushed with anger. “What is this I hear of a Huronite noble being named lord of Qul Hoth? That was agreed to be Sithian territory!”

 

“Now, now, general… I think we should not discuss who shall have what until this war is over,” Sirrus said as he blocked the general from entering any further into the command tent. He did not want the general to see that the map spread out on the table already had lines dividing Qul Tos into chunks with the greater share going to Huron nobles.

 

“Then why have I just received a letter informing me that your brother has just been named the Earl of Qul Hoth?” the General demanded.

 

“Have we been spying?” Sirrus could not help but let slip.

 

“So you admit it is true?”

 

“All I am admitting is the failure of your army in capturing the city of Qul Hoth. It is something that is of great concern to King Joparro. My brother is there to help change that.

 

“Is that why your brother is giving contradictory orders to my men?” The Sithian fumed.

 

“Not at all general. All my brother is doing is surveying the situation and giving advice. If you want my opinion… you should take it, lest my king becomes too concerned and has me solve the problem personally.”

 

On hearing this, the general stopped cold… Before Sirrus had become Overlord of the Confederacy armies, he had put down a bloody serf revolt in Huron, killing not just the men but their women and children as well. Before leaving, he even burned down an entire forest just to scorch away the survivors’ supply of food and fuel for the winter. What concerned the general most, however, was the fact that Sirrus had also killed all the nobles, their guards, and their families in the area, as punishment for failing to keep the serfs in line.

 

“I see we understand each other…” Sirrus said in a flat tone. “Now leave.”

 

“Yes my lord.” The general bowed, escaping the tent faster than he had entered it.

 

Satisfied that all business had been taken care of, Sirrus called for his dinner. He had Tosian lamb chops covered with spring onions, with a bottle of Huron's finest wine, one of the luxuries Sirrus could not live without. After dinner, he made a short inspection of the growing camp and made a few speeches to his officers on the evils of superstitious beliefs to dispel the rumors that the Qul Tos was filled with demons.

 

Returning to his tent, he found a gift from one of the local nobles waiting, a serf who had attracted his attention. She had long blond hair, well-formed breasts, and cool gray eyes. Carrying an innocent country look about her, the Count had enjoyed her naiveté in comparison to the city girls he dealt with back in Huron.

 

"Come here, Lauren." Sirrus smiled as he laid himself comfortably on a pile of pillows.

 

"Yes, my lord," the blond woman replied meekly, sitting uncomfortably next to the Count.

 

Sirrus played with the woman's hair, taking in her scent. After the first night with her, he had insisted she bathe regularly. "You know this is your fault."

 

"Yes, my lord," Lauren said, keeping her head down.

 

"Being as beautiful as you are could lead the noblest of men away from his wife."

 

Lauren looked down at the hand that was unbuttoning her blouse and saw the tell-tale wedding ring on the left hand. "You are married, my lord?"

 

"A political marriage… nothing more. Here, I will take it off," Sirrus said as he took off the gold band and placed it into his pants pocket."

 

After that there was only the silent screams of a young woman.

******************************************************

Chapter Thirteen: General Boars

******************************************************

 

Field Marshal Darius had left General Boars in charge of the defense of Qul Hoth, a lakeside trading city to the east of the capital. He found himself not only surrounded by an army of Confederate troops, but also a mob of city officials. The latter were begging him to surrender, to prevent their beautiful city from being burned to ashes by the jars of dragon fire the Confederacy was threatening to rain down upon them if they did not.

 

“But we always surrender!” the mayor insisted looking with horror at the stake barricade surrounding his city.

 

“Times change and so do rulers. We cannot afford for the port to fall to the enemy. If the Confederacy gains control of the Qulos River, they will be able to use it to sail in supplies and men to Qul Tos, where the real battle is. It would also divide the kingdom in half, splitting up our garrisons,” General Boars shouted.

 

“But tradition!” the mayor and the city council members shouted as one. For centuries, control of Qul Hoth had exchanged hands between Huron, Tal Sith, and Qul Tos. Each time an invading army had approached, Qul Hoth surrendered without a fight. In return, the mayor and his council were usually left in place to run the city as if nothing had changed other than where the taxes went. Not even when the city was founded had the city had a wall, fort, towers, or even stockade.

 

This time, however, Qul Hoth was in Centurion hands… eight thousand against thirty, with a fleet of fifty armed riverboats. Boars knew he had enough men to hold the city and protect the mouth of the Qulos River, but having only twenty ships at his command did worry him. For, while on land a single Centurion warrior could easily kill or maim three or more of the enemy, there was less he could do on water.

 

“I will not surrender this city to anyone!” Boars shouted down the politicians. “There are things more important than your traditions. The whole kingdom is at stake.”

 

“Qul Tos is… we on the other hand are Hothians… men of the lake. What have we ever cared about our Tosian cousins?”

 

“What is this?” Boars asked confused.

 

The mayor sighed. If he were dealing with any other man of the east, he would not have to explain his city’s history. “We do not see ourselves as being Tosian, Sithian or Huron. We are our own people, and have survived as such by being pacifists. Look at our arched buildings, nothing like the tiled flat roofs of the Tosians. We even have our own language, more akin to Jadoorian instead of eastern Centurion. We may live in Qul Tos but the only lives we see worth defending are those of our Hothian brothers and sisters.

 

“Then protect them you will… for before I see this city fall I will have it burned to the ground. Your markets, mansions, theaters, and harbors will be turned to ash. Your people will then be scattered across Ares where your people will lose their sense of self.”

 

“You would not dare!” the mayor fumed.

 

I do dare… so if I were you I would go to those men and woman protesting outside and tell them to pick up a sword, for if this city falls, so will your people.” Boars said as he summoned two of his guards.

 

“This will not be the last we speak of this!” the mayor yelled as he was escorted out of the tavern Boars was using as his base.

 

Once the city officials were gone, a lieutenant approached the general. “Your orders?”

 

“Have the food and water supplies watched. Do not let a single Hothian serve a meal to our men. I will not risk the Hothians poisoning us like the Famulus did to Admiral Urrack.

 

“Yes general.” The officer saluted. “What of the protestors?” he asked over the faint shouting coming from the windows.

 

“Issue a curfew… between the mid suns. Anyone found on the street afterwards will be drafted to serve as a Famulus.”

 

“It will be done.”

 

“Good, now bring me my supper and a glass of wine. Dealing with fools leaves bitterness on my tongue.

 

“I will see a pair of lamb chops and spiced potatoes are brought up.” The lieutenant bowed before leaving.

 

As he waited for his meal, Boars watched as buildings were brought down with ropes and iron hooks, barricading the narrow streets, soon there would be only one path through the city to the port. General Boars was betting that the path would soon be learned by some patriotic Hothian, who in turn would let the Confederacy know. It would be that man’s fate to lead the enemy into a trap. It was the general’s fate that he would be the destroyer of Qul Hoth. But, as a Centurion, he was going to fight like one.

***********************

 

Lord Brashear, a stout man in his early thirties, walked down the halls of the palace toward the bronze doors that led to the center of power in Tal Sith. Inside, the young king Samuel waited for his most loyal of tax collectors. As soon as Brashear was granted entry, he went down on his knees and crawled his way toward the middle of the circular room before bowing his head down to the green carpeted floor.

 

“Rise, Brashear,” the king, in his mid-twenties, commanded.

 

The Earl stood up on his feet, but kept his head aimed at the carpeted floor. “Your majesty, how may I be of service?”

 

“You have always have been of good service. Your tax collectors make our treasury fat with silver, gold, cattle, and wheat.”

 

“But you have need of me somewhere else?” Brashear asked, knowing that had to be the reason for this summons, as tax collection was still two seasons away.

 

“The war with Qul Tos is not proceeding as well as we wish…” King Samuel began. “Huron thinks they are the only real power in the Confederacy and the King’s representative, Sirrus, has been using our men to do his dirty work.”

 

“I do not see why Tal Sith should tolerate such a situation,” Brashear grinned, face still down.

 

“We agree… It is good to have a loyal servant that shares the king’s thoughts.”

 

“How would you like us to correct this matter?” Brashear asked.

 

“We would like you to personally take over command of our men… also try to convince the other kingdoms to follow you. You just make sure that when the city falls… that it is our men who control the royal treasury of Qul Tos.

 

“That should not be a problem, your majesty. I only ask permission to make certain arrangements with the Qopo.”

 

“The Qopo? What could you have to do with such men?”

 

“The Qopo are not all that bad.”

 

“They are slavers,” the king said with disgust.

 

“Not much difference between our serfs and their slaves,” Brashear pointed out.

 

“Except we can’t sell our serfs… We also do not kidnap people to place on market.

 

“I will try to not laugh at the fact that not a few of the Qopo would see your majesty as the type of person they prefer to sell -- educated and well trained.

 

“Better that you do not… but tell me, what do you want from them?”

 

“Something that will get the other kingdoms’ attention,” was all Brashear would say.

 

*****************************

 

Once he left the royal palace, Brashear made his way to the Qopo embassy. The two story building did not so much represent the government of the dark-skinned men as the traders who had dealings within Tal Sith. Entering the room, he found it warm and dry compared to the early summer air outside, the heat of several fires causing beads of sweat to form on his forehead. The Qopo hated living outside their tropical homeland. In their legends, the Qopo believed that long ago they were the only people on Areas… that all others were invaders who should be enslaved. It was one of the reasons that there was a great deal of animosity between Qopo and Rapa. The Rapans, the Qopo held, had betrayed their loyalty to the land by leaving it. As a result, Rapan ships were always prime targets of Qopo slavers.

 

Brashear, however, was not interested in slaves. The Qopo had other goods that the nobleman wanted.

 

“Lord Brashear, how may I serve the king’s tax collector?” the merchant Dodofan asked.

 

“I have need of something special… something only you can give me.”

 

“I did not know that Tal Sith was short of anything.” Dodofan said, even as greed grew in his eyes.

 

“Yes, but it seems our ally, Huron, thinks they should have sole command of our expedition in Qul Tos. His majesty has sworn me to see that the Hurons are reminded that we are supposed to be allies in this venture, sharing both in the sacrifices and the rewards.

 

“And what do you have in mind?”

 

“I am thinking of something not large in numbers but formidable to get Huron’s attention.”

 

“I think I know to what your lordship is referring. I will have to warn you that bringing such cargo across the Inner Sea will be expensive.”

 

“We are willing to pay.”

 

“Good, so long as the war is over by autumn, then I do not see a problem.” Dodofan nodded.

 

“What is wrong with it lasting until winter?”

 

“That is when I return home, your lordship, and when I go home so does my cargo… that is unless you are willing to pay for my discomfort.

 

“How much more?” Brashear asked suspiciously.

 

The merchant wrote a figure on a piece of parchment.

 

Brashear waited until the scowl that had formed on his face had faded before replying. “Then we better pray that the war does end soon."

 

***********************************************************

Chapter Fourteen: Austrola

***********************************************************

 

Aegis had to admit that he was disappointed in the men he was given to lead. Made mostly of former Jadoorian conscripts who had not received their pensions, they were an angry lot. Everyone was a forced volunteer in this war between Manthannon and the larger but weaker Austrola.

 

For centuries a stone wall stretching north and south along the border had separated Manthannon from Austrola. It had originally been built by male slaves to end raids made by Jadoorian religious fanatics who believed the Manthannon worship of the Daughter of the Mother was heresy.

 

After a long slave revolt, supported by Jadoor and Domus, control of the wall and the lands east had fallen into the hands of the slaves. Since then, the population of Austrola had been a unique mixture of Manthannon, Jadoorian, and Domus Famulus, each living in their own separate city states spread across the republic.

 

Manthannon had longed to take her revenge on the descendants of the slaves that revolted and to add the Jadoorian and Domus blood lines to their breeding pits. They had never been able to regain control of the wall that separated the two lands, however. The discovery of an explosive powder changed all that. After their success at the Battle of Sol, the female warriors of Manthannon had blown large gaps in the wall, letting their soldiers stream in.

 

Now, with half of the large island under the control of the Matriarchs, Austrola was becoming concerned that they would be pushed into the sea as the Mathannons used their explosives to destroy their defenses. Centuries of building had been destroyed in a single month.

 

As it was, Aegis and Zophar made landfall at the far eastern port city of Lafalle, an old Jadoorian outpost that had grown into the second largest city in Austrola. There, they were met by City Proctor Ashafell.

 

“Thank you, general, for coming. The situation is dire,” the elderly man said in a near panicked voice as he shook their hands while still on the pier.

 

“What is the situation?” Aegis asked before Zophar could speak.

 

“As you well know; the wall separating our land from those damned Manthannon bitches is broken in over a dozen places. At some, we held them back; at others, we were pushed back.

 

“So do you hold any part of the wall?” Aegis asked again before Zophar could speak.

 

“Only the north and south fortresses that look out on the ocean.”

 

“Good.” Aegis nodded, his mind already calculating a plan.

 

“How many of your people have been captured?” Zophar was finally able to slip into the conversation.

 

“Fortunately, most of the western part of Austrola is only made up of small farm communities. Our long standing fear of Manthannon has always kept our larger towns and cities here in the east.”

 

“But that means the roads in the west have to be nonexistent,” Zophar guessed. “How has the Manthannon army moved so fast?”

 

“Over half of their army is cavalry. The rest, on foot, are sticking to the river valleys.”

 

“So they do not have full control of the lands they have passed.”

 

“No… I am sure there are villages in the west that do not even know they are behind the war front.”

 

“I see… That makes sense. They know that, only here on the eastern side of the island, will they face any real resistance. They are only taking over the farms and villages they need to supply their forces.”

 

Seeing that Zophar understood their situation, Ashafell let out a deep sigh of relief. “Then you have a plan to stop them?”

 

“No, but I know what you should stop doing…. Hiding behind your castles and forts. With their new weapon, you do not have the means to win a siege. Fight them in the wilderness, away from your towns, cities, and villages. It might be harder to supply your men away from the roads, but you would stand a better chance of catching them by surprise and pushing them back,” Zophar offered.

 

“Do you really think that would work?” Ashafell asked unsure.

 

“The general is right,” Aegis nodded. “Fight away from your walls. They only serve to allow the Montanans to trap your armies before destroying them. Following his advice will at least slow them down, as they will have to move more carefully to avoid ambushes. At the same time, you need to be ready to mount a counterattack. While Zophar leads the main army to slow the enemy down, I will prepare for the invasion of Manthannon.”

 

“Invade Manthannon?… are you insane?” Ashafell asked, his mouth wide open.

 

“It is the last thing they will be prepared for and might be the only way to force them into a peace settlement.”

 

“I see…” Ashafell nodded, his shoulders slumped.

 

“Now, I must go back on the ship and find enough men crazy enough to do what needs to be done,” Aegis said as he turned around and walked back down the pier.

 

“Wait a minute… you are just going to leave me here?” Zophar asked confused as he grabbed Aegis back.

 

“Love… I want to win this war. Not just to teach those slavers a lesson, but to show the world how good I really am.”

 

“Why can’t we do that together?”

 

“Because you are better at delaying tactics than I am.”

 

“While you are better at the sneak attack,” Zophar replied, not fully as a compliment.

 

“Yes… I am going to lead the counterattack. I can’t do that if I am busy helping you… you don’t need my help anyway. If everything works out, we will both come out of this as heroes.”

 

“Alright…but promise that this is not the last time I will see you,” Zophar replied, not letting go of Aegis’s arm.

 

“I will my love. If anything, we are meant to die together.”

 

“Then until we meet again,” Zophar said sadly as he watched Aegis turn back down the pier humming a Centurion battle march.

 

“We will.” Aegis waved.

 

After Zophar watched Aegis’s ship leave the port, Ashafell, gained enough courage to speak again. “Now general, how would you like our armies to proceed. Their commanders are ready to meet with you.”

 

“Lead the way,” Zophar nodded while his eyes remained on the sea. He knew what his lover was doing… trying to lead them both to greatness. The only problem was that Zophar never cared about achieving greatness. For Aegis’ sake, however, he would do his best to fulfill that destiny.

 

**********************************************************

Chapter Fifteen: Raids of Rage

***********************************************************

 

Philip left the bed he shared with Jason and walked into the courtyard of the Keep. There, waiting for him were two hundred of his finest Spawn, their red eyes glowing in the moonless night.

 

“Are you sure you wish to do this without asking Jason first?” Darius asked from his position in front of the other Spawn.

 

“We both know what his answer would be. This needs to be done for the good of everyone,” Philip insisted.

 

“As you say.” Darius bowed. “The men are ready.”

 

“Then let it begin,” Philip ordered.

 

As one, the Demon Spawn scaled down the cliff like ants until they reached the bottom. They then rushed through the palace, down the Silver Way, scaled the city walls, and entered the Confederate camp. Moving silently, Philip led his Demon Spawn to the south end of the camp where the siege equipment was being built.

 

With the rope and grappling hooks they carried, it only took three of Philip’s men to knock down each of the dozen or so siege towers, the wooden timbers breaking on hitting the ground. With axes, the Spawn cut at the ropes and chains of the catapults and spear throwers.

 

This, though, was not as enjoyable as what Philip and his children were planning on doing next. Soon Eastern soldiers began swarming toward the rear of their camp to fight whatever was attacking them. That was when the real fun began. Philip and his children made a bloodbath of the defending Confederate troops, fighting with sword, tooth, and nail, as they tore them apart.

 

Once Philip felt he had done enough to ensure nightmares for every single Confederate soldier, he pulled his men back to the Keep.

 

“It should take them a while to recover from that!” Darius laughed once they were back in the courtyard, his body covered with blood.

 

“It should.” Philip ginned as well, drops of blood slipping off his fangs.

 

Looking at each other, Philip and Darius saw that both of them were covered in blood and pieces of torn flesh. To them, these were not just marks of conquest but pride, and from the pride, came lust as the two men left together to feed another of their animal needs.

 

Looking into the courtyard, a look of horror on his face was Jason.

***************************

 

General Boars was furious. The Hothians were still refusing to leave the city even as it burned to the ground. As many of the buildings had been built over the marshlands of the lake country, the burning of their foundations had turned the eastern half of Qul Hoth into a swamp. Moving into tents made out of bedding, table clothes, and a patchwork of other materials, the Hothians remained, trying their best to ignore the battle as if it was not being fought around them.

 

That did not mean that the inconvenience of losing their homes was the only thing they suffered. With the burning of the city’s foundations, much of the sewage from the cement tunnels under the city had backed up, filling the air with a putrid stench and spreading dysentery among the Hothians. Just as thousands had died from fires, arrows, and the savagery of the Confederate soldiers, disease was also taking its toll on the citizenry. Still, General Boars refused to surrender the city to the enemy.

 

“General… the enemy is attacking the northern section of the city again,” an officer reported to the general.

 

“Take our men from the city center and have them push the enemy back out,” Boars ordered.

 

An hour latter another officer came running into the General’s observation post on the roof of the tavern where he had made his base.

 

“Sir, the attack to the north was a feint… the enemy turned back but only to press deeper from the east.”

 

“How far into the city are they?” Boars demanded.

 

“About eight blocks from the city center.”

 

“Damn it… pull the men I sent north back and bring them here. Bring up half the men guarding the port to reinforce us. If we lose the city center our forces to the south and west will be cut off from each other.”

 

This time the officer did not wait to salute but ran out to give the general’s orders. Three hours later as the sun set, the results of the day’s battle started coming in. As a result of pulling his men back from the northern part of the city, the remaining Centurions had not been able to hold back the second wave when it hit. The battle for the city center had been fierce, the fighting almost reaching Boar’s command center several times, but near dusk the enemy was pushed back to the eastern side of town. Still, with the fall of the northern part of town, the road leading to Qul Tos was now in enemy hands, cutting off any hope of retreat for Boar’s forces except by boat.

 

With the Northern road now theirs, the Confederacy could use it to supply and reinforce their main army at Qul Tos. This left Boars with one less reason to keep on fighting. But, there was the Qulos River… with control of it came the fastest path to the capital. So long as his men controlled the port, the general had a reason to fight on, regardless of the suffering it was causing the local people.

 

“Pull our men out of the western part of the city. We will focus instead on holding the center and the south near the port… whatever it takes to keep the enemy from sailing up the Qulos River.” Boars said at the end of his meeting with his men.

 

“Yes sir,” all of his officers agreed.

 

Just then, a strange sound came from the north, a cross between trumpeting and a roar.

 

“What was that?” Boars demanded as the sound disappeared up the northern road towards Qul Tos.

 

“I don’t know but I am afraid our friends in the capital will soon find out.”

 

“Well, we have our hands full as it is. Let’s just be thankful that Qul Tos is easier to defend than this swamp,” Boars said to keep his men’s spirits up.

 

That comment brought out a few laughs. Soon the officers left the tavern to return to their units.

 

That night Boars watched the sky as more balls of fire were launched into the city by the enemy’s catapults. If help did not come soon, then Boars would have no other choice than try to make a run for it. The only question was where could he and his men go if the capital fell.

**********************************************************

Chapter Sixteen: The Siege

**********************************************************

 

For many days the Confederate army did not move against Qul Tos, even after they had surrounded the capital. Varrus and Caleb watched with dread as siege equipment was rebuilt, ready to rain destruction on the beautiful city.

 

Three times, against Jason’s wishes, Philip sent out his Demon Spawn to raid the enemy camp. Philip soon found out, however, that Jason knew what his men did, as he would see them in the form of nightmares he had each night. Knowing how brutal Philip's men were in their killing, Jason was forced to confront the Demon.

 

No one witnessed what happened between the two but, when Philip came out of the room he looked like a tightly leashed animal. When Jason came out, he left with a cold but determined expression on his face and fled down to the palace, where he remained for three days. After the three days, Jason went back to a distraught Philip. They made up and things seemed to return to normal, but Philip did not again dare to send his Demon Spawn into battle.

 

Without Philip’s raids, the boulders began to fly during the third week, hitting the city's walls and the stone houses behind them. While the carving of the Angel and the Demon were damaged, the thick walls remained unbroken.

 

“I wish there was something we could do…” Varrus sighed as he watched all that he built being leveled to the ground.

 

“I was doing something,” Philip grunted, his body tense.

 

“But Jason…”

 

“But Jason…” Philip nodded his shoulders slumping.

 

“What happened that night…?” Varrus asked. “I could hear shouting but did not understand what was said.”

 

Philip, feeling as useless as a Famulus in battle, let his body slump another inch. “Better that you not know… suffice it to say I and my Demon Spawn are now limited in what we can do.”

 

“That must be… frustrating,” Varrus replied, seeing the pained expression on his friend’s face before turning his attention back to the city as it continued to be battered.

 

“You have no idea,” Philip sighed.

 

Seeing that his friend was occupied, Philip returned back to the Keep to once again implore Jason to release the invisible rope holding him and his Spawn.

 

After searching for a while, he found Jason in the basement of the Labyrinth Keep where it had been flooded to make a large bath. With Jason were Geoff and Logan, their bodies wrapped around his. As Philip came closer… he was suddenly hit by Jason’s emotions. It was only then that he realized that his lover had been crying.

 

“It will be ok, Jason…” Logan almost cooed as he rocked the king in his arms, Jason’s chest resting tight against his broad, blacksmith chest.

 

“That’s right.” Geoff nodded. He was behind Jason, his arms wrapped around the young man’s bare waist as he kissed the pale skin of Jason’s left shoulder, his head between Jason’s white wings.

 

“I… I… hate that I hurt Philip,” Jason wept.

 

Philip placed his hand over his heart where he could feel a slight burning sensation… the pain that had been many times greater when Jason had struck him.

 

“Now how can a fellow like you have hurt a man like Philip?” Logan chuckled, not understanding.

 

“I hit him… I hit him out of anger,” Jason replied.

 

“What happened then?” Geoff asked. Unlike Logan, Geoff was a better judge of people, having made a life of killing them before being bonded to Jason. He knew that for some people, violence was not part of their character. Jason was such a person. For him to have struck Philip must have been so opposed to his character that Geoff guessed it was tearing Jason up inside.

 

“He fell to the ground… as if I had knocked the wind out of him,” Jason replied.

 

Logan raised both his eyebrows. “So you actually did hurt him?”

 

“Yes… I did,” Jason replied.

 

Seeing his lover so torn up by what he had done, Philip felt his own heart break. It had been his fault. He had been the one to call Jason a child. He had been the one to tell Jason he would never be a “real” king if he could not handle the shedding of blood. He had dared to mock Jason and, in doing so, mock their relationship. That, Philip guessed, had been the real reason Jason had become so enraged as to strike his lover… The degrading of their love, being put in a low chair compared to the high pestle of a king. Philip had let his own ego get in the way, and had caused such pain for the young man that he had struck back like a viper at his love.

 

Tears now running down his face, Philip stepped into the water silently and approached Jason and the two Saint’s, going down onto one knee. “Forgive me, my love.”

 

Jason, suddenly realizing Philip’s presence, jumped from his Saints' arms and wrapped his nude body around his lover, wailing, “I am so sorry.”

 

“It was my fault, love,” Philip apologized. “I had no right to treat you that way.”

 

“But I hurt you,” Jason replied pressing his right ear over Philip’s heart.

 

“Nothing hurts me more compared to seeing you in pain, Jason,” Philip replied.

 

“But…”

 

“No! Jason… you are the king… my lord and master. Somewhere along the way I forgot who you are, and thought you had no right to tell me what I can and cannot do,” Philip insisted. “No king or lover should have to put up with how I was treating you.”

 

“But you are always right.”

 

“No, Jason… even as a demon I make mistakes… this was one… a big one. Please forgive me.”

 

“I do.” Jason wept, hugging his lover tight.

 

Having gained forgiveness Philip pressed further. “Jason… about my men’s raids, I think…”

 

Jason pushed away into the arms of his Saints. “No Philip… never again. I will not let you unleash such a horror on the world.”

 

Philip knew a hundred reasons why he should be allowed to send out his invincible Demon Spawn against the Confederacy, with Jason’s own safety being the main reason. Unfortunately, it was beyond Jason’s grasp of reason to see that “terror” was a proper weapon of war which, if used properly, could save more lives than take.

 

Knowing now that the leash holding him back would not be removed this day, Philip gave up on the idea, switching back to showing Jason how sorry he really was.

 

It was some time before both men left the pool, exhausted.

 

 

 

 

**********************************************************

Chapter Seventeen: Flee

**********************************************************

 

“We cannot stay here, Commandant!” Academic Horst shouted.

 

“I know… As soon as this year’s term is over, you and all the other Legatio will be taken by Xavier and put into his breeding program. I have no plans to let any teacher or student fall into that tyrant’s hands, however,” Commandant Oktor promised.

 

“But where to go?” Melkior asked. Do we flee north or south?”

 

“To the north is the Gate and the way into exile. To the south are the few remaining generals who are resisting Xavier’s rule. If I were running a training camp for Centurion legions, I would say we join the fight but I am responsible for children, many of them Legatio. We will move North to the Gate, and escape Xavier’s grasp before Xavier gets the courage to attack Lord Commander Grecoron and close that rout to us.

 

“But how do we leave without Xavier knowing and trying to stop us?”

 

“We collapse the waterfall cave and then march north, over the hill country before turning west to the Gate,” Melkior said calmly.

 

“That is across miles of wilderness. How can you ask us to walk so far off the roads?”

 

“I will have some of my Centurion students do your packing. They know better than you what will be needed.”

 

“But… no baths, no three hot meals a day, no…” Horst listed.

 

“No other choice unless you wish to take up the issue with Xavier personally?” Oktor warned.

 

“But once past the Gate, where will we go?” another of the Legatio Academics asked.

 

“We have no choice… we must flee to the east… toward Qul Tos. Even though they are fighting their own war there, it is the only place where we might find refuge,” Melkior replied. “Or do you think the Jadoorians will be more welcoming?”

 

Taking their most senior member’s lead, the rest of the Legatio nodded their heads in agreement. Horst was still suspicious, however.

 

“What is the situation in Qul Tos?”

 

“Jason… you do remember Jason don’t you, Horst?” Oktor began, enjoying the sour face the Academic gave on hearing the name. “Jason now sits on the Silver Throne of Qul Tos. Field Marshal Darius leads his armies while Philip is in line to become the Prince Consort.”

 

“And Varrus…” Melkior reminded the Commandant of the man he had flayed and sent into exile for sleeping with Jason while the young man had not yet been circumcised.

 

“Yes, Varrus…” Oktor sighed. “He serves as High Chancellor, and is acting as a steward for Jason while the young man finishes his education. He is also official mentor to his majesty,” Oktor admitted with some regret.

 

“What about the war?” one of the weapon masters asked. As a Centurion he was more interested in the war than in past disagreements.

 

“The eastern half of the kingdom is now under the control of the Federation except for the city of Qul Hoth, but it is ready to fall any day now. When it falls, the Confederacy will be able to send an additional thirty thousand men and tons of supplies up the Qulos River to Qul Tos. I do not think I need to remind any of you what kind of fight the Confederacy is facing. It took us over a decade and a half to seize the Labyrinth Tower, and from what I understand Varrus has improved the defenses of the city considerably,” Oktor explained.

 

“So that their supplies could last as long as possible, Darius has only about ten legions inside the city. Two legions were to hold Qul Hoth, while the remaining seven are holding the line against the Confederacy moving west of the capital.”

 

“How many men does the enemy have?” a Centurion asked.

 

“The Confederacy has taken a risk by calling up so many men, leaving many of their farms fallow. As a result, they have over one hundred thousand soldiers spread around eastern Qul Tos, with nearly half of them surrounding the capital. It is also believed that they have fifty thousand in reserve waiting somewhere. Our scouts have reported seeing them, but lost their trail early in the fighting. The problem the Confederacy will be facing is that, if this war does not end by summer, their men will not be back home in time for harvest.”

 

“But why must the enemy have control of the capital, other than for symbolic reasons?” Horst demanded. He did not want to leave one trap to fall into another.

 

“Simple… the city controls the upper portion of the Qula River as well as the crossroads for the four reaches of the kingdom with access to the sliver mines. There is also the matter of the royal treasury. I do not think the Confederacy is willing to do what we did, keep the city under siege for fifteen years while we ran the kingdom from the outside,” Melkior explained.

 

“And how many men does Darius have left in the capital?” Horst asked.

 

“Around fifty thousand,” Oktor replied.

 

“Why does he not fight them in open battle then?” Horst demanded.

 

“Because he controls the Labyrinth, you fool!” Oktor boxed the Academic on the ear. “Why risk your forces when you can wait for them to destroy themselves against the strongest fortress in the east.”

 

“But…” Horst tried to protest.

 

“Horst… Darius was a skilled General before he was made a Field Marshal so don’t mistake him for the political creature Xavier is. He will let the enemy become occupied with looting Qul Tos before trapping them with the seven legions he is holding in reserve… the old hammer and anvil. They fell for it once and I have not seen that they have learned much since Agamemnon defeated them twenty-two years ago.

******************************

 

Aegis jumped off his ship the moment it reached the stone harbor at the northern end of the wall on the border of Austrola and Manthannon.

 

“Welcome sir… I hope you have a small army trailing behind you,” A common guard saluted.

 

“Nope… you are only getting me. Trust me, I am all you are going to need,” Aegis boasted.

 

“If you say so sir,” The man nodded. “Shall I take you to Lord Kaplan?”

 

“Is he in command here?”

 

“He is the master of the Castle Rutherford. Command of the garrison however is under the control of Commander Lancaster.”

 

“Take me to the commander then.”

 

“Beg your pardon sir, but by custom all guests are to be met first by the ranking noble. If I were to take you to the commander, it would not only be seen as an insult to his lordship, but would result in me being punished as well.”

 

Shaking his head at western foolishness, Aegis let out a sigh. “What is your name guard?”

 

“Sergeant Glover sir,” the man replied.

 

“Well Sergeant, as of now you are under my direct command. So you have no reason not to take me to the Commander now,” Aegis said as he took out a scroll.

 

Even from where he was standing, Glover could see the red wax triangle seal. “As you wish sir,” he saluted, this time sharply.

 

Following the sergeant up several flights of stairs that had been chiseled into of the black stone, Aegis came to the flat roofed, two story castle. Passing several more guards, he was taken around the block shaped building to where a series of long brick barracks stood lined up against the high walls that surrounded the castle.

 

“Here we are sir… Commander Lancaster should be inside.” Sergeant Glover said, opening the door. Walking into the dark room, the only light came from narrow arrow slits cut into the walls. Only one man was in the room and he was asleep. Appearing to be in his mid-forties, with faded yellow hair, the man’s head rested on top of a curled map sitting on a table. A line of drool stained the parchment. Not impressed, Aegis walked silently toward the man until he was hovering right above him. Aegis took the scroll in his hands and thwacked the commander hard on the head with it.

 

“What!” The man jumped.

 

“Commander Lancaster, I assume?” Aegis smirked, his nose picking up the smell of heavy drink from the man’s breath.

 

“Yes,” Lancaster nodded, wiping the drool from his mouth.

 

“I am Aegis Augustus. As of now, I am taking charge of you and your men.”

 

“Says who?” the man slurred, his eyes squinting to focus on his visitor.

 

“The Austrola Assembly,” Aegis replied, as he handed the commander the sealed scroll. “In return for aid from Jadoor. Your leaders have agreed to place your military under Jadoorian command.”

 

“I know a Jadoorian when I see one. You are no Jadoorian,” Lancaster said as he tried to pluck a black feather from Aegis’s wings.

 

“No… I’m not. I am a Saint, a servant of his majesty King Aidan,” Aegis said as he pulled away.

 

“So the rumors are true… the King of Jadoor has turned into a little fairy,” Lancaster chuckled, only to be backhanded by the former Centurion.

 

“You will show a god the respect due him.”

 

“A god! Only the Mathannons and the Jadoorians are stupid enough to believe in a god,” Lancaster said as he wiped the blood from his bleeding lips. “All that gods are useful for is causing wars.”

 

With Austrola having long been used as the battlefield for the conflicts between Manthannon and Jadoor, Aegis was not surprised by the commander’s views. But, from what Aegis had witnessed of the power Aidan and Dorian both welded, if there were such a thing as a god, both men had rights to that title. “He is a god, one of the three gods of Jadoor.”

 

“You actually believe that?” Lancaster said amazed.

 

“I do and so should you. That is if you can sober yourself up enough.”

 

“I’m sorry sir. I must look like a mess,” the commander apologized.

 

“That you do, but I’ve seen worse.” Aegis chuckled. “Now take a seat… there is much we need to discuss.”

 

 

 

*********************************************************

Chapter Sixteen: Attack

*******************************************************

 

It was during the second month of the siege that the Confederacy began its real assault on the city. Men carrying large planks of wood rushed forward to build bridges over the moat surrounding the walls while their archers sent volleys against the Centurions watching from above. Still, even as the sky was nearly blocked out by missiles, the Centurions were able to send out volleys of their own, killing many of the archers and the men building the bridges. In the end, however, the enemy’s sheer numbers allowed them to place seven bridges over the eight-foot deep moat.

 

Next, siege towers, thirty foot high structures on wheels, moved slowly up to the walls of the city. The Centurions sent hundreds of oil lit arrows at the towers, but each of them was covered by thick animal hides, soaked to the point of having turned green. With dozens of men pushing the towers from behind, they were unreachable for attack.

 

It took almost an hour for the towers to reach the moat. While the towers were moving, the Confederacy sent their arrows against the walls to keep the Centurions down. When the towers reached within twenty feet of the city walls the arrows stopped so as not to hit their own men. That was the moment the Centurions had been waiting for. All along the two mile wall, thousands of Centurions appeared out of hiding. Dropping boulders off the walls, they blocked the paths of the towers. Four of the towers were stopped this way as the rocks jammed up against their wheels.

 

Only eight towers successfully made it to the walls, their drawbridges dropping over the parapets. Another siege tower almost made it, just a five foot gap between the tower and the wall, a boulder stuck in its wheels.

 

With eight towers against the walls, the Confederacy troops that had been pushing them from behind began climbing them and pouring onto the parapet to meet the long spears and crossbows of the Centurion warriors. Less than a dozen Confederate soldiers ever set foot on the stone walls, as the Centurions quickly overwhelmed them. When the Centurions pinned the attackers in their siege towers, they sent in men carrying heavy barrels of oil. Inside the towers, the Centurions cracked the barrels open and poured the fuel down over the dry wooden interiors. After dropping a torch, each tower burst into flames, black smoke billowing out from its top like a chimney.

 

During all this fighting, the Confederate generals were not idle. Under the clouds of smoke more bridges were built and additional towers sent toward the walls. With the Centurions busy fighting on the walls, the boulders blocking the other towers were soon removed. Where there had been eight towers against the walls there were soon twelve, sending hundreds of men to the walls.

 

In the midst of the chaos of battle, a wagon lead by six horses raced toward the city’s gates. It almost reached it before Centurion archers from the gate towers shot the horses down. Still, the heavy battering ram in the back of the wagon was now within a few yards of the gate with Confederate troops nearby. Soon the iron shod ram was beating against the heavy gate, the wood cracking. Arrows, hot oil, and boulders rained down on the men manning the ram but as one fell it seemed two more would take his place.

 

Three times the Centurions killed enough of the attackers to force the ram to be left unmanned, surrounded by the dead. Each time, however, the Confederate troops surged forward and took up beating against the gates again. As Sirrus watched his men's progress, things were not happening fast enough. Already eighteen thousand men were involved in the attack, mostly from the weaker kingdoms. Neither Huron nor Tal Sith was willing to risk their best men until victory was assured.

 

Turning to one of his messengers, Sirrus sent orders that the archers were to start firing again, even though the arrows would hit more of his own men than the Centurions on the walls. The commander in charge of the archers knew this and sent the messenger back for clarification. Sirrus did clarify his orders… he had the commander killed, sending a lieutenant to replace him. Yes, many of the Confederacy's own men would die but, then again, the arrows would stop the Centurions from harassing the men trying to break down the city gate. Sirrus was certain that the death rate for his men would drop once the city walls were breached and the Centurions crammed into the palace. He was so sure, he could already imagine receiving his reward.

*****************************

 

With his men engaged with thousands of Confederacy troops, the last thing Darius had expected was to see the rain of arrows darken the sky again, killing friend and foe alike. This time the Centurions, engaged in combat with the enemy, could not duck and hide behind the stone parapets of the city’s walls. With wave after wave of arrows falling on the city, the total number of people standing quickly dropped. Seeing that the city’s gates were now buckling, Darius ordered the gate guards to start moving the large stone blocks in front of it. It had become clear, however, that nothing he could do would prevent the enemy from breaking through.

 

“I do not understand how this commander thinks!” Darius shouted with disgust. What sort of general would sacrifice his men in such a reckless manner?

 

“You have to admit, however, it is effective,” Varrus groaned.

 

“Killing thousands of your own men to kill hundreds of ours?”

 

“With the numbers they have they can afford this blood sacrifice. You have to remember; we are not fighting against a Centurion… moral standards do not apply.”

 

“Well, if I ever get my hands on this leader I will see he is turned into a pin cushion…” Darius had hoped to hold the enemy back for weeks before retreating behind the palace walls. It was due to their sheer numbers, and total disregard for their own lives, that the Confederacy was overwhelming his Centurions.

 

Seeing that holding the walls was a hopeless cause, Darius ordered his men to retreat. The first to fall back were the archers, a few of whom would be left in the city to act as snipers, looking for any chance to take out an important officer and lower morale. Once the archers were in position, Darius began to call back the infantry using the few cavalry he had kept in the city to hold the city streets. The last to be called back were the gate guards. The city gate was now halfway blocked by stone. Even if the gate fell, it would have to be ripped out before men could pass through it.

 

After all his men were safe, Darius called in all his commanders to receive the casualty reports. Of the twenty thousand men who had been guarding the walls, three thousand had been killed and eight thousand were wounded… Not as bad as Darius had feared. With the Centurion talent for quick healing those eight thousand would soon be ready for battle once more.

 

****************************

 

“Where were your men?” the general from Forstine demanded, bursting into Sirrus’ command tent.

 

Not for the first time, the Count wished he could place a locked door to the entryway. “My men were occupied elsewhere.”

 

“On some grand field of battle, no less,” the general said with scorn.

 

“They were serving their purpose… just as your men served theirs. Thanks to them we took the city in a day.”

 

“But your archers… how could you have given the order. Hundreds of my soldiers died.”

 

“Hundreds you say… my count is over a thousand.” Sirrus smirked as he made his way to a chest, opening it to show it full of silver coins. “Tell me… do you value your men’s lives so much that you would have been willing to trade yours for one of theirs?”

 

“No… that would be foolish. You do not cut of the head to save the tail.”

 

“Of course… how silly of me. How about ten men for your life… a hundred, maybe a thousand? Is any number of your soldiers worth giving up your own life for?”

 

“…” The general remained silent.

 

“How about this… I give you ten of these pretty silver coins for every man who was killed in battle today? That is ten months’ wages,” Sirrus said as he took up a fist full of coins only to let them slip from his fingers.

 

The general’s anger was suddenly replaced with greed. “That would be quite a sum…”

 

“I think this chest would cover your loss,” Sirrus replied as he slammed the chest closed with a foot. Behind that chest were half a dozen others, just waiting to be claimed by other mourners.

********************************************************

Chapter Seventeen: The Nature of a Demon

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Philip paced around the Keep's central courtyard, thrashing about, trying to find a way free himself from the leash Jason had tied around him. He had not known it when he sent his Demon Spawn to attack the Confederacy troops, but Jason's bond to Philip had allowed him to see and know what he and his children had done. If Philip had known that, he would have put more restraint on his Spawn. What he had ordered however had been for them to terrify the enemy as much as possible.

 

Jason had remained silent during the early raids, even though his dreams had been filled by the bloody carnage of Philip and his Spawn. It was only after the third time, when Philip had forgotten to bathe and came to Jason covered with blood, that Jason had gone over the edge. He demanded at once that Philip never kill again. Philip at first laughed. He did not see why Jason was so upset. But, when Jason continued to demand that Philip control himself and his Spawn, Philip started to become angry. Yes, a part of him had enjoyed letting go and killing indiscriminately; his children had enjoyed it as well. But the main reason he had performed the attacks was to protect Jason. Philip was sure that, if his Demon Spawn were given free rein, the Confederacy Army could be wiped out in a matter of days. Jason, though, wanted no part of such butchery.

 

It was then that Philip found, to his shocked surprise, WHO had the final say in such matters. He had long assumed that Jason, with his shy and passive nature, would do whatever he said. However, it turned out that the bond he had with Jason gave Jason a certain level of control. When his lover finally put his foot down and demanded that he never send his Spawn out into battle again, Philip had wanted to go straight to Darius and order an all out attack. When he tried to say the words, however, he felt a noose tightening around his throat, cutting off his vocal cords. He tried for hours to give the command, even attempting to write it down, but when he tried to do that, his hands froze with arthritic pain.

 

It took a while, but Philip finally realized that when he bonded to Jason, a leash had been placed around his neck. It was with the bloody raids that Jason had been given a reason to tug at it. Since then, Philip spent hours each day trying to find a way around it, just as he was doing now in the courtyard.

 

Tonight, he was trying to circumvent Jason's control by practicing sentences that would not directly give the order to attack but only imply it. After thrashing about and catching his breath between fits of choking he gave up. As long as his intent was to order his Demon Spawn on a rampage, he could not give the order.

 

Tired and frustrated, Philip made his way back to the bedroom he shared with Jason. He wanted to try again and convince his lover to release him, if not for his own safety, then for the lives of his friends and Centurion protectors.

 

There in the bed with Jason were Logan and Geoff. Jason had turned to his two Saints for emotional support. Geoff had become the model of the ideal winged guard, totally loyal to Jason and dedicated to his safety. Logan on the other hand was madly in love with his Angel. What had started off as a big brother--little brother relationship had changed to where Logan acted like an eager puppy wanting to please his owner. He had already made Jason a helmet and arm and shin guards to go with his breastplate. When Logan learned that Jason had always wanted to learn the double-bladed sword he had made him three of them.

 

Jason had taken each gift with deep appreciation but did not know what to do with his most devout follower. He was flattered to the point of near embarrassment when Logan started writing love poetry to him, and then showed him his plans to build a giant copper statue of him to stand on the edge of the cliff.

 

Jason did not want to admit it, but he found comfort in their love making, it was passionate without being too serious. Logan for his part took pleasure in both giving and receiving when it came to sex. To have such a handsome young man find interest in him, he being middle-aged, made Logan feel younger than he had in years. It also gave him a parent’s purpose in protecting his Angel.

 

It might have been, that what attracted Jason was his weakness for large, hirsute men, which Logan certainly was. Jason enjoyed nuzzling his face against Logan's warm and hairy chest. After all he had gone through, Jason still had a need to feel safe, and he did in Logan's arms. This in addition to his safety with Philip.

 

Jason had told Philip all this, and he understood. If it had not been for the war and how it cut into Philip’s time with Jason, Jason might not have become so close to Logan. But it had happened, and Philip now had to deal with it.

 

Tapping Geoff on the shoulder to get him to move off the bed, Philip took his place behind Jason, wrapping his arms around him. Jason responded by turning around to face his love, his dark opal eyes a mystery of emotions.

 

Having known exactly what Philip had been doing, Jason looked up at him pleadingly. "Philip... stop fighting me."

 

"Jason... all I want to do is end the war... nothing more. Think of all the lives I could save."

 

"You enjoy killing too much."

 

"I am a Demon and before that a Centurion... so yes a part of me does. My strongest urge is to protect you, however."

 

"Philip, when you and your children kill, my children and I see it all."

 

"I am sorry, Jason... If I knew a way to block those images from your mind I would, but please unleash me," Philip pleaded.

 

"No..." Jason said with finality.

 

"Jason... more than your own life is at stake here. Tens of thousands of Centurions are here with us."

 

"There has to be a better way," Jason insisted, pulling away from Philip and back into Logan's arms.

 

"Jason, please?"

 

"No Philip... not again. I will never let you come back to me covered in blood. You are still a human being."

 

"Jason... I AM A DEMON! I am not a nice person. Even before I was a Demon, I was a Centurion. It was my job to kill the enemy and I have always enjoyed it!"

 

"No...," Jason replied, squeezing his eyes closed as if that would hide the truth of what Philip was telling him.

 

"Jason... I am a killer. I will always be a killer. If I am a good person, it is only because of you. If you were to die, then all that would be left in me would be my urge to kill and increase my children. You keep me human, but you need to let me be what I am."

 

"No... I won't let you," Jason sobbed.

 

Seeing that Jason would not release his control, Philip gave up and left the room, giving one last look to see Geoff return to his spot, sandwiching Jason between him and Logan. Philip then went looking for Varrus hoping to see if he could convince Jason to let go of his leash.

 

*****************************

 

“You and Jason still having problems?" Varrus chuckled when he saw Philip enter his office.

 

"He will not let me do what needs to be done."

 

"I always knew he had the final say in your relationship." Varrus grinned

 

"Is it the same way with you and him?"

 

"Oh no... neither of us have the sort of power over the other like Jason has over you. As his mentor, I do have some influence over him though."

 

"Can you convince him to let me do what needs to be done?"

 

"And what would that be?" Varrus asked.

 

Philip tried to tell Varrus but once again Jason's leash tightened, choking his voice off. "I... I can't."

 

"Well, it will be very hard for me to convince Jason to give you free reign if I don't know what it is you want to do. I do have a good guess of what it is though."

 

"What do you think it is?" Philip asked hoping that Varrus did indeed know.

 

"You want to release your Spawn on the enemy forces."

 

Once again Philip tried to respond but even nodding his head proved too hard.

 

"I see that Jason's hold will not let you respond to that," Varrus sighed. "Your children would wipe out the invaders easily... but, is that a good thing? Does Jason want to be known as the man who ordered the death of the nearly quarter million men who have flooded the kingdom? Will the Tosian people accept Jason as the kind and gentle king he is, if they know he has such terrible power at his disposal? Could there ever be peace between us and the Confederacy with so much spilled blood between us?”

 

"No one would dare oppose him," Philip pointed out.

 

"No one would love him either," Varrus countered. "And unlike you and your Demons, Jason needs to feel that the people love him... it is both his weakness and his strength."

 

"We might not win this war if I am forced to hold back."

 

"If there is no other choice, I am sure Jason will listen to reason. Right now a senseless blood bath is not justified," Varrus said as he went over to Philip and hugged him.

 

Philip sighed and relaxed in Varrus' arms. Over the time that he and Jason had been separated, Varrus had been the one Philip had used to remove the poison from his body.

 

"Is Jason with Logan and Geoff?" Varrus asked.

 

"Yes... are those two men not always by him these days?" Philip growled.

 

"Jason is confused and angry with you right now. He needs someone to talk to. If we were not at war, Jason would have come to me but he knows that I have little free time right now."

 

"Can I ask you to do something for me?"

 

"Yes Philip." Varrus smiled.

 

"Go spend the night with Jason and send Geoff and especially Logan off to do errands."

 

"A little jealous?" Varrus laughed.

 

"A little. I guess it is because I don't understand what Jason sees in Logan while I completely understand what he sees in you. You are his mentor and role model not to mention a fantastic lover. Logan... Logan is just his blacksmith."

 

"Philip...I know what Logan is."

 

"And what is he."

 

"He is the man Jason is using as a substitute for you." Varrus grinned.

 

"How can you say that?"

 

"Well, you have to admit that Logan does look a lot like how you looked before you became a Demon. Logan is very protective, just like you are, as well as very possessive. But he is also more relaxed and not so caught up into roles like you are."

 

"I am not that serious!"

 

"Philip, you were the lover of a Field Marshal and you played that role perfectly. Jason loves you more than anything, but with Logan, Jason can pretend his transformation never happened. He can be his true age with Logan. With you... Jason is always reminded that he is your Angel and of all the responsibility that entails."

 

Philip’s eyes dimmed. "He wants to leave me?"

 

"No... not at all, but you need to understand that while Jason now looks like he is in his mid-twenties he is actually very young. Being king, your Angel, and leader of his children is more responsibility than someone his age should have. Sometimes Jason just needs to act his real age sometimes. It is not like he had much of a childhood."

 

"I see.” Philip nodded as he began to leave.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

“The Labyrinth… where I belong, I guess.”

 

“You belong with Jason,” Varrus insisted, annoyed with Philip’s self-pity.

 

“I am not sure he wants me.”

 

Moving in closer Varrus pulled Philip into a kiss.

 

Philip, staring into Varrus’s violet eyes, could see how Jason had found the attractive man irresistible, and not just for his physical appearance. He had a way of dominating a person with his presence, given his height and physique and his hard gaze.

 

Letting a strong arm wrap around the back of his neck, Philip felt himself pulled into a deep kiss. He was then guided to the bed.

 

*********************************************************

Chapter Eighteen: Plaything

*********************************************************

 

Harper was in the fight of his life. The gladiator, holding the net, tried to throw it in an attempt to entangle Harper. At that moment the sea captain went down on one knee and reached into his boot, pulling out the dagger hidden inside. Throwing it with a flick of his wrist, it hit its target right in the middle of the man’s chest. That left two remaining opponents.

 

The next, armed with a spear, proved easy enough to dispatch. Harper struck the shaft of the spear, cutting it in half, the sharp tip falling down onto the sand-covered ground of the arena. This allowed his sword to deflect upward, right into the man’s throat.

 

The third opponent presented the greatest challenge of the three. He had not rushed into the fight but stood back, taking in Harper’s tactics. Still, the most the gladiator was able to do was make a superficial cut on Harper’s thigh before being fatally stabbed.

 

Harper proved himself quickly as one of the most popular gladiators of the games, and not just for his skill in combat, but also by his sharp looks. As was the common practice, both men and woman bought the right to his bed.

  

Warren was just as great a fighter, however his body remained scared and monstrous. Seen more as a villain, he left it to his Inquisitor to seduce the tribal chieftains and the nobility of Lahore, gaining the information needed to influence the imperial court.

 

The day when Harper defeated three men on his own, he attracted the attention of someone high indeed, the Emperor’s eldest son.

 

“You fought well…” Prince Rojan, complemented. As tradition held, his head was shaven and covered by a short haired wig, dyed red.

 

“Thank you, your highness,” Harper bowed deeply.

 

“Your thanks is not needed, only your gratitude. I have purchased your contract. Since a man such as yourself has proven himself skilled in combat I think you would do well as one of my bodyguards.”

 

“But I am a foreigner,” Harper pointed out.

 

“Yes, which means you know nothing of our internal squabbles. You will only know what I tell you and what I tell you will ensure your loyalty. There only remain two things for you to do.”

 

“What is that, your highness,” Harper asked eagerly. It seemed that Warren’s plan was working.

 

“First, you must surrender your body to me. Second, you must convert to the true faith of Kaal.”

 

“The first I will agree to, but as a priest of my own religion, I need to know more about Kaal before I commit my soul to him.”

 

“Kaal is the Father of the Lahorian people. He brought us from Mordel to paradise.”

 

“You know of Mordel… the land of death?” It had long been part of church teaching that those who lived a life of sin would be sent back to Mordel in the afterlife. For Harper, Mordel had always been metaphoric, not real, but now that he knew that other people, people as strange as the Lahorians, knew of Mordel, he was starting to believe there had to be some truth to it.

 

“What is Mordel? I know I was taught that it was hell on earth,” Harper asked

 

“Mordel is the cradle of life and the grave of death. That is where our souls are born and where they return after death,” Rojan explained.

 

“And Kaal was the one to lead you?”

 

“Yes… the red-haired man… for that was his greatest physical feature. In our holy books it says the demons of Mordel escaped to the other side of the world and that it would be our life’s purpose to stand guard against them.”

 

“And do you believe that?” Harper asked, sensing a bit of cynicism in the man’s voice.

 

“We Lahorians have conquered thousands of tribes, all of them claiming to know the true faith. Who is to say we are right and they were wrong.” Rojan shrugged.

 

“That sounds like heresy,” Harper warned.

 

“So be it… I do not believe in the nonsense of Demons and Angels, or even that Kaal created the Desert of Flames.”

 

“But there are Demons and Angels,” Harper whispered.

 

“What did you say?” Rojan asked.

 

“Nothing, your highness.”

 

“Good, I will soon have you freed of all this religious nonsense. Tomorrow you will be moved to my quarters and dressed in the royal green of my house.” Rojan laughed as he slapped Harper on the back.

 

******************************

 

The night before Harper was to leave to join the crown prince’s guards, another man had a visitor… Warren. A blind priest dressed in clothes that looked like they had not been changed in weeks walked in with the aid of a man with a withdrawn face, a mute by the look of him.

 

“Sit down!” the Priest ordered, surprising Warren when the blind man looked right in his direction.

 

“How can you see?” Warren asked, looking at the black voids where the man’s eyes had been plucked out.

 

“A true man relies on more than just one of the senses. Your breath gave you away, High Inquisitor Warren.

 

“How do you know who I am?”

 

“All of the worshipers of Kaal have been abuzz about the worshiper of the Sons of the Mother. Your faith is not so much heresy as it is anathema to us.”

 

“Because you know we worship the true gods?”

 

“No, because by the word of Kaal, you pose the greatest threat to us.”

 

“I do not understand.”

 

“We are exiles, your people and mine. You were led by the Sons and the Mother, traitors to the rulers of Mordel, the source of all life and death. We were led by Kaal, the man of the flaming hair. He led us to paradise and gave us instructions to return the people of the Mother back to worshiping the Masters of Mordel.”

 

“Why are we having this discussion?”

 

“Because we have use of you… we have seen how you control your men. We are certain you can bring your own people over to our worship of Kaal. Before you ask yourself why you should, remember that we have our own inquisitors… our Hounds as we call them, who we use to sniff out traitors and unbelievers. If you serve us well, we will give you leadership of them. Fail or resist and we will send them after your stench. The choice is yours,” the old priest warned.

 

*****************************

 

Just as he left for the palace, Harper was handed a gift from Warren, a pair of two gold cups, covered by the runes of the lovers. How Warren came by them remained a mystery to the former sea captain, but believing that they would have their effect in binding Rojan to him and giving him the freedom he so desperately wanted from Warren, he took the cups eagerly.

 

That night, Harper learned he was not to be a guard but only part of a harem, made up of both men and woman, who served his highness. He was to be kept in a miniature palace, where, in addition to his duties in bed, he would train the children the women bore in the art of western combat.

 

Unknown to him, Harper’s situation was only part of a game Rojan and his friends were playing. As part of a bet, the prince’s friends wanted to see if he could civilize the most dangerous of the Jadoorians through the art of seduction. For his highness, that usually meant showering the person with the incredible wealth at his command.

 

Led inside, Harper saw that the building was divided in half by an iron gate. On one side were the women, their bodies covered completely by long veils. On the other side, the men were stripped down to their loin cloths, each one of magnificent build, but with expressions of boredom on their faces. Being given everything they had ever wanted, they had been tamed and lost all ambition.

 

On the appearance of the crown prince, all the men went down to one knee while the women tried even harder to cover their faces. Smiling at the control he had over his people, Rojan spoke. “I am here to announce that I have taken on this Jadoorian as a concubine. I expect all of you to treat him with the respect my favorite deserves,” Rojan said before turning his attention back to Harper. “Ask any of these men and they will give themselves to you. Just remember that the same is expected from you as well.”

 

Harper looked at the olive-skinned men staring at him with their brown or hazel eyes. A few looked at his pale skin and light hair with curiosity but most feigned disinterest with deep yawns.

 

“But what about me!” a large and gruff-looking man demanded.

 

“I have become bored with you, Bellio. Go fight the bears you so often imitate,” Rojan said dismissively.

 

On cue the guards that lined the walls of the harem seized the large man and began to drag him away.

 

“But you said you loved me, that you could not live without me!” Bellio shouted, face red with anger even as he was led down the road linking the palace with the arena.

 

“I did, but now you are just a gnat... a small annoyance I no longer need.” Rojan sighed.

 

Harper had thought that Rojan had a true attraction to him. Now he knew that Rojan wanted a lover who knew better than to believe any of his promises or words of affection. It reminded Harper that he was not here to fall in love but to get close to the prince. That meant he had to hope Warren would find some way for him to outlast the crown prince’s infatuation, or else he too would be left to the mercy of the lions… not a fate he could survive.

 

Little did the sea captain know that Warren had already seen to his favorite’s future.

 

********************************

 

That night, Harper poured wine into the pair of lover’s chalices given to him by Warren. He then handed the larger of the two, the male one, to the prince.

 

“What silly customs you westerners have,” Rojan laughed when Harper explained the meaning behind the goblets.

 

“We are a queer people. I think you will find it my most unique trait.” Harper grinned as he sipped from his cup.

 

“Yes… I think you are right, that is why I believe I will keep you longer than I originally planned. After all, as soon as I become emperor it will be my responsibility to spread my seed among the chieftains’ daughters, uniting my blood to my peoples. I will not have the time to waste my seed on men such as yourself, but with you I might make an exception… there is no law requiring that I bed these women alone.

 

“Which do you prefer… women or men?”

 

Rojan let out a deep sigh…”Why must I choose. Did you not notice that I can have both?”

 

“But after you are crowned…?”

 

“After I am Emperor of Lahore, my responsibilities are clear… to bind the people to me by using my seed to produce blood kin. After I am Emperor… that is all I will do,” Rojan said with both sadness and regret.

 

“Your highness?” Harper asked, confused.

 

“Nothing… just be careful when you are around the clerics… they do not care for me. They will hate you,” Rojan warned.

 

Coming from Jadoor, Harper knew about the kind of power struggles that could exist between church and crown. He had to work hard not to burst into laughter, finding that even in this strange land some things never changed.

 

“You laugh at my feebleness!” Rojan accused when his eyes caught sight of the growing grin on Harper’s face.”

 

“No… one day I will have to tell you about the King of Jadoor and the Church of the Mother.”

 

“Yes… one day you will, for once I am emperor I plan to raise the Horde of Lahore to crush your people and bring them into the worship of Kaal. Better I know what kind of people I mean to conquer.”

 

“Is there not enough war?”

 

“It is war that unites my people. Less than one out of twenty is of the original tribes, the rest are the people we have conquered over the centuries. Do not worry these about other tribes. Once they accept Kaal, they are not treated any differently than true Lahorians. That is why I must spread my seed among all the tribes. It gives the illusion that we are all of one blood, that and the two oaths that unite us.”

 

“What are they?” Harper asked.

 

“To serve the will of Kaal and to bring the blood of all people to his altar,” Rojan replied.

 

“In Jadoor… it is to follow the plan of the Mother as given to her Sons and to punish unbelievers until the time of return.”

 

“Return?” Rojan asked, confused. “Do you mean the return of your gods?”

 

“That is the great theological question… The Inquisitors believed that it meant the return to the old sexual practices and the end of the long feud between Jadoor and Domus.”

 

“And others?”

 

“High Priest Niles believed it would also mean an end to the conflict between Jadoor and Domus but with Jadoor crushing Domus once and for all… the genocide of the Legatio and Centurion people. Only then did Niles believe the Mother would return.

 

“Is that all?”

 

“Well, most people believed as Niles, that the return was the return of the Mother to us. A now long dead sect held that the “return” would be the return of our people back to Mordel… the land of death, in some final war.”

Our people also believe that there will be a final war, between the Dominus against the traitors and it would be during those times that Kaal would return to us to lead the faithful back home.”

 

“And where is home?”

”… Mordel.” Rojan shrugged.

 

“So both our people believe in the land of death?”

 

“You may believe it is the land of death, but our clerics insist that it is also the source of all life and that we will one day go back to that source.”

 

“So our religions are the opposite of each other… for you Mordel is Heaven, while for us it is Hell.”

 

“Many of the people we have conquered believed such… I recommend that you do as they did once they were conquered by us… give up such beliefs,” Rojan said darkly.

 

“As your highness wishes,” Harper replied with an attempt at meekness.

 

“This is your life at stake… our clerics can be just as inventive as you Inquisitors are rumored to be when it comes to the art of persuasion.”

 

“I understand, your highness, and I am in your debt for your warning.” Harper bowed.

 

Rojan, now bored of discussing theology, looked hard at his new addition to his harem. “Yes, you are my blue eyed man… and I plan to take payment from your flesh.”

 

Harper felt the crown prince's hands slip under his shirt, exploring his chest and abdomen. Understanding what his highness wanted, Harper lifted his shirt off his body, revealing his muscled chest, dusted with dark hair. He let the prince climb on top of him, the man almost giggling with a child-like excitement on opening a present.

 

That night Harper did his best to make sure that Prince Rojan’s ego was satisfied, but unlike the time he had seduced Admiral James, the smiles and moans he made were entirely faked. As a lover, the prince was clumsy, almost a limp doll in the amount of effort he put forth. He had to remove each article of clothing, control the placing of each hand. If it were not for the size of Rojan’s harem, he would have guessed him to be a virgin or a eunuch.

 

As soon as the prince was finished with him, Harper was left alone. He thought that Warren had better find a way for him to escape the prince’s mercurial passion.

***********************************************************

Chapter Twenty: The Blue Devils

***********************************************************

 

Everything happened as Armageddon expected. Three of the four rebellious generals agreed to meet him in the village of Dor… halfway between Domus and the border of the new duchy of Aquanos to discuss a settlement. Each side agreed to bring only five legions with them for protection, leaving the rebels with only fifteen thousand men, with the sympathetic Famulus, to hold their supply lines.

 

In the weeks before the meeting, Armageddon moved his force of twenty five thousand men at an easy pace, to ensure that the rebellious generals arrived first. When he and his newly named Blue Devil legions, named so for the color of their skin, proof of their addiction to anima, finally arrived at the meeting spot, the village was surrounded by rows of sharp stakes, a hastily built stockade in the center. The Field Marshal of Demons smiled on seeing the enemy’s legions crammed into such a small space.

 

While the rebels had been busy fortifying themselves, Armageddon had sent the rest of his men on a forced march southward so that by the time he arrived, his men would be ready to retake control of the border, cutting off the support the Aquanos Famulus had been giving to the rebel Centurions.

 

Within a week after the start of the talks, the rebellious generals found out what Armageddon had done, but that just led to more arguing amongst themselves. One was unwilling to leave the relative safety of the fortifications his men had spent so much time to set up, while the other two tried to flee in the night only to be caught in a major battle with Armageddon’s men, who slowly pushed them back into the village. By then, their numbers had been cut in half.

 

Armageddon sent the rebel generals one final offer… surrender themselves and their officers, and the rest of the surviving men would be allowed safe passage to the Gate.

 

Once again the Field Marshal of Demons was not disappointed. The bonds encouraged between the lower ranks and their superiors, made it highly unlikely that the privates, corporals, and sergeants would allow their leaders to give themselves up.

 

And so, on the day after his offer was rejected, Armageddon sent his Blue Devils against the rebel Centurions in the fortified village. Even with a two to one advantage in numbers, the rebel Centurions fought that much harder knowing they were facing their own death. As a result, it was not until the sun was past its peak that the fate of the battle was decided.

 

Three special units, led by commanders Armageddon had selected personally, succeeded in capturing the rebellious generals alive and unharmed, along with most of their staff. The resulting vacuum of authority resulted in a loss of coordination between the different rebel legions, tipping the battle into Armageddon’s favor. At the end, less than three hundred of the rebels were left to surrender. Those that did soon found out that the Field Marshal of Demons and his Blue Devils, took no prisoners as they were sliced up, one by one, their Anima handed out as prizes of battle.

 

Now back in the capital, with the civil war in Domus almost over, Armageddon dressed himself in his blue lacquered armor and horned helmet to face the three generals. Taken to the Arena of Judgment, as was their right as officers, the Generals were to face Armageddon in single combat.

 

With the vast amounts of anima he had consumed, Armageddon was stronger than any Centurion in living history. His blue skin was taut due to the mass of muscles that covered his body. Added to his towering height and blue glowing eyes, the Field Marshal of Demons truly looked less than human.

 

In addition to giving him great strength, the anima Armageddon had consumed also gave him the natural skills and talents of all the Centurions whose life force he had consumed. If all the marks earned by those men in life were tattooed onto Armageddon’s back, the artist would have been forced to use the Field Marshal’s entire body and still would not have had enough space.

 

As Armageddon faced the generals one by one in the arena, each one fell to his strength and skill. Not even the hardened steel the men wielded could withstand the terrible swings he made with his double-bladed sword, hacking the rebels into a pile of mismatched puzzle pieces but leaving their anima cores intact, gifts to be presented to his master.

           

Only three men of importance resisted the emperor. One, General Dodain, the general who had refused to attend the settlement meeting that proved to be his comrades’ doom, had disbanded his legions in the south, going into hiding in Aquanos.

 

The second was the Commandant of the Academy, having refused to hand over his Legatio students for Xavier’s breeding plans. In the last report the emperor heard from his agents, the waterfall cave entrance to the Academy had been caved in to keep his men out.

 

Finally, and to Xavier’s most troublesome annoyance, was the insistant neutrality of the Lord Commander of the Gate. Grecoron's forces continued to stand aside, allowing more traitors to escape through the mountain pass. That rebellion was Xavier’s next target.

 

The Emperor was going to send one final warning in the form of his creature. Already ten legions loyal to his majesty had begun to surround the Gate, cutting off the fortified mountain pass from its supplies, and preventing more Famulus or any of the few remaining free Legatio from escaping by that route. With the only original Field Marshal, Darius, remaining, Xavier hoped that Grecoron would finally see that his position was hopeless.

 

Those were the things occupying the emperor’s mind when Armageddon left the arena, having finished off the last of the generals and cradling the three anima cores in his left arm.

 

Leaving his box seat, Xavier joined his creature, taking him in hand, bringing him back to his half-built palace to personally wash the blood from his Demon’s body and to partake in joining the rebel generals’ anima with his own.

 

Stepping out of the now red-stained water, Xavier walked to the table where Armageddon had left the cores. Taking a knife, he cut a small circular opening in each of the three bulbous organs, from which he pored out the precious blue elixir into a pair of silver lover goblets from Qul Tos.

 

By accident, or by some subconscious guidance, when Xavier walked to where Armageddon was drying himself, he handed his creature the larger goblet of the male aggressor, instead of the smaller, more slender cup of the female. Armageddon, however, did take notice.

 

Once both had drained their cups, their lips stained with the blue-glowing fluid, Armageddon took on the role the goblet he had been given symbolized. Nearly charging his emperor, he knocked Xavier’s goblet out of the emperor’s hand, dropping his own in the process. Soon he had Xavier pinned against a concrete pillar not yet sheathed in marble.

 

To Xavier’s own shock, he did not resist, his eyes frozen on the small goblet on the floor that moments ago had been in his hand. As Xavier felt his creature rip the clothes off his body and bend him over, he could not help but wonder if the goblets had put both of them under their sorcery. For the first time in his life, Xavier felt weak in the hands of a lover… and that scared him.

 

After he was done, Armageddon left Xavier on the floor, the resulting bruises soon disappearing from the emperor’s anima-rich body. The Field Marshal of Demons dressed back in his armor, strapped his curved double-bladed sword behind his back.

 

“Where will you send me now?” Armageddon asked, looking down at his master as he squirmed on the floor.

 

Xavier did not know how to respond he was so filled with both anger and fear. “You… you… you…” the emperor exclaimed in a weakening whisper.

 

Sensing his master’s unease and the danger it posed to him, Armageddon bent down on one knee, his head bowed to the floor. “I am your loyal servant.”

 

Xavier stopped writhing on the floor, attempting to stand up, only to feel a sharp pain in his innards, forcing him onto his knees.

 

Unable to stand, he remained on his knees, forced to raise his head to stare at the blue face of his demon. “Go to the Gate and crush Lord Commander Grecoron and his men!” he spat in pain.

 

“Good… Grecoron will be more of a challenge,” Armageddon grinned as if showing approval for a well-behaved child’s behavior, as he looked down on his quivering master. For a millennium, armies coming from the north had smashed themselves against the Gate. Now Armageddon was being presented with a chance to attack from the south, something never done in the centuries of long and relative peacefulness that had existed in Domus. That was, of course, before Xavier had declared himself emperor.

 

The Lord Commander was well protected by his men, Centurions whose oaths were to no Field Marshal but to the defense of the Gate itself. It would be interesting to see how such men would fight when facing Armageddon’s Blue Devils, men with only one rule of combat… obedience. “When do I leave?”

 

Trying his best to not show the sharp burning that was nearly overwhelming on his face, Xavier wiped the sweat from his forehead before responding. “Tomorrow… I want the Gate closed before any more traitors can make their way north and escape. Once they are trapped inside our borders, we can deal with them at our leisure”

 

“Then I should go at once,” Armageddon replied, standing and readying to leave.

 

“Go!” Xavier shouted, wanting his creature out of his sight, fearing what would happen if he let himself show any more weakness than he already had. He knew what had happened… what was supposed to be the satisfying of both his and his creature’s mutual anima induced lust had instead been a rape… something nearly unheard of between Centurions… Not that it did not happen, however it was a taboo subject. Any Centurion claiming rape would be seen as a Famulus or Legatio. Such dishonor silenced most lips and would silence Xavier’s as well. How could he, as emperor, dare claim that he had allowed his creature to take physical advantage of him? Even with just this first taste of fear toward his own creation… Xavier dared not make a move against Armageddon, for deep in the back of his mind he remembered his early days in the Home Guard. Back then he knew which of his superiors he could not cross. Now, after years as a Field Marshal, Xavier had a new superior. What an irony that he was the same person who had removed the last man who dared tried to become Xavier’s master… Senator Perils.

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Chapter Twenty-One: Death Trance

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“Come here Har-per…” Rojan said, finding Captain Harper’s name difficult to pronounce. After a week of making the sea captain and inquisitor his new lover, the crown prince had awarded his body guard by calling him by name.

 

“Yes, your highness,” Harper replied. He was dressed in a gold thread loincloth with gold bracelets and armbands around his arms and legs, giving off a light tinkling sound with each movement he made. Harper did not know if it was the face paint Rojan had his servants decorate him with, or the leers and whispers the crown prince’s friends made as they watched him and the prince engaged in bed, that enraged him more.

 

The middle-aged prince ran a hand down the war-trained body of the sea captain’s chest, now shaved and scented with oils. “Please pour me a cup of that wine our raiders brought back from the west.

 

“Huron Gold your majesty, the finest of that kingdom’s whites,” Harper replied, knowing that the prince enjoyed such tidbits of information, as he would later use them to impress the lesser nobles who made up his circle of friends. Still, it was not uncommon for them to feign ignorance when in his highness’s presence. And, that did not mean the prince did not take advantage of Harper’s own lack of knowledge of the lands to the east.

 

Such incidents usually happened around dinner, when the prince would have the cooks prepare some of the more exotic Lahorian dishes… salads made of plants that would trigger vomiting, usually served during feasts that would last days, to allow guest to empty their stomachs just so they could eat more. Peppers, usually meant to be eaten as acts of courage, would often be slipped into Harper’s food, leaving his face flushed red, tears running down his cheeks. Once, after he was served a strange fruit, he spent an entire night sitting on the first flushing toilet he had ever seen.

 

Even though it had only been a few weeks, Harper felt his torment had lasted months, as each day seem to take on the same pattern.

 

Today, however, he received a package; a white paper-wrapped box, marked by the small red ink emblem of the flamed sword, the seal of the Inquisitors. Letting a finger trace the outline of the mark, Harper thought back fondly to the days when the sign of the Inquisitors triggered respect from those who saw it, something Rojan had stripped from him. As his fingers followed the near perfect outline of the sword, Harper knew it had not been hand drawn but stamped, and that only Warren still wore such a signet ring.

 

After staring at the package until he had lost all track of time, Harper finally opened it, taking care not to tear the white paper. Inside was only a small vial, filled with a white crystallized powder. He held the vial up to the sun, the crystals inside ablaze with a rainbow of light. Suddenly, knowing he had some sort of poison in his hand, he slipped it under his loincloth, feeling the cold vial burn against his skin. His heart nearly beat out of his chest because of his fear.

 

Warren had promised Harper a way out of his predicament, but how was he to gain his deliverance by dealing death to the prince… but then that might have been Warren’s intent.

 

Before Rojan and his circle of friends were to arrive at the harem, Harper, fearing the slow death the Lahorians would give him for assassinating the prince, decided he would add the poison to both goblets, hoping the poison Warren had given him was fast and painless. It was, therefore, with great care that he emptied the vial into the bottle of Huron Gold.

 

As a man changed by Warren’s methods, methods that insured the loyalty of his Inquisitors, Harper had long known that one day he would be asked to give his life for the “cause”. Every Inquisitor was taught a twisted art of meditation, one that kept the mind focused only on the “cause” regardless of fear. This included one to prepare a person to give up his life.

 

At first Harper stuttered over the mantras as he tried to place himself into a trance. After nearly an hour, however, he had calmed down and was repeating the words over and over as fast as his tongue would allow. Soon he lost all feeling of his body, then all fear. When Rojan and his cohorts finally arrived for their nightly entertainment Harper was completely numb to everything, even while he wore a smile on his face.

 

After he had handed the laced wine to the prince and saw him drink from it, Harper emptied his own goblet, letting his eyes freeze on the face of the crown prince, waiting to see any hint of the death that he would soon face… it never showed. Nor did his own death arrive.

 

For the rest of the night Harper remained in a daze. It was as if the death he had prepared for had happened, leaving only an empty shell of his self. Not the burning peppers, not the mocking laughs of the prince’s comrades, and not Rojan’s hard ravishing stirred him. In bed, Harper was nothing but a limp doll.

 

That was how Rojan left him to attend a religious ceremony. Flat on his stomach on the bed, a cool summer night breeze prickled his skin. For most of the night Harper remained in that catatonic state. That was, until his ears jerked on the sound of growing wails coming from the women’s side of the harem.

 

As if only half alive, Harper stood up and walked outside to the courtyard where the iron gate separated the men from the women. The men’s side was empty except for Harper, still naked. On the other side, however, the courtyard was filled with dozens of women, wailing, some spinning around in circles while others were down on their knees, pounding the stone ground with their fists.

 

There Harper stood, not comprehending what was happening. Then, one of the other male lovers of the prince joined him in the courtyard, a look of total fear on the man face as his lips repeated the same words over and over again with increasing volume.

 

Slowly, Harper’s mind began to piece together the man’s words. “The… dead…. is……………….. the… is… prince…………… the… prince… dead… is……………. The… prince… is… dead…………… The prince is dead! The prince is dead!”

 

That short sentence rolled around again and again in Harper’s head. Each time a little more signs of life returned to the sea captain. First his fingers began to shake, then his knees. His blue eyes, dry from their long stare blinked quickly, returning moisture and removing the blind look on his face. Then, like a man who nearly drowned, he gasped for air while his almost post-mortem like stiffness disappeared, his body beginning to relax.

 

“The prince is dead…” Harper whispered as he released that first breath. “The prince is dead…”

 

Harper repeated those words in his native Jadoorian until he too was shouting them like the man next to him. Tears streamed down his face as he fell on his knees in disbelief for while he was shouting as if in mourning, what he said between shouts, covered by the noise of the women was; “I live… I live… I live…”

 

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Korish did his best to play the role of the mourning monarch when his son died in the middle of the Feast of Faloo, celebrating the day that Kaal planted and raised the first crops and herds. Rojan had just finished accepting and eating a piece of goat cheese from the first milk of a nanny goat, when he grabbed his left arm is if in pain, his face going pale just before he collapsed on the floor. Healers were rushed to the prince’s side only for him to release his last breath soon after. Poison was immediately suspected but, if so, why did not others who had eaten of the same food die as well.

 

Soon the priests began declaring it the will of Kaal, that their god had taken the life of the emperor’s first born, just as the prince had taken the first milk.

 

The Emperor knew that it had not been the will of Kaal, but that of a blind cleric who had taken the life of his son, for he had been well warned in advance to ensure he would agree with the priests. In return for not opposing their political machinations, one of the senior clerics had been kind enough to tell the emperor how his son would die.

 

From a rare plant that grew in the eastern jungles of the Dorrs, a calming drug could be extracted. The medicine itself was not toxic but ages ago an old cleric healer, studying its effects, found by accident that if a person who had consumed the drug later ate certain foods… something as simple and commonplace as aged cheese, he would soon die, the beat of his heart brought to a sudden halt. Such poison had been used on the prince, clearing the way for Rojan’s bastard infant son, Calis, to become crown prince and heir to the Lahorian Empire.

 

During the ceremony, Korish watched two men in particular, Harper, who stood by Calis’ side, and Warren, who was now dressed in the red robes of a cleric of Kaal. He glared at both with deep mistrust… knowing of their involvement in his eldest son’s death. He did not hate them, however. The relationship between past emperors and their designated heirs had always been distant, if not cold, due to both knowing that at any time the priests of Kaal might deicide to replace one for the other. No… what disturbed his majesty was the appearance of an alliance between the Westerners and his clerics.

 

Calis’ mother, a member of the Gorisha tribe, the dominate group in the north, had been assassinated on Korish’s orders to prevent her family from gaining a foothold in the imperial palace. That left Harper, as the last official consort of prince Rojan, to be the caretaker of the newly crowned heir. At the same time, the scarred, half-blind former High Inquisitor was now to serve as the personal religious advisor to Calis.

 

It angered Korish to no end that the clerics felt safe letting two pale skinned foreigners be so close to the future leader of the thousand tribes of Lahore. Yet He also understood their purpose… to prepare the heir for the invasion of the lands beyond the Desert of Flames.

 

Sitting on his gold throne, Korish could feel the time of his reign ending. Looking around the room, Korish saw that many old and familiar faces were missing. His generals, several members of the imperial council, even a few other members of his own family were absent. Instead, the long throne room was filled with the dusty red robes of the clerics and the brown ones of the more conservative tribal leaders and military officers. The few faces he still recognized as friends looked defeated, eyeing his imperial majesty with a look of pity.

 

Doing as the blind priest told him to, Korish announced he would take in his deceased son's child as his own, going against the tradition which held that a child who had not yet entered manhood be exiled to the great desert regardless of station. It had been the way many Emperors had removed future rivals, killing the fathers and removing any sons who could challenge the emperor's own heirs.

 

As a small ivory hilted dagger was placed in Calis’ hand at the end of the ceremony, Korish could not help but feel as if the boy had just been handed the imperial crown. When the ceremony was over, Korish found himself alone as everyone, including the emperor’s few remaining friends, left the room with the new crown prince, like moths following a rising moon away from the emperor’s own setting sun.

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Chapter Twenty-Two: Restoration

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It had not taken Warren long to learn that the clerics of Kaal, not the emperor, were the true rulers of Lahore. By giving his aid in the killing of Rojan, he had not only saved his own life, but earned a part in their plans to invade the west. Slowly, he was working his way up the hierarchy; making alliances and removing his rivals, until he rose to the title of Arch-cleric of Kaal so that he could rule over the entire west after it fell to the Lahorian Horde. The fact that he now worshipped another god did not disturb him for a moment. He never believed in gods anyway, only power. All he needed now was a way to regain his charisma. To be a leader of men once again, he needed to change from being the horror he saw each day when he looked at his burned flesh in a mirror.

 

Unknown to the emperor, Lahorian raiders, fresh from a deep probe into the west, had returned with their promised prize: three purported western scholars and two Centurions. The clerics of Kaal had wanted western scholars for Prince Calis, to teach him the ways of the west so as to better prepare him for the coming war. The surviving Inquisitors would also serve that purpose, in the arena, so the heir to the Sun Throne could witness the western style of combat and learn how to beat it. The two Centurions?... they were to serve a different purpose.

 

That is why Warren had waited with eagerness for the clerics of Kaal to allow him to interrogate the captured Centurions. He wanted to see if the legends surrounding anima were true.

 

Two days after Korish made his adoption of Calis official, Warren was summoned back to the palace, this time finding Harper sitting on a large cushion. At his side was the small boy, Calis, the new crown prince. As Harper had the luck of being the last of Rojan’s favorite consorts, he was now considered a part of the imperial family.

 

“Now burnt man, tell me what you know of this anima?” the blind cleric demanded. The emperor was no where in site. As of yet he did not feel that the stranger from the west deserved a name.

 

Head bowed down to the ground, Warren spoke. “It is an amazing substance, your holiness. Given to me it would heal my wounds and restore my appearance. Given to your son, he will grow to maturity, his body more impressive, his skill as a warrior even more impressive; impressive enough to earn the respect and devotion of the tribes.”

 

“I see… but how do I know that this is not some plot to poison the future Master of Ares.”

 

“Did I not help you in removing his highness Rojan? If you do not trust me, simply give the anima to me first,” Warren offered, his head still bowed.

 

“Hahahahahaha… But that is just what you want us to do. From the beginning you have wanted my men to risk their lives to find this anima and bring it back. You desperately don’t want to remain a 'burnt man'.”

 

“You are most clever to see the truth of my mind,” Warren replied, attempting flattery.

 

“Charming… now tell me where we can find this anima?”

 

“In the children of Demos, majesty… inside the body of a Centurion.”

 

“Sin!” the blind cleric shouted, jumping from the Sun Throne. “Contamination, abomination!”

 

“No!” Warren jumped up only to be slammed back down by a guard.

 

“Wait, your holiness…” another of the blind priests spoke.

 

“Yes, Lagono.” Korish bowed towards the Keeper of Records.

 

“Is it not true that Kaal was the holder of the sacred animus, the fighting spirit of our people?”

 

“Yes.” Korish grinned. “But this is anima they are talking about. Is that not the opposite, an unholy elixir?”

 

“It is the opposite but it was created by the holy Dominus… remember the words of Kaal, animus is neither good nor evil… it is only the spirit that guides you.”

 

“As always you speak with the wisdom of Kaal. So how do we obtain this anima?” the blind cleric asked as he sat back down.

 

“You must take it from their body… it is held in a core near their abdomen. I can obtain the elixir for you,” Warren explained.

 

“Bring in one of these Centurions,” the senior cleric ordered. In chains, with the points of three spears at his neck, a Centurion was brought into the throne room.

 

Handed a dagger by one of the clerics, Warren walked over to the Centurion, using the tip to scratch a circle around the Centurion’s abdomen, red blood marking the path.

 

Knowing Warren’s purpose, the Centurion spat into the newly anointed cleric’s face, even though it triggered the points of spears into his skin. “Get it over with,” the Centurion said, his neck now covered in blood.

 

“No…” Warren said sinisterly. I want to be sure to capture every single drop of your anima.”

 

At that moment, one of the three guards, lowered his spear and stabbed it into the Centurion’s calf, causing him to fall down to the ground, just at the place on the granite floor were iron loops stuck out from the stone. The Centurion was quickly chained down to the floor, spread out like a large “x”.

 

Once the Centurion was secured, Warren used his knife to cut open the man’s abdomen; revealing the blue, glowing core inside. Connected to it was a series of veins that allowed the anima to flow throughout the rest of the Centurion’s body. As he cut each vein, Warren watched as the Centurion struggled less and less until by the final cut he was completely still. Removing the remaining sinew material allowed Warren to remove the entire core from the now dead Centurion’s body.

 

“With your holiness’ permission,” Warren bowed, as he held the core with both hands. Grabbing hold of a mass of veins connected to the core, Warren drained the anima into his body, sucking on them like a bunch of small straws. Slowly at first, but then faster, the scar tissue covering over half of Warren’s body began fall off, showing perfectly healed skin underneath. As the anima took greater effect, Warren felt growing pains, as his body gained inches in height and pounds of muscle. Last of all, the void that had been his left eye grew back, but instead of being violet, it was gray… Centurion gray.

 

Letting his red robes fall off his now healed body, Warren took in a deep breath, letting his muscled chest rise and fall. “Have I impressed your holiness as to the value of this elixir?”

 

“Well?” The blind cleric asked, turning to the Keeper of Records.

 

“It is as the westerner said…” Lagono stated, awe in his voice.

 

“Now it is his highness' turn,” the blind man said. “Will this anima have the same effect on his highness?”

 

“More so… but the growing pains will be stronger as his highness is so young.” Warren warned.

 

Silently, the blind priest, the Arch-cleric of Lahore, weighed the cost of letting the newly crowned prince grow up so quickly. Even though he was blind, he could feel the aura the healed foreigner now radiated. If the same happened to Calis, he would be able to raise the Hordes of Lahore with ease and lead them westward. “Do it."

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Chapter Twenty-Three: The Eyes of Anima

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Sergeant Glover had never met a man quite like Aegis… never someone with such a dangerous combination of daring and cunning. In the dead of night, Aegis snuck into the Mathannon outpost across from the castle. When he came back he carried the head of the commanding Matriarch, his body covered in blood. And that was only the beginning.

 

The very same morning, Aegis gathered all of Lancaster’s men together and led them east of the wall, entering into Mathannon territory. For both Glover and Lancaster, walking in the land that had been the prison of their ancestors filled them with both excitement and dread.

 

Glover had to admit that Aegis had been right. Except for a thin line of guards along the border, most of Montanan’s army was occupied with the invasion of Austrola. Still, Aegis was not overly reckless, letting them move only at night and only after he had made sure the way was clear.

 

After two weeks of moving ever deeper into Mathannon, Glover was almost at his wit’s end. If Aegis did not tell him where they were going soon, he would turn back on his own rather than risk being captured and sent to the infamous breeding pits of Mathannon.

 

That night, after waking up, Glover went looking for the winged Centurion but was unable to find him. What the sergeant did find was that nearly every officer in the company looked different. It was as if each and every one of them had grown a couple inches or Glover had shrunk by that much. All of them also seemed to be in better health and spirits than any men who had been marching across rough territory for the past two weeks should be. Where Glover was sure he had lost several pounds of weight since this all began, each and every officer looked like he had gained… and all of it muscle.

 

“Have you and the other officers been stashing rations we don’t know about sir?” Glover asked Sir Neil, one of the four knights assigned to Commander Lancaster.

 

“What concern of yours would that be sergeant?” Neil said sternly but with a smile.

 

“No real concern of mine sir, just that…”

 

“Yes Glover?” The knight asked as he took the sergeant aside.

 

“Just that, nothing we are doing makes any sense. Why has Aegis brought us so deep into Mathannon territory? It can’t be to attack the enemy. If we are spotted by a patrol this far from home, we would have entire armies chasing after us.”

 

“Are you a commanding officer?” Neil asked.

 

“No sir.”

 

“Then I would not worry about what are command decisions.”

 

“I understand sir,” Glover said.

 

“Is there anything else sergeant?” The knight asked when Glover did not leave.

 

“Yes, sir. Have you and the others grown taller or has all this marching caused me to lose height as well as weight?”

 

“Hahahahaha… Your right Glover… we have been receiving special rations. Would you like some?” Neil said as he kept leading the other man further away from camp.

 

“Yes, anything would be better than the dried meat and beans we’ve been eating. If I keep on losing weight you will have to skewer me with a pair of swords to keep my uniform on.” Glover laughed, not paying attention to where he was being led.

 

“I’m sure it will never come to that.” The knight chuckled as he wrapped a strong arm around the sergeant’s thin waist.

 

It was not until they had walked several hundred yards away from camp that Glover began to become concerned. “Forgive me my lord, but you and the others must not trust us common grunts much if you have to stash food all the way out here.”

 

“We had to. We would not want one of you catching a whiff of what we are doing now, would we.” Neil said as he pulled Glover closer to him so that their bodies were pressed together.

 

“I see.” Glover grinned, thinking he was going to have a warm fire and hot food waiting for him.

 

Reaching a clearing in the woods near the roots of a gigantic tree a half mile from camp, the knight came to a stop. “Here we are sergeant.”

 

“Where’s the food?” Glover asked, not able to see much in the darkness.

 

“Who said anything about food?”

 

“But the rations… you said you and the other knights were eating.”

 

Neil pressed the front of his body against the sergeant, moving his pelvis in a small circular motion. “But that is not what you really want… is it Glover? What you want is what the other officers and I have been given.”

Feeling the hardening sex of the other man’s manhood against his stomach, Glover tried to pull away as his eyes went wide. All he achieved in struggling was ending up flat on his back, the much larger knight pinning him to the ground.

 

“Don’t hurt me!” Glover shouted, tears running down his face.

 

“We are not going to hurt you sergeant… not much anyway, and not without giving you a great deal of pleasure.”

 

Remembering the stories he had heard about Centurions, Glover began to understand. “It’s Aegis… he’s done something to all of you… made you a part of the Centurion abomination.”

 

“You should have been made an officer Glover. You always had a clever head on your shoulders. You’re right. Aegis has done something to me. He’s made me stronger, faster, better.”

 

Wishing he had kept his observations to himself, Glover began begging. “Please let me go my lord. I promise I will try and not be so clever from this day forth.”

 

“But you should be happy that you figured things out. You’ve proven yourself a worthy traveling companion… unlike the other men.” Neil said. The sinister smile on his face became visible when his eyes began to take on a blue glow.

 

Just as his mouth opened wide in horror, Glover ears heard shouts of alarm soon followed by screams of pain and death coming from the direction of the camp.

 

“It’s for the best sergeant… you will come to see that. Where we are going the others can’t follow.”

 

“You’re killing our own men?”

 

“Would you rather we abandon them here… have them make their way home without a scout? If Aegis had not been leading us, we would not have made it three days before being ambushed by those Mathannon bitches. You know what they would do. Better they die now by the hand of a man who will give them a clean death.”

 

“You can’t mean that sir… these are men you’ve led yourself.”

 

“If you had asked me a few days ago, I would have agreed with you, but not now. Aegis can be a very convincing man, something which you will come to understand eventually. I wish this bloodshed could have been avoided, that we never brought you and the other men with us. All Aegis needed was time, time to get a few of us to see that his way is the only way. That is, if Austrola is going to survive. Considering where he is taking us, the men would not have followed regardless of who gave the command.”

 

“I don’t understand… where is it that we are going?” Glover asked, confused.

 

“To the pits of hell itself sergeant."

 

 

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Chapter Twenty-Four: The Death of Nobility

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Armageddon stood across the table from Lord Commander Grecoron. “Surrender, there is no other option.”

 

“There is always another option,” the Commander replied, stone-faced. He had heard of the Field Marshal of Demon’s and while he was physically impressive, all he really saw was an ill-disciplined bully.

 

“All of them will result in the death of your men.”

 

“True Centurions never have long to live.” Grecoron replied cold faced. He knew that Armageddon was one of Xavier’s henchmen and that he had committed the ultimate crime… stealing the anima of a Legatio.

 

“But we can choose the manner. Would you die a pointless death or accept exile?”

 

“Exile?” Grecoron said in a surprised voice. In all the letters between himself and Xavier, exile had not been an option.

 

“I, not the emperor, am giving you this option. Leave the Gate, go to Qul Tos. There you can serve a just ruler.”

 

“The king is but a child,” Grecoron pointed out.

 

“He does have the aid of three Centurions as his advisors, three true Centurions.”

 

“But the protection of the Gate is our solemn duty. It is the Gate that is our master.”

 

“Which you can do from Qul Tos,” Armageddon insisted. “It is your choice, weaken Domus to the point where the Federation can complete its conquest or end the civil strife by leaving.

 

“Will Xavier allow us an orderly withdrawal?”

 

“That I leave to you. If you were to join the Tosian army, Xavier would have to invest considerable time, men, and energy making sure that King Jason does not use your men to remove him.”

 

“Then that is what we will do. Keeping Xavier off balanced is the best way to keep Domus safe from him. But my men and I will not swear loyalty to King Jason. It is our oaths to the Gate that bind us.”

 

“So be it… May I recommend that you leave two legions here at the Pillar of Flames to give the appearance that you are not withdrawing. I will do my best, but I can not say that the other generals loyal to Xavier will not attack if they see you leave.”

 

“Agreed. The two legions will remain here to control the Gate. If Xavier wants it, he will have to fight me for it.”

 

“Are you saying you will take command of those that will remain behind?”

 

“Yes,” Grecoron replied. “And I don’t want you to try and force me to do otherwise. I can order my men to leave their posts but I will not go into exile. It is not a shame I can bear.”

 

“If it is to be your fate…so be it,” Armageddon replied. He wished he had been given the option of facing such an honorable death before becoming the creature Armageddon.

 

“Now that that business is finished… tell me why you serve the tyrant Xavier?”

 

“He is the only man that cares about me.”

 

“I very much doubt that.”

 

“You are right, there is another, but he is beyond my reach. I have also done things… things beyond forgiveness. Even if the one I love could come to forgive me I can never leave Xavier. I depend on him too much for the anima he gives me.”

 

“So you are an addict…” Grecoron sighed sympathetically.

 

“You do know, Lord Commander, that it will be I who will command the legions sent to kill you,” Armageddon warned, not wanting the man’s pity.

 

“Yes, I understand, and I expect that in the end you will consume my anima as you will that of the rest of my men. I only want your word that our skulls receive the proper respect.”

 

“That, Lord Commander, shall be done. The trade in Centurion bones is over… we now use the bones of the Legatio.”

 

A look of disgust showed on Grecoron’s face. “An abomination. Have we Centurions fallen so far that we are willing to kill our own fathers?”

 

“We might have.”

 

“Xavier will destroy Domus, I swear, but I will not let it happen without a fight, even one that’s only symbol ic or, as you said, pointless.”

 

“I will now return to the capital and give the Emperor your reply. Expect to be attacked in one month’s time,” Armageddon said as he stood up to leave.

 

“We will be ready,” Grecoron promised.

 

******************************

 

Sirrus’ foul mood had not made life easier for his men or for his mistress, a farm girl named Lauren. Three days after the city had fallen, and the Centurions were forced back behind the palace walls, the envoy from Tal Sith arrived. It appeared that the Sithian King did not enjoy at all that he, Sirrus, a Huron noble, was running the entire campaign. To correct the problem, the royal court of Tal Sith had sent the Earl of the Urland, Brashear. The man came from a family that gained its title, not from battle, blood, or marriage, but by being the king's most aggressive and efficient tax collectors. This made Brashear's selection as the king's representative ideal, as his unique abilities had made him many enemies amongst the nobles. This had left the Earl dependent and loyal only to the king.

 

Since Brashear’s arrival, though, Sirrus had not been able to mount another attack against the Centurions. Brashear demanded maximum results, but was only willing to accept a minimum of risk. Sirrus could have ordered an attack on his own, but not with the needed Tal Sith troops to aid him in attacking the palace. This left the entire invasion plan paralyzed, waiting on Brashear's apparent whim.

 

That was the situation in which Sirrus found himself when word arrived that Rondus' men were in position to begin their attack on the rear entrance to the Labyrinth Keep. By this time in the war, Sirrus had wanted to have already taken the palace, pinning the Centurions in the Labyrinth. So far however there were no plans to even take the palace, let alone force the Centurions into the Tosian Mountain’s caves.

 

Finally having enough of Brashear's foot dragging, Sirrus walked across the camp in the summer heat to Brashear's tent, ignoring the guards’ orders to halt.

 

"Is this an invasion?" Brashear laughed, on seeing his counterpart march in, face red and sweaty from his hot walk.

 

"We are supposed to be in the middle of an invasion!" Sirrus shouted. "You, my dear Earl, seem to think it's a picnic."

 

"Not at all, Count Sirrus. The food is dull, the wine is not chilled, and the entertainment less than inspiring."

 

"If it is entertainment you want, Brashear, I can give it to you, if you will simply give me permission to attack!"

 

"You have my permission." Brashear smiled evilly. "You just can't use my men."

 

"Tal Sith makes up almost a third of the army!"

 

"I know... but that will still leave you with plenty of men."

 

"Maybe, but should not Tal Sith share in some of the burden if it expects to share in the reward?"

 

"Is that why you think Tal Sith entered this enterprise, my dear fellow?" Brashear asked, as if to a child.

 

"We are here to see the Centurions out of the east!" Sirrus fumed

 

"And why would Tal Sith want that?"

 

Now clearly frustrated, but not yet willing to throw his life away by killing his counterpart, Sirrus took a deep breath before speaking again, this time very slowly. "The Centurions are a threat. They have defeated and humiliated us for over a thousand years. If we do not beat them now, while they are weak, we will not stand a chance when they are strong again."

 

"Trust me, my dear fellow... Domus is broken. In fact, we have made our own arrangement with them."

 

"And what arrangement is that?" Sirrus asked suspiciously.

 

Brashear moved in closer so he could whisper into Sirrus' ear. "Domus is in a state of civil war."

 

"I knew that from the Jadoorian representatives," Sirrus grunted, not impressed.

 

"What you did not know is that Domus now has an emperor. One of their Field Marshals has disbanded the Senate and has made himself sole ruler."

 

"What about the Field Marshal we are fighting."

 

"Well, from what I have been told, a few senators escaped and made their way here to try and convince Field Marshal Darius that he was needed back home. It is now believed that it was our timely invasion that stopped Darius from going back to Domus and beheading the new emperor." Brashear snickered.

 

"So no aid will be coming from Domus." Sirrus grinned.

 

"Exactly... so we can take our time in this war."

 

"We still need to take the capital if we are going to be able to send enough of our men back to harvest this year’s crops."

 

Brashear reached over and patted Sirrus on the back in a comradely manner. "And we will... when the time is right."

 

"And when will that ever be? Keeping this army fed is not particularly cheap."

 

"As soon as we receive reinforcements."

 

"How many more men could we need?" Sirrus demanded.

 

"Trust me... the special unit arriving will shift the war to our complete advantage." Brashear winked.

 

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Chapter 25: The Wedding

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The day of Kyle and James’s wedding had finally arrived. Kyle had hand-selected the men who would become James's Saints, most of them being the officers James was close to, as well as a few of the Famulus who had become their friends. James had returned the favor by picking out the men who would be Kyle's Demon Spawn. Those were made up mainly of Kyle's older friends. The only thing James insisted on, being a deep traditionalist, was that he and Kyle have an old fashioned ceremony. At first Kyle had laughed at the notion, knowing full well that James still viewed him as the "woman" in the relationship. James even went so far as introduce Kyle to others as his future wife.

 

While James's insistence on viewing their relationship in the traditional husband-wife roles would have annoyed most, Kyle, having also come from a navy family, knew how James had been raised. A child of such a family had two duties... become the best officer and marry well. James, being an Admiral, was already the best officer in the navy. All he lacked was a wife. While Kyle was indeed a man, he knew that James could not help but see his lover as his wife to be.

 

Kyle was willing to accept that, just as long as James did not start putting him in dresses.

 

On the day of the wedding, James wore his Admiral’s uniform. Pacing up and down the hall right outside the reception room of the governor's palace, the medals that covered half his chest jangled together. James knew that beyond the double doors were his officers, his majesty King Aidan, Amplexor, and most important of all... Kyle.

 

"It's time sir..." One of the Demon Spawn guards Dorian had sent with Aidan bowed.

 

"Alright... I can do this," James sighed, trying hard not to hyperventilate as he made his way to the door.

 

There had been a long debate what song to play at the start of the ceremony. There were a few traditional Jadoorian melodies that were usually performed but both James and Kyle felt that they were too light and... feminine for an all male ceremony. It had been one of James's officers who had suggested one of the fleet's victory marches to be played when James made his grand entrance to claim his spouse. Both Kyle and James found it so funny that they almost dismissed the idea. It was Amplexor who convinced them that a little humor at such a serious time would help relax them.

 

So as James waited for the doors to open he could hear the pounding of over a dozen drums. Then, with a blare of trumpets, the doors were flung open and James walked in, taking wide strides toward the makeshift altar. Waiting for him in a simple white Centurion tunic was Kyle, smiling broadly. Behind the altar was Amplexor, his white wings spread out. To the left of the spot where James was to stand was the witness, King Aidan himself, holding two rings on a pillow.

 

James, not paying attention to how fast he was walking, arrived by Kyle's side several stanzas before the march ended. For those few awkward seconds he had to stare at Kyle's wide grin. Nothing would have made him happier than to bend down and kiss that smile but that would have ruined the ceremony. So he had to wait, wait for the song to end, wait for Amplexor to perform the ceremony, and wait for Aidan to hand over the rings. During that whole time James was tortured by Kyle’s incredible smile... as if it dared him to break with custom. When Amplexor finally gave permission for the now married couple to kiss, James tackled Kyle to the floor, falling on top of him, while kissing Kyle hard at the same time.

 

In the arms of his strong husband, Kyle could not help but laugh. "I see that you are now the man in the relationship."

 

"It seems so," James grinned

 

"Don't worry, I like being smaller than you." Kyle grinned as the small nub of what would become his tail wiggled happily.

 

"I think its time to move the ceremony to the baths." James grinned. He wanted to get out of his uniform and ravish his new husband in its warm waters.

 

"Yes... I think that would be a good idea," Amplexor agreed. Nearly all of the guests at the wedding were to become either James's Saints or Kyle's Demon Spawn. All the men had eager looks in their eyes as they watched the married couple.

 

As they walked back up the aisle Kyle elbowed James. "How long do you think it will take for us to get to everyone?"

 

James looked at the over two hundred guests. "As long as it takes... our honeymoon will not be over until we get to all of them."

 

"Good... because I plan to spend most of my time with you." Kyle giggled.

 

James looked at the carriage waiting outside the governor's palace and saw that it had curtains. "How about we take a long tour of the city."

 

"Why?" Kyle asked, not seeing what James was hinting.

 

"Just trust me." James grinned as he gave Kyle's groin a healthy squeeze.

 

"Oh... I see." Kyle smiled, winking his eye.

 

As the carriage made its way down the broad streets of Aquanos, the Famulus onlookers laughed on seeing it rock side to side on the smooth streets. Then, as the carriage was on the grand boulevard that ran from the port to the main city gates, two pairs of wings shot out the windows, a pair of giant black, leathery wings and a smaller set of white feathery ones. From inside the carriage uncontrollable laughter could be heard as the carriage began to finally turn toward the baths.

 

***************************

 

 

Aidan hated not being able to join the other celebrants at the baths but, after all Amplexor had done for them both, he owed the mysterious man a few favors. Still, it was an awkward time to be away from Meltor. Even with many of troublemakers who had led the earlier riots shipped off to defend Austrola from Mathannon, it had not brought an end to the growing chaos.

 

The church’s vast grain stores had been exhausted to levels not seen even during times of severe drought. The mobs, kept outside the walls around the royal palace and the Church of the Mother, were growing beyond just angry pensioners. Mothers carrying their hungry children were joining their husbands on the streets of Meltor, attacking both priests and merchants.

 

After several thousand desperate slaves attacked the market district, ransacking and destroy whole streets and killing several members of the Guild, the Merchants closed almost every store in the city, dismissing thousands of their slaves. This only resulted in greater chaos. It took Aidan’s promise to send hundreds of heavily armed Centurions into the market district, to convince the Guild to rescind its order.

 

Aidan only had one hope… that his ally, the newly installed Duke of Aquanos, would be able to fulfill the hefty tribute the treaty required. With the additional revenue, the king could begin repairing the social chaos the war had left, not just in his kingdom, but in the entire Federation.

 

Such worries Aidan carried with him as he followed Amplexor to a strange metal ship docked in the harbor. Walking across its black deck, Aidan knew exactly where the man who had given him his wings was taking him. Down, beneath the water, to the machine from where he was reborn.

 

“Thank you for coming Aidan.” Amplexor smiled from the behind his desk.

 

The tank in the middle of the room was silent, the fluid inside it as clear as water. “Considering all you have done for us, I thank I owe you a few indulgences. Why have you brought me back here?”

 

“For the good of us both.” Amplexor said as he took out a gray stone box, placing it on top of the desk.

 

Seeing the smile fade off Amplexor’s face, Aidan became concerned. “Is something the matter?”

 

Removing the heavy lid of the box, Amplexor took out two sharp stilettos. Both knives were of the same length, sharpened on both edges. The handles though were different on each. One was made of pale white ivory. The other was as black as obsidian. “See this knife,” Amplexor said, pointing the tip of the ivory handled stiletto at Aidan. “For nearly three thousands years, ever since the day my lover failed to wake up, this blade has been beckoning me to end my life.”

 

A look of confusion grew on the king’s face. “Why? Why would you want to kill yourself?”

 

“You have been bonded to Dorian for only a few months but even now, do you think you could endure living without him?”

 

“No… no I could not,” Aidan said, his emotions speaking before his mind.

 

“Then you just might know a little of the pain I have suffered… and will continue to suffer until the end of time.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“You, I, and now James… we are as cursed as we are blessed for we can not die.”

 

Aidan arched an eyebrow in disbelief. “I will never die?”

 

“Never. For a short while that will seem like a blessing. As the centuries, and then millennia, pass you will experience an eternity of pain as you watch everyone you have ever loved, and ever will get close to, grow old any die. Only by the blade of this knife can an Angel end his existence.”

 

“Then why haven’t you?” Aidan asked.

 

“Because of a single hope… that one day I would be able to reawaken Gladius.” Amplexor said as he cleaned his nails with one of the knives.

 

“It must not be easy, or else you would have done it long ago.”

 

“You’re right. I first thought all I would have to do was study the notes and the machines that the Mother left here.” Amplexor said as he stood up and made his way to the tank.

 

“But that could have only taken you a few centuries.”

 

“Yes… and from it I was able to learn of a cure and the means of producing it.” Amplexor said as he placed a hand on the cold curved walls of the tank

 

“Then why did you not give it to Gladius?”

 

“Because it requires the use of this machine… the same machine I used to change you and Dorian. As you can see, the machine is now silent… the energy needed for it to be functional exhausted.”

 

“But why… why did you use it on me and the others instead of helping yourself?”

 

“But I have helped myself. Have you not guessed what the cure is?” Amplexor said as he took his hand off the tank and placed it on Aidan’s stomach, triggering the anima inside him to start glowing.

 

Aidan, his eyes darting to the knife in Amplexor’s hand took a step back from him.

 

“Stay calm Aidan… I did not ask you to come here just to kill you. As I said from the beginning… what I have to say is for the benefit of both of us. Your anima is no use to me anyway… it would only be a temporary solution, restoring Gladius to me for only three hundred years. No… what I want is a permanent solution. Until recently there was none.”

 

Aidan shifted his feet around uncomfortably. “But there is now?”

 

“Yes… To understand though, you need to know that my, yours, and now James’s anima cores were made by an imperfect machine and are therefore also imperfect. That is why your anima is of no use to me. It can not give Gladius the immortality I desire. But an Angel not created in a tank, one born a Legatio and changed by his love for a Centurion, his anima core could be processed into an elixir of eternal life.

 

“As it so happens, my agents have just discovered… for lack of a better word, this ‘perfect’ Angel. After so many years of waiting, I had almost given up hope. Finally however a Legatio, against all his inbred differences, against what society demanded, against the simplest of logic, has fallen in love with a Centurion.”

 

“That does not explain why you made me and James Angels. You have the knife… why not use it to kill this ‘perfect Angel.”

 

“It was not you and James that I really needed. The Mother was no fool. She did not want her creations ending their own lives. This knife that I hold can kill an Angel but only if wielded by the hands of a Demon. With Gladius asleep I need either Dorian or Kyle to harvest this ‘perfect’ Angel’s core for me. To ensure they would obey I needed you and James.”

 

“But you had the Demon you needed when you made Dorian. Why did you do the same to Kyle?”

 

“Even though Dorian was born a Centurion, against the mate of a ‘perfect’ Angel he would stand little chance… not unless he was made stronger. Fortified with the Anima of a Demon and an Angel… he would be more than a match for the Angel’s mate.”

 

“That is why you needed James and Kyle… to steal their anima to give to Dorian?” Aidan said, a hint of anger in his voice.

 

“Yes… since James and Kyle were originally Jadoorian, Dorian would find them easy to dispose of. With both men’s anima flowing in his veins Dorian will have the power to defeat the Angel’s protector and harvest his core.”

 

“You’ve been planning this from the beginning… ever since Dorian and I entered the caves beneath the palace.” Aidan said, his fear becoming rage.

 

“I have been planning this much longer then you think Aidan. All I had to do was wait for each piece on the chess board to move into place. Patience, however, has never been one of my strengths, so do not think waiting has been easy for me.”

 

“You will have to wait much longer, I am afraid. Neither I, nor Dorian, will help you.”

 

“Not even for your own benefit?”

 

“You are asking me to help take part in the killing of a friend. How can that ever be for my benefit?”

 

Amplexor, returning back to his desk, placed the knife back in its box, he then carried the box in his arms as he walked out of the room. “You think James is your friend. You believe he would never let you down. If that is the case, why does he plan to give you only a tiny fraction of the tribute due you… the gold, food, lumber, and ore you need to keep your own country from being torn apart by civil strife.”

 

“What proof do you have?” Aidan demanded as he followed the monk off the ship.

 

Amplexor walked back to the harbor where long rows of warehouses stood. Stopping at one, he pulled open the door. “This is what James is planning to give you as tribute.”

 

Stepping inside, all Aidan could see were small particles of dust lit up by the sunlight streaming into the empty room. “This can’t be right… Aquanos is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. This warehouse should be brimming,” Aidan said in disbelief.

 

“It is… but it seems that James has decided that rebuilding his city and currying favor among the Famulus are more important than the promises he made to you.” Taking out a sealed letter from the sleeve of his robe, Amplexor handed it to Aidan. “Since he knew both of us would be here for his wedding, James handed me this letter to give to you, thinking you would prefer it coming from a man to whom you feel indebted, instead of a man you once led.”

 

Amplexor stayed silent while Aidan read the letter, shades of gray appearing on his face as he felt his temper rise. Instead of raising taxes and looting the city and countryside to pay the tribute due, James had cut taxes while starting over a dozen ambitious building projects. Not only did Aidan feel betrayed, but also envious of how little trouble James was having ruling his new kingdom, while every day was bringing new troubles to the king of Jadoor.

 

After Aidan had crumpled the letter up into a tiny ball, Amplexor continued. “A few hundred years from now both Dorian and Kyle will be sleeping more and more… quickly approaching the day when they will never wake. In the end one of two things will happen… Dorian will kill James or Kyle will kill you. Which fate would you prefer?”

 

“But without the daggers…”

 

“Who said that I will not give them to James and Kyle?” Amplexor chuckled as he lifted up the stone box. “If you will not kill this ‘perfect’ Angel for me, I am sure James will... after he kills you and Dorian.”

 

Deep down Aidan knew he should not take the box from Amplexor, recognizing that doing so would send him and his kingdom down a dark path on which many would suffer and die. Amplexor had manipulated things perfectly. In the end, it would become a struggle for survival between him and Dorian against Kyle and James. In a conflict between gods, any advantage would be foolish to throw away.

 

It was his anger, however, that caused Aidan to reach out with his hands to take the box, the cold gray stone sending a shiver down his spine. Aidan had given James the Duchy of Aquanos, not out of friendship, but because he had believed in the Admiral’s loyalty. It seemed giving James the independence to make his own decisions, and a land to rule, had been a mistake. Without the promised money and food from Aquanos, Aidan would be hard pressed to keep Jadoor from falling into the chaos of civil war. Because of James, Aidan would be forced to watch as thousands of his people died.

 

James’s refusal to share his wealth with the kingdom that gave him birth made him no better than a murderer, not to mention a traitor. Under Jadoorian law the punishment for both was the same, death.

 

As Aidan flew back to Meltor he began to plan. Attacking Aquanos would not come soon or be easy. First Aidan needed to bring an end to the riots. He could not invade a land hundreds of miles away when the people in his own kingdom were on the verge of killing each other. It would take time and, regrettably, the loss of many lives. After the people faced the wrath of their gods in the form of Dorian’s Spawn, things would change. The angry pensioners would despise their king, but they would also fear him, a fear ensuring greater loyalty than any love could. He would be able to force the Merchant’s Guild to give him the resources to raise a new army.

 

Then, when the threat of civil war was removed, and with a host behind him, Aidan would invade Aquanos and hunt Kyle and James down until their cores were his. Once that was achieved, Aidan would have to think on who would be his next target… this ‘perfect’ angel or Amplexor, the one who had manipulated him so perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter Twenty-Six: The Final Choice

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For days now Korish had walked the halls of an empty palace, his friends, servants, and guards all gone. Still, he continued to deny the truth; that his granite palace had become a mausoleum to his reign.

 

“Is this all they have left me?” Korish’s voice echoed. The throne room, with its giant pink granite pillars supporting the twenty-foot-high ceiling, let the emperor’s voice echo across the cavernous chamber.

 

As his voiced bounced around the chamber, Korish felt his anger rise. He had done all that the clerics had asked, and what had they done? They had left him as a figurehead… a man whose time has passed.

 

As his feelings of betrayal rose, so did his murderous thoughts. “Guards!”

 

Nothing…

 

“Guards!”

 

 

“GUARDS!” Korish shouted again, spittle flying out of his mouth.

 

His eyes now red with rage, Korish stared at the entrance to the chamber, waiting for any sign of a guard, let alone any of his servants. Suddenly he felt a firm hand grip his left shoulder, triggering him to jump out off his gold throne. He was soon shoved down on the floor.

 

He landed face first, the air knocked out of him. Rolling over as fast as he could, Korish could only see the two black voids of the plucked eyes of the old cleric. It was the same one who had set Korish down the path of killing Rojan over a month ago.

 

“You did this to me!” Korish accused, shaking his fist at the blind man.

 

Calmly the old man sat himself on Korish’s throne, looking more regal, even in his dirty red robes, than any of the emperors who had ever sat on the Sun Throne.

 

“I am a servant of Kaal… you are, however, nothing more than my servant,” the old cleric replied sternly.

 

Standing back on his feet, Korish took three long strides to where the blind cleric was sitting, until he was hovering over him. “I the Emperor of Lahore, the mouth, eyes and ears of Kaal! I did not agree to have my son killed just for a three-year-old orphan to replace me!”

 

Like a dart, the cleric drew a knife out from his sleeve, the tip pressed against Korish’s neck. “If you had not done as Kaal demanded then you would have died with your son… or is this sudden dissatisfaction with the will of Kaal a wish to share your son’s fate?” the blind man demanded to know. He pressed the knife harder against the emperor’s throat until it cut into the skin, a line of blood flowing down Korish’s neck.

 

“No… no…” Korish, his face pale and clammy, replied as he took a step back.

 

The blind cleric let the knife follow after the emperor, standing up so the tip remained pressed against Korish’s neck as he tried to move back. “On your knees, servant!”

 

Ready to turn and run, Korish suddenly heard the slapping sound of sandals from behind. Soon he felt two firm hands pressing him down onto his knees.

 

For a long moment there was silence, the blood from Korish’s neck now running up the blade of the cleric’s knife only to drop from the wooden handle to splatter red on the white shirt and trousers Korish was wearing.

 

“You will do as Kaal demands of you,” the old blind cleric said coldly

 

During the twilight of his reign, Korish found himself stripped of everything… of power, pride, honor, and the life of his eldest son. All, he had given up in the belief he had no other choice.

 

Even though his own chin hid the sight of most the blade from him, Korish could see an inch of it just above the handle. It was marred with red blotches.

 

On his knees, humbled by a blind man and his followers around him, Korish remembered the words of Kaal: “Who has more power… a king with a knife at his throat or the slave who holds it?” It had been the god’s response when a man went to him to complain about his lowly position in life. Korish had always taken it as a warning… that the danger of revolt was always present. Now he saw it differently … for now he knew that the blade had always been against his throat. Kaal was trying to get the lowly man to see that true power always rested in the hands of the common people.

 

More than at any point in his life, Korish felt the weariness from his thirty-eight years of rule. Looking back on the decades of pageantry, religious ceremony, and grand tours of the empire, Korish could not remember a time when he had made truly important decisions. Yes, as soon as he had assumed the throne, he had ordered the deaths of his brothers, uncles, and cousins. That was a common practice, as it was wise to remove them before the clerics thought of using them to replace him.

 

Every five years or so he would gain permission from the clerics to order a few hundred raiders across the desert. That was only to remove any tribal leader who was becoming a threat to Korish’s rule, however. In truth, the only decisions Korish could remember making were limited to those that had helped keep him on the throne, including the death of Rojan. Now, Korish had only one choice left… how he was going to face his end.

 

With a sudden jerk forward, Korish impaled his neck on the red-stained knife. The blind cleric, having not expected this action, let go of the blade, taking a step back.

 

As he began to drown in his own blood, the emperor could not help but let a blood-dripping smile grow on his face. The cause of that grin was seeing the blind cleric of Kaal lose his stoic face, an expression of shock in its place.

 

With nothing to lose, his fate now sealed, Korish pulled the knife out of his throat just as the darkness of death began to creep in. Throwing the knife it hit the stunned old cleric full in the chest. The momentum of the throw caused Korish to fall forward, his head bouncing hard on the granite floor.

 

That was the last thing Korish remembered before he lost consciousness. That turned out to be a blessing; he did not feel the two remaining clerics take their revenge upon him, for he was soon dead.

 

******************************

 

Armageddon watched as his men swarmed around the Tor, the pillar of flame which Centurions’ souls called home. The walls, moats and ditches built to keep enemies from invading the valleys of Domus did not serve well in keeping Armageddon’s legions from attacking on the other side. Attacked by the superior numbers and the anima fed strength of the Blue Devil legions, Grecoron’s men were quickly pushed back until only in the caves in the Pillar of Flames did resistance remain.

 

The Field Marshal of Demons, leading his men, went from cavern to cavern wielding his double-bladed sword, leaving only death behind him. By his own hand he killed over a hundred Centurions, stopping only to heal his wounds by consuming his victims’ anima.

 

Soon, he reached the top of the pillar, where Grecoron waited with three of his lieutenants. In the Lord Captain’s hands were two short blades, while two of his officers had bows and the third wielded a spear.

 

“Let’s end this,” Grecoron said.

 

“If that is what you wish,” Armageddon replied, wiping the blood from one of his blades.

 

“I have been Lord Captain of the Gate for over five years. Tomorrow I would have reached my fortieth year… the end of my life. At least now I will not die in bed. You have my thanks for that.

 

Before Armageddon took two steps forward two arrows hit him, one to his right thigh, and the other to his left arm. The incredible rate at which Armageddon healed however soon had the arrows popping out of his wounds as he moved forward to face the last of his opponents.

 

Two more arrows flew, hitting both legs this time. Armageddon, feigning weakness, went down to his knees. This was only to retrieve the two daggers he had in his belt, which he threw at both archers at the fatal point at their abdomens, the anima of both men pouring out of their bodies.

 

Still, Armageddon’s opponents did not stop. The Lord Captain of the Gate jumped forward, both swords swinging while his spearman aimed to make his throw.

 

Armageddon, picking up his double-bladed sword, rolled to dodge Grecoron’s attacks. At the same time the remaining lieutenant launched his spear, for it to only graze against Armageddon’s left shoulder. The Demon pole vaulted off his sword, closing the distance between him and the spear thrower. Lifting his sword over his head, Armageddon split the body of the spearman in half.

 

During that short moment, Armageddon was distracted long enough for Grecoron to thrust one of his short blades into Armageddon’s back. Ignoring the blade, Armageddon spun around with his sword and lopped off Grecoron’s head in a single motion.

 

As the Lord Commander fell to his death, his right hand pulled the sword out of Armageddon’s body, coming out bloody but free of anima. If he had just aimed a few inches lower he would had broken Armageddon’s core.

 

Still, Armageddon was deeply wounded, quickly falling on top of the now dead commander. He let his double-bladed sword fall to the ground with a clatter.

 

As blood began to fill his lungs, weakening him, Armageddon took hold of one of Grecoron’s short swords and proceeded to dig out the man’s anima core from his abdomen. Feeding off it, he let the elixir of Centurion life fill him, healing the wound that went from his back to his sternum.

 

“Field Marshal, do you need assistance?” one of Armageddon’s Blue Devil’s asked.

 

“Yes… yes I do,” Armageddon replied weakly as he got up onto his knees.

 

“I will call for a healer then,” the man offered as another of the men arrived at the top of the Pillar of Flames.

 

“No need… You have exactly what I need right with you.”

 

“What sir?” The man asked, confused, just before he felt a blade pierce his stomach, shattering his anima core.

 

As the man died, the rest of Armageddon’s followers watched in horror as the Field Marshal fed off one of his own men even before the man’s last breath had passed

 

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Chapter Twenty-Seven: Reunion

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After tearing down many of the stone houses within the city’s walls, the Confederacy began setting up catapults within range of the palace walls. The sporadic pounding did very little damage but made guard duty just a little more harrowing.

 

Jason barely noticed. He convinced Philip to let Logan, Geoff, and himself venture through the back tunnels and spend some time at the fort there. During that time, Jason was able to forget the war. He would practice his staff with Geoff in the morning while learning the properties of wood and metal with Logan later in the day. While it would have concerned Philip, many nights Jason would fly into the forests with both men and make love in the woods… only pine needles for a bed.

 

Then, one night in particular, Jason could not sleep, and not from Logan’s snoring beside him. Geoff too seemed on edge. His head darted from side to side as he stood guard.

 

Jason separated himself from Logan’s tight hold and walked toward Geoff, the cool night air tickling his bare skin. “Is there something out there?”

 

“I don’t know… but it feels as if something is watching us.”

 

“Let me check…” Jason offered as he spread out his wings to fly.

 

“No, Jason,” Geoff said as he grabbed the young man’s hand to keep him from lifting off.

 

“But” Jason tried to protest.

 

“Look…” Geoff pointed. In the middle of the woods was a pair of green glowing eyes, looking at them from the darkness.

 

“What is it…?” Jason asked, fear growing in his heart.

 

“I do not know… but I think you should go wake Logan up and leave.”

 

“What about you?”

 

Geoff replied with guilt, trembling in his voice. “Me…?”

 

“You are not going to fight it?” Jason asked, seeing Geoff’s right hand gripping a sword.

 

“Well…”

 

Just at that moment, a cloud covered the moon, sending the forest into darkness, and the green eyes disappeared, replaced by a dark shadow that darted right for the two men. Before Geoff had a chance to raise his sword, Jason was knocked over, falling back onto the forest ground.

 

“Jason!” Geoff screamed.

 

Geoff watched in horror as Jason wrestled with the shadow, rolling over and over again until Jason was pinned to the ground.

 

Running over to his king, Geoff made ready to strike, his sword over his head, when suddenly he realized that Jason was laughing.

 

“Jason?” Geoff asked in confusion.

 

“Hahahahahahaha… stop licking my face,” Jason laughed.

 

As the moon reappeared, Geoff was able to see the shape of a wolf… a giant gray wolf on top of Jason, its tongue giving Jason a bath.

 

“Jason? You know this creature?” Geoff asked while in the background, Logan could be heard stirring.

 

The king hugged the wolf close to him. “It’s Jacob… I thought I had lost him.” Jason went on to explain how he had found the wolf as a pup in the forests outside the Academy.

 

“I am sure Philip will be thrilled,” Geoff laughed after Jason explained the jealous rivalry the two had.

 

“What I want to know… is how a wolf pup traveled hundreds of miles to find you here Jason.” Logan yawned as he stretched out.

 

“Well, Jacob?” Jason asked the half-grown wolf with a raised eyebrow.

 

Jacob jumped off Jason and made his way back into the woods. Right before disappearing from view, the wolf let out a long howl.

 

“I think he wants us to follow him.” Jason grinned as he began slipping on his clothes.

 

“I think you’re right,” Geoff agreed.

 

“You have to be joking... it is a wolf. How can you know what it wants?” Logan moaned.

 

“Come on, Logan… think of it as an adventure.”

 

“Jason, sex is an adventure, searching for treasure is an adventure… HUNTING is an adventure. Following some stray animal is not an adventure… it is…” Logan never got to say what following Jacob was, for he suddenly found himself alone, Jason and Geoff already heading deeper into the woods.

 

The party traveled for quite a distance, the wolf’s howls and Logan’s grumbling the only sound. Eventually they arrived in a clearing in the forest… one that they found to be occupied.

 

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There stood a man… dressed in strange clothing. He wore a pair of black trousers, a black coat, a brilliantly white shirt, and tied around his neck a piece of cloth that ended in a triangular point near where the man’s belly button should be. What terrified Jason the most, however, was the man’s bright red hair.

 

“Hello, Jason… it is good that we finally meet,” the redheaded man said with a toothy grin.

 

“Who are you?” Jason demanded, afraid he already knew the answer.

 

“I am a Grau… I think you know what that means.”

 

“It means you have come for me?”

 

“Not yet… my boy. Right now all I am doing is returning something that belongs to you,” the Grau said, pointing to the wolf.

 

“Jacob?”

 

“Yes… Jacob… Your son.”

 

“My son?”

 

“Don’t tell me you have not always felt a bond existed between you and your wolf.”

 

“But how is that possible… I have never slept with… with a woman before.”

 

“Simple… blood, my blood, your blood and the power of the Dominus. Through them we created a new life… this Dalf, Jacob.

 

On hearing his name from the Grau’s voice, Jacob growled.

 

“It seems my son does not like you very much?” Jason said, as he drew his father’s gold knife.

 

“Your whelp sent me on a merry chase indeed. But blood calls out to blood, not to mention our own little gift.” The man laughed.

 

Jason felt his grip on the knife weaken until it slipped from his fingers. It was only then that Jason remembered that Grau were masters of mind control.

 

“If it is not to take me back to the Dominus, then what do you want from me?”

 

“Samples… blood, hair, semen, we need to learn how far you’ve progressed, to see if you are really what the Dominus are looking for.”

 

“And what is that?” Jason asked.

 

“Why… mating stock of course… and may I say you already look like a fine specimen,” the redhead snickered.

 

“Then why don’t you use your mind control and take me now?” Jason said, his temper rising.

 

“I could try but I doubt that I alone could take you. Not with two of your bodyguards standing by. In truth I have to admit that I find controlling all three of you quite taxing. Therefore, I think I will take this chance to leave.” He said this as he drew out a gun. “We will meet again.”

 

Before Jason or the others were able to respond, there was a blinding flash. By the time their eyes readjusted to the darkness of the night, there was no sign of the Grau.

 

Grabbing Jason by the hand, Geoff began moving Jason out of the clearing. “Come your majesty… you are not safe here… regardless of what that man said.

 

“Thomas… his name is Thomas,” Jason replied, still stunned.

 

“How do you know that?” Logan asked.

 

“I don’t know… I just do. I guess when he was in my mind I was able to read a part of his, just like I am able to do with Varrus.”

 

“Stranger and stranger…” Logan said.

 

“Well, nothing is going to be solved this night, we better get going,” Geoff said as he began leading the group back to the fort, Jacob following.

 

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Philip was glad that Jason had not been at the Keep when the enemy's new troops had arrived. They were not regular Confederacy troops. In fact they did not come from any kingdom in the east. Only Varrus, having served in a campaign on the southern continent recognized what they faced... Qopo mercenaries with their formidable elephant cavalry.

 

How the Confederacy had been able to get the giant beasts to board their ships and travel the week long journey across the Southern Sea was beyond Philip's understanding. He did know that it threw his defense plans into chaos.

 

Varrus for his part was beginning to regret that he had rebuilt Qul Tos with open broad streets and wooded parks. It gave the animals an easy road to the palace and space to camp within the city walls. From one of the palace wall towers, Varrus and Philip could see the heavy armor that the elephants wore, making them immune to any attack by arrows unless an archer got a lucky shot at the eyes. As they watched the animals practice their charging attacks they knew the giant beasts were not slow on their feet.

 

“In the worst they can do, two elephants will charge the gate while men carrying a battering ram march between them, making it hard for our archers to get to them.” Varrus grunted. Down below that was exactly what the elephants were practicing. “It takes highly skilled and courageous men to be willing to run between those charging beasts.”

 

“Brave or foolhardy,” Philip agreed.

 

“That is what they are paid to do. And trust me, they are paid handsomely.”

 

“Can we bribe them?”

 

“And ruin their reputation… no, once bought they stay bought until the money runs out or winter comes, that is.”

 

“Winter? What does winter have to do with it?”

 

“If you have not noticed we are on top of a mountain… it gets pretty cold around here during the winter months. The Qopo with their jungles and deserts hate the cold.”

 

Philip looked up at the warm summer sun. “Well, it is a long time until winter. I think we better prepare for the worst.”

 

“Do you have a plan?” Varrus laughed.

 

“I do… but there is a problem,” Philip said as he spread out his wings and flew down to the palace below.

 

Varrus landed only moments after Philip in the palace garden to the sound of chopping of axes. “What is going on here?”

 

“I have ordered the trees to be cut down.” Philip said sullenly.

 

“What ever for… Jason loves these trees.”

 

“I know… that is why I am glad he is not here. He would have stopped me otherwise.”

 

“But why?” Varrus asked again.

 

“As I see it… our arrows and spears are pretty much useless against the beasts outside our gate. Fire, however, is another matter. Once these trees are cut down they are going to be coated with oil and thrown over the wall, in front of the gate. Then we will see how brave the Qopo’s elephants really are.” Philip explained as the chopping continued.

 

“Philip… you might be right. It could work but would it really give us the time we need? There are only a dozen or so trees here large enough. Is it worth destroying them and angering Jason?”

 

Suddenly Philip, became enraged and jumped on top of Varrus, knocking him down onto the ground. “I have to do something, damn it!”

 

“I… I understand, Philip. I would feel the same way if Jason prevented me from doing what I felt was necessary to protect him,” Varrus said as he stroked Philip’s face almost lovingly.

 

“Stop that…” Philip growled softly.

 

“Shhhhh… It is ok, Philip… I am here for you,” Varrus cooed.

 

They did not say more, but made passionate love in the midst of the wreckage of the royal garden. Philip… needing a way to expel his frustrations, was rougher than normal but Varrus was willing to accept that if it helped ease Philip’s pain. Once done, Philip kissed each scratch and bruise, watching them heal as fast as they had come.

 

“I’m sorry…” Philip sighed, his voice the calmest it had been in days.

 

Varrus pressed Philip’s head against his chest, letting the Demon’s hot tears run down his body. “No need to be, my love.”

 

“Is that what we are now…?” Philip murmured.

 

“It is what we have been ever since a certain person entered our lives.”

 

“Jason… will he ever forgive me?” Philip wept as his eyes fell on the giant stumps where trees had once stood.

 

“He will. Jason understands that you are trying to protect him.”

 

Now as limp as a rag doll, Philip wished he had Jason by his side this very moment so he could show him how much he did love him. Varrus sensed this as well, but knowing now was not the time for such a reunion, Varrus rolled Philip over onto his back and made love to him in the gentlest way possible… The sex was long, it was sweet, and ever so healing.

 

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Chapter Twenty- Eight: Conversations

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With Aidan gone, having flown back to Jadoor, and Amplexor having disappeared on his mysterious metal ship, James and Kyle finally had some time where they did not have to worry about someone looking over their shoulders. What had started off as a wedding reception, was now into the sixth day of an all-out orgy.

 

Amplexor had warned them that this would last for a few weeks before settling down. But with each new Saint and Demon Spawn created, the celebration grew. When the Famulus population learned of how their Duke was celebrating his honeymoon they too felt the need to celebrate, both men and women. Many a child was conceived, during the long celebration, as the days extended into weeks,

 

Finally, though, the last of the wedding guests were bonded to Kyle and James and the honeymoon was declared over. So began an even longer hangover. To James's shock, trade had basically stopped, as well as the many construction projects he had started. While he had been occupied, so had been the Famulus workers. Practically nothing had been done. Food supplies were now running low. The harbor was full of ships waiting to dock and be unloaded, many carrying fresh produce that had spoiled.

 

Starting to regret that he and Kyle had invited so many people to become their children, James called in his commanders as well as the leading Famulus elders, telling them they needed to restore order to the city. Going from a festival to hard work in one day turned to be as hard as making a fishing vessel reverse direction with all its nets still in the water.

 

Kyle though remained calm. After James finished shouting at everyone Kyle went to each man and apologized for his husband's behavior. He then promised to reward them if they could get things back on schedule.

 

 

It took two weeks before everything was back to normal, so when the Famulus elders approached their Duke with a proposal, James was not very amused by it.

 

"You are asking me to establish one month every year as a holiday to celebrate my marriage to Kyle?" James grunted

 

"James... you should be flattered," Kyle laughed.

 

James turned his face and gave his husband a dirty look. Kyle only responded by returning it. His, though, was more fearsome; his mouth was filled with sharp fangs.

 

"Your grace..." The most senior of the Famulus elders bowed. "Yes, some problems arose with such a long festival, but look at all the good it achieved. Many of our woman plan to name their children after you and your husband. Many of your Jadoorians found wives and husbands among our Famulus. Why not continue something that brought such happiness?"

 

"One month of no work will cripple this city. It will take over a month to repair the damage done so far as is." James argued.

 

"A week?" The elder compromised.

 

"Still too long." James insisted.

 

"How about we make it into a night festival," Kyle suggested. "During the day the people will work as normal, but at night they can celebrate."

 

"That could work." James nodded.

 

"Alright... but for two weeks," the Elder argued.

 

"Ten days," James counter offered.

 

"Agreed," the Elder laughed.

 

It was only after the proclamation was made and the elders gone that it finally hit James that, as Duke, there was no reason that he should have compromised at all. He did not want to look like the fool and change the decree but it continued to bother him all day.

 

"Why did I agree with the elders?" James grunted when he and Kyle were in bed for the night.

 

"Because it was a good idea," Kyle said as he rested his head on James's chest.

 

"Why did I agree to such nonsense? I am their Duke."

 

"Oh... power hungry are you?" Kyle laughed. “See yourself as the next Emperor Xavier?”

 

"No... I'm used to being an Admiral. I don't negotiate with my officers."

 

"True, but this is different. When it comes to life and death, the people need to unite behind a single person. As ruler, however, you need to listen to the needs of the people... that means you need to be willing to compromise."

 

"Will I ever make a good Duke?" James sighed.

 

"You will one day," Kyle chuckled.

 

"Until I do, I guess I will have to depend on you to make sure I listen."

 

"You better listen to me or else!" Kyle grinned as he took out his now long and slender tail, whipping it in the air.

 

"Oh, not the tail again," James sighed.

 

"You didn't seem to mind during our honeymoon."

 

"Yeah..." James blushed.

 

"Think of it this way... once a year for two weeks you and I can spend our nights doing whatever we want and not feel guilty about it," Kyle pointed out, as he tapped James's nose with the tip of his tail.

 

"I have never felt guilty about making love with you," James growled as he rolled himself on top of his lover.

 

Kyle, his eyes aglow, was surprised to see sadness on his Duke's face. "What's wrong James?"

 

"It's nothing," James dismissed.

 

"Don't lie to me."

 

"It's just... it's just that things are almost perfect."

 

"Almost..."

 

"Well, I live in a wonderful city, have great friends, and you... well, I think you know how I feel about you." James grinned.

 

"But something is missing," Kyle pressed.

 

"Yes... you know I come from a navy family."

 

"Yes."

 

"That tradition goes back for hundreds of years, but I was my father's only son. You and I will never have a child, so when I die my family tradition dies with me."

 

"Are you regretting marrying me?" Kyle asked, his lips trembling.

 

"No my love...not for a moment." James smiled gently as he placed his hand on the back of Kyle's neck.

 

"Good!" Kyle smirked waving his tail in a playful manner. "I would have to whip you if you said you did."

 

"Still... I wish there was a way for the two of us to have a baby."

 

"I know love," Kyle replied, brushing James's cheek with his tail. "You could adopt."

 

"But he would not be of my own blood."

 

"I see..." Kyle said, hesitating before continuing. "Do you know how the Centurion have children?"

 

"No I don't," James said, curious.

 

"Well, when one of them wants a child, his friends select a mother from among the Famulus women. If the Centurion has a Famulus lover who has a wife, the Famulus will ask his wife to have the Centurion's child. In both cases there are a lot of negotiations. The woman becomes the head of the Centurion’s household, including control over his purse and selection of the servants."

 

"I don't know if I would trust a woman with the ducal treasury," James grunted. His own father had kept a strict eye on the family books, every copper coin accounted for, including James' own allowance.

 

"That is why the friends usually picked the girl out," Kyle laughed.

 

"So, are you going to go look for some boring bookkeeper to be the mother of my children," James laughingly returned.

 

"Well, I'm not going to pick some beautiful, exciting dancer," Kyle laughed.

 

"Looking out for your own interests, are you?" James grinned as he tickled Kyle.

 

"You bet I am," Kyle replied.

 

"So tell me... from what I understand, Centurions usually only sleep with men. How do they handle being with a woman?"

 

"From what I know… on the first night that they sleep together, the woman is dressed in a Centurion uniform. That, and they get the Centurion drunk. Sometimes, though, it takes having the Centurion’s present lover take part as well."

 

"Would you like to do that... join me?"

 

"No thank you... I wouldn't want to distract you." Kyle grinned.

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Jason sat on a bench in the middle of the palace gardens, looking at giant holes where majestic trees once stood. There were still plenty of bushes and flowers, but without the tall pines the gardens looked barren.

 

He arrived just in time to see the first charge of the elephants. Just as Philip had feared, the Confederacy used the elephants to protect a platoon of men carrying a battering ram. The enemy made only three strikes at the gate when Varrus ordered the flaming logs dropped on them. Jason watched in horror as the elephants panicked, running out of control away from the palace, shaking off many of their riders, crushing many of them with their heavy feet.

 

It did not immediately occur to Jason where the logs had come from. It was only when Philip came to him and explained what he had done that Jason knew the truth. Flying down to the palace, landing in the gardens Jason saw the stumps where the pines had once stood. Philip followed Jason down and sat with him as long as he could, but with the enemy launching a second attack, he was forced to leave his side.

 

It was near dusk when Geoff showed up. He found Jason sitting on the bench, the setting sun hitting his face. When the trees had still stood, he and Jason had watched the changing shadows, trying to see how many animals they could see in them before the sun set. With the trees now gone, the ground was only covered with a desert of red light.

 

Geoff went over to Jason side and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I grew up in the mountains."

 

"Were there plenty of trees there?" Jason asked, not taking his eyes away from the ground.

 

"There used to be. When I was nine, silver was found. Hundreds of miners flooded the mountains that were my home. In a single season entire hillsides were stripped of their trees, leaving the mountains naked."

 

"I'm sorry," Jason said, turning his face away from the ground and looking up at Geoff.

 

"It was not all bad. The silver made my lord very rich and brought new life to our towns and villages. It also gained my lord new enemies. To protect himself he opened the rolls to new knights. Several of these knights were sent to the mountains where I lived, to guard the mines. It was Sir Landon who picked me to be his squire.

 

"Is that how you became a knight?" Jason asked.

 

"Yes." Geoff nodded before continuing, "When his time guarding the mines was over, he offered to take me with him to train me to become a knight. By this time all the mining had sent poisons into the rivers and the land. My parents, while they owned the land they farmed, were becoming poorer and poorer as each year’s harvest became smaller. My lord had made an offer to buy their land but that would have made them serfs. As a child of a serf I would not be able to become a knight. My father was desperate however and had no choice but to sell. Before he did, he asked Sir Landon to formally adopt me."

 

"And he did?"

 

"Yes," Geoff said sadly.

 

"Did you come to love him?"

 

"I did for many years but then something happened."

 

"What happened?"

 

"It was three years after Sir Landon adopted me that he was assigned to guard the mines again," Geoff said before stopping. Jason could see whatever he was planning to say was painful to him.

 

"On learning that we would be returning to my home, I became filled with joy. I had been to so many places, seen so many things, and wanted to tell my mother, father, and all my brother and sisters about them." Once again Geoff paused.

 

"Its alright... you don't have to tell me."

 

"No... I want to tell you." Geoff smiled weakly as he sat down next to Jason. After Jason wrapped an arm around Geoff's waist, he continued. "I could tell from a long distance that something was different... more than the new bustling town and the growing nakedness of the mountains. It was as if the very foundation of the place had changed. When we arrived at the town near my home, Sir Landon told me that we would be staying at the new fort... a fort that had been built on what had been my father's farm. This excited me to no end as that meant I could see them every day."

 

"Did you?" Jason asked when Geoff stopped talking.

 

"No... I didn't. As we traveled the road that would take me to my father's farm, my sense that something was different continued to grow. I knew I had been gone for several years, but I had not expected that I would not recognize the place. Then, when he made the final turn that would lead to the farmhouse, I saw it..."

 

"Saw what?"

 

"I saw that half the mountainside had slid down and covered the land where my family had lived."

 

"Did they survive?" Jason asked.

 

"No... I later talked to some of the guards at the fort. Two years previous, it had rained for two weeks solid. During that time, several major landslides had occurred. The one that happened on my father's land had been the worst. It happened in the middle of the night and had wiped out both my home and what had been the first fort. The fort I was at was really the second fort, more than a mile away from where the first one was now buried. It was the loss of all the trees you see... they were what held the earth in place. When the rains came, there was nothing to stop the mountain from sliding into the valley below."

 

"Did any of your family survive?"

 

"Yes... one, my older sister. She worked as a cook at the fort. When I saw her I ran over and tried to hug her but she pushed me away. It was only then that I learned of the hell her life had become. I finally saw how old and haggard she was. I met her two bastard children. I learned of the many letters she had tried to send, telling me of her plight. I also found out that Sir Landon had received those letters and had known for a long time what had happened to my family."

 

Jason did not say anything. He raised the hand that he had holding Geoff's side and brought it to his shoulder, pulling the man closer to him while at the same time wrapping a wing around Geoff's back.

 

"I learned to hate that day. I hated Sir Landon for hiding the truth from me. I hated the men who raped my sister. I hated the miners who had found silver and brought disaster to my home. I hated my sister for blaming me. I hated so much, but felt there was nothing I could do with it."

 

"What did you do?"

 

"I worked hard and became a knight, always hiding my hate for Sir Landon. Then, once knighted, I volunteered to become an assassin, to kill my lord's enemies. In that, I became quite skilled, killing many of my lord's rivals. When I was not killing for my lord, I would kill the people I hated. The first I killed was the miner who had first found silver in the mountains. By that time he had spent all the money he had earned and had become a half crazed hermit. Killing him proved very easy, as no one missed him. The next person I killed was Sir Landon. He was then retired and living on his family estate. I had to resort to poison to get him. What took longer, though, was killing all the men who raped my sister, as I needed her help in doing so."

 

"She would not tell you who did it?"

 

"No... she would tell me but not without blaming me for all her troubles and cursing my name. After I killed the last one... I killed her."

 

"What!" Jason said, shocked.

 

"I hated her you see... she held me responsible for my parents' deaths, the selling of the farm and for every man that raped her. Yes, she was happy that I took my revenge on them, but for complete justice she wanted me to kill myself as well."

 

Geoff then waited a long time for Jason to respond but none came. "You think I'm a monster."

 

"No..." Jason whispered.

 

"Well, I was one... That is why my lord sent me to kill you. He had heard rumors that people automatically fell in love with you on sight. He was sure that a cold killer like myself would be immune to your witchcraft. He was wrong... so very wrong."

 

"You fell in love with me?" Jason asked looking down into Geoff's blue eyes.

 

"No... I just found that I could not hate you. With each of the men my lord had me kill, I would have to make myself hate the person. It was the only way I could justify killing them. But that was not the only effect you had on me... I found that I could not hate anyone, including all the people I had already killed. All at once the anger that had been shielding me from my guilt disappeared. I wanted to kill myself, but was too afraid that would mean an eternity in hell. I wanted so much to hate again... that is why I tried to kill you. I felt if I just tried to kill you, my hatred would come back."

 

"You should have just talked to me."

 

"I was too scared... I was afraid you would see me as a monster... that you would hate me."

 

"Geoff..." Jason sighed, feeling the pain his Saint was experiencing.

 

"When this war is over, there is only one person left that I want to kill... my former lord. Then all I want to do is close down the mines and replant the mountains with trees. I've been told that we Saints will live for hundreds of years. That might give me enough time to return my home to what it once was."

 

"What is the name of your lord’s fiefdom?"

 

"Ingral."

 

"Then I hereby name you Earl of Ingral."

 

"But..."

 

"Am I not king... Can I not name my own lords?"

 

"You can...," Geoff said, knowing that it could not be that easy.

 

"Then you are now the Earl of Ingral... as well as the king's chief gardener."

 

Geoff laughed at that last comment. "Gardener... I like that better than chief assassin."

 

Both men knew that it was easy to name Geoff an Earl; it was going to be a lot harder to make it a reality. Right now, Jason's authority did not extend beyond the walls of the palace. Then there was the old Earl, he would not step down just because Jason asked him to. People would die; die just because Jason wanted to make Geoff happy and believed in his dream of restoring his homeland. It would take many years before they could find out if it was worth it.

 

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Chapter Twenty-Nine: Offspring

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"Jason told Logan, Logan told me and now I am telling you..." Varrus started.

 

"Tell you what?" Philip asked.

 

"Jacob is back."

 

“That damned wolf… how did it ever find us here?”

 

“We don’t know… guided most likely.”

 

That raised Philip’s suspicions. “Guided by whom?”

 

“A Grau,” Varrus confessed, a look of worry on his face.

 

“A Grau! And why would a Grau guide Jacob to Jason. I tell you why… that wolf is a spy.”

 

“A spy!” Varrus laughed.

 

Philip threw a fist against a stone column, causing part of it to chip off. “That wolf has never been normal... Tell me I am wrong about that!”

 

“You’re right… the wolf is unusual. But Jason says…”

 

“Jason says what? That we should trust the animal? That it is his obedient pet?”

 

“No… Jason says Jacob is his son,” Varrus whispered.

 

“What!”

 

“I talked to Kristen about it… and he says the Dominus have the means of creating life from something so simple as two drops of blood.”

 

“Impossible!”

 

“Philip, if anyone knows anything of what the Dominus can do, it is Kristen.”

 

“So how did they get Jason’s blood?”

 

“Remember Erik? According to Kristen, Erik collected blood from Jason on a regular basis. His blood was taken to Mordel where the Dominus used it to 'create' Jacob… not a wolf, Kristen called it a Dalf… a werewolf.”

 

“A werewolf… and I suppose his bite can change a person into a wolf as well?”

 

“Remember when Jason was bit and you ran Jacob off? Jason’s eyes turned green for a while.”

 

“I should still kill that wolf -- that werewolf -- for that.”

 

“Well, Jason now tells me that Jacob was forced to do that by the man who gave the other drop of blood… a Grau named Thomas.”

 

“I see… but why then has Jason not changed into a Dalf or whatever they are called.”

 

“Kristen says it is because Jason was a Legatio when he was bitten. Remember that Legatio age slower than we Centurions or even Famulus. Kristen is certain that Jason will change one day… he is just unsure as to when?”

 

“But if Jacob is a werewolf… then why has he not changed into a half-human half-man beast?”

 

“The same reason that Jason has not changed… Kristen says he is not old enough yet.”

 

“Are there any more surprises you have yet to tell me?” Philip demanded.

 

“One other… Thomas was seen in the woods near the Back Door Fort.

 

“And why is he not here in chains before me?”

 

“He escaped of course… using one of their weapons.”

 

“If only Jason would let me flood the valley with my children,” Philip cursed. "But with his leash around my neck, and with the Qopo elephants attacking our gates, it will not be long before we are pushed back into the Labyrinth."

 

"But in the Labyrinth our men will be safe and their elephants useless," Varrus pointed out. “I am certain that not even a Grau can sneak in.”

 

Pounding his fists on the parapet, Philip grunted. "Retreating into the Labyrinth was only supposed to be a last resort."

 

"It is the best option we have, and we still have the back tunnel."

 

"Yes... but we are not making the enemy pay for taking the palace... I had hoped they would have sent their infantry against us. Tens of thousands could have died by our archers. Now it looks like we will have to give it up at the cost of a few hundred."

 

"That's war... you can't control everything. We might be forced to give up the walls, but you can try and hold the palace proper. The enemy has to pass though the palace before they can get to the entrance of the Labyrinth."

 

"And risk our men being cut off from escape?" Philip replied angrily.

 

"I said it was an option... nothing about how good it would be."

 

"Well, the enemy attacked the gates three times and we only have two logs left."

 

"Then I think we need to start our retreat," Varrus replied calmly

 

"Yes... but leave enough men on the walls to hide that fact from the enemy." Philip nodded.

 

Two hours latter Jason entered the room with Geoff. Seeing the tired expression on Philip's face, Jason gave Geoff a parting kiss before going over to his lover. "I'm sorry I was so upset about the trees."

 

"I know how much they meant to you," Philip apologized.

 

"I will plant new ones. There are plenty of saplings near the fort. Geoff will help me." Jason replied

 

"Did he find you in the garden?"

 

"Yes... we talked. He loves trees more than I do," Jason said, not wanting to tell Philip about Geoff's dark past quite yet.

 

"I did not know that was possible." Philip chuckled before moving on to more serious matters. "If there is anything in the palace you can't see destroyed or stolen you better have it sent up to the keep tonight."

 

"We are going to pull back?" Jason asked.

 

"We have no other choice... at least not a wise choice."

 

"I'll fly down tonight."

 

"Good... how was your stay at the fort."

 

"It was good to have space to fly." Jason grinned.

 

“And you have Jacob again”

 

“Yes… but he seems nervous.”

 

"Just like you were when I found you." Philip smiled remembering the day when he had found Jason, hair uncut, wearing a woman's dress and scared that monsters had come to kill him."

 

"Yes..." Jason blushed.

 

For a long while, the two men sat in silence, just looking at each other and remembering all that they had gone through together in less than a year. In one more month it would be their "anniversary", the day the Labyrinth fell. Hopefully, history would not repeat itself.

 

***************************

 

Lauren did not know what to do... it had been two months now since she had had her blood flow. She knew very well what that had to mean... she was pregnant.

 

When Sirrus had found her in her village, and lifted her onto his horse, she had felt like a princess finding her prince. And, at first, Sirrus had treated her as such. It was only later in the war that she learned what her true role was… the vessel to contain his rage.

 

When the war was going well and Sirrus was happy, things were good. But with Lord Brashear undermining his command, those days were now few and far between. It was not that Sirrus beat her... at least not physically. It was the things he would say to her... the threats he would make.

 

Tonight was such a time... Sirrus had spent hours trying to convince Brashear to continue sending his Qopo mercenaries against the gates, sure that the Centurions could not maintain their firewall. Brashear, ever cautious, did not care for the idea of mad elephants running around the city after dark.

 

Sirrus, giving up on Brashear for the night, proceeded to get very drunk before making his way back to the tent he shared with Lauren. There he leered at her, whipping out his sharp tongue.

 

"You whores are all the same... I don't know why I put up with your filth."

 

"..." Lauren remained silent.

 

"No response... no sharp wit... no little bit of feminine wisdom?"

 

"..."

 

"Well, I know how to get you talk... how about I hand you over to my men. I'm sure they can get you talking."

 

Knowing that would mean being raped, Lauren began to speak. "Please don't..."

 

"Please don't what?" Sirrus snickered, enjoying how he was able to control her.

 

"Please don't send me to your men."

 

"Why should I not?" Sirrus said as he undid the buckle of his belt.

 

Lauren knew what she was supposed to say... it was the same thing Sirrus had insisted she say from the very beginning. "I love you."

 

"You love me?" Sirrus said in surprise as if that was the first time he had heard her say that. "And why do you love me?"

 

"Because you are great and noble man," Lauren said, her head hanging low.

 

"And what are you." Sirrus snickered.

 

"I am a whore... a slut... a filthy animal unworthy of your love."

 

Sirrus took his index finger and used it to raise her chin. "Look at me when you say that."

 

"I am a whore... a slut, unworthy of your love," Lauren repeated, tears running down her face.

 

Sirrus then stepped back and pulled down his pants. "You are all those things... but I am willing to give you my love anyway... see how generous I am."

 

Lauren stared at Sirrus hard sex with disgust. It sickened her that his treatment of her excited him. Nothing would have made her happier than to go down on her knees and bite the thing off. That is not what she did though. She knew that any attack on Count Sirrus would not simply be punished with death. The Count would make sure that she suffered... that she would be handed over to his men and raped until they tired of her. With so few women in the camp... that would take a long time. Then, after that, she would be handed over to lower ranking officers and down the line until she was finally sold to the Qopo... a fate that scared her more than death.

 

No... she had to find a way to stay alive until the war ended and Sirrus returned to his wife. Being pregnant with his bastard was a quick way to get on his bad side. The only thing that kept her spirit up was the hope that the Centurions would be victorious. The stories from her village had always said that Centurions were monsters who would rape the men that they defeated in battle. The vision of Sirrus bent over and being raped by a Centurion giant almost allowed her to forget her own situation, letting a smile form on her face. It was always at these moments that Sirrus would spit on her.

 

*******************************************************

Chapter Thirty: The Conflicts of War

*******************************************************

 

Sirrus, his face red, fumed as he watched the fat Earl eating with his Qopo ally. “This is a war Lord Brashear, not some picnic.”

 

“Have you only come to ruin my breakfast?” Brashear pouted with his fat lips. The large tent was half occupied by a long dining table covered with food. Elegantly carved, it would have better fit a nobleman’s country estate than a field of battle.

 

“I have come to implore you to not waste our considerable advantage. Now that your ‘special’ unit has arrived, it should not go to waste. We could have smashed our way into the palace yesterday if you had not called off the attack.”

 

Brasher, stabbed his fork through one of the steaming sausages on his plate, sending out a stream of hot juice that landed on Count Sirrus’ green and gray tunic. “But you do agree that waiting for the Qopo will save hundreds, if not thousands, of our men’s lives.”

 

Sirrus picked up a napkin from the table to blot the stain on his tunic. “Yes… your idea to use elephant cavalry was most ingenious. Not using them to their full potential is the sign of a fool.”

 

“Have you ever seen an elephant which has gone mad Count Sirrus? It is a sight to behold. No matter how much training is given to the animal by the Qopo, they can’t stop its rampaging. It will kill or destroy everything in its path until it is brought down or dies from exhaustion.”

 

“Very impressive,” Sirrus replied, returning the napkin to the table.

 

After dipping the sausage into a jar of mustard and taking a bite of it, the Earl continued. “Let’s say you were correct yesterday… that the Centurions only have so much at their disposal to keep their fires going. In the darkness of night however, how would we be able to see if they try any other tricks?”

 

“We wouldn’t.” Sirrus replied, gritting his teeth.

 

“I see… what you assume is foolishness is actually wisdom. I have always heard that you Huronites were a backwards people. It is amusing to find that to be true.”

 

“Enough of your droll humor… the sun has risen. Order the attack!” Sirrus demanded, pointing to where sunlight was streaming in from the flap of the tent.

 

“I think it is safe now for your men to continue the attack.” Lord Brasher said, snickering at Count Sirrus as he waved a hand to the Qopo merchant, Dodofan.

 

“As you wish Lord Brashear.” Dodofan replied with a small smile on his face. He excused himself with a bow before ducking out of the tent.

 

“I will now leave you to finish your meal,” Sirrus said as he excused himself, not retuning the dismissive nod Brashear gave him.

 

***************************

 

While no flaming logs came down from the walls this time, it took a good ten minutes of two hundred men pounding against the gates before the iron doors broke.

           

This time Brashear did not hold back his own troops from attacking, having positioned his entire force near the palace. Once his men were through, he even went so far as to blockade the entrance to the city with his elephant cavalry, preventing the other kingdoms from entering.

 

Brashear’s plan soon became very clear to Sirrus The nobleman from Tal Sith was ensuring that his own kingdom would gain control of the royal treasury first, and thereby decide how it would be divided.

 

“If foolishness is wisdom and wisdom foolishness… then what you have just done Lord Brashear was very wise indeed.” Sirrus snickered, seeing an opportunity to regain control of the situation.

 

Gathering the leaders of the other kingdoms, Sirrus jumped on top of a wagon near the broken gates, raising a closed fist over his head. "As you have just witnessed... the Tal Sith are nothing but money grabbers and traitors. Have they once risked their own men in battle?"

 

To this, a series of grumbles and curses were heard from the crowd. The fact that Sirrus had not been willing to risk his Huron troops was overlooked.

 

"As I speak, they take the profits we have so rightly won with our swords and blood. What will be left for us... the true defenders of the East?" Sirrus said, as he opened his fist, showing it was empty.

 

"Nothing!" The men shouted.

 

"Nothing!" Sirrus agreed, nodding his head vigorously. "That will be our fate unless we force Tal Sith to recognize our rights."

 

"Fight the Tal Sith?" one of the generals said in disbelief.

 

"They have the Qopo and the palace... it would be a blood bath!" another commander shouted.

 

"Yes... yes they control the city but we control the "ROADS"!" What will they eat if we do not let their supply wagons pass. How long can their elephants survive off of stone? I say we blockade the city. Let them eat off gold and silver... we will feast off their bread and meat!"

 

"Blockade, Blockade, Blockade!" became the chant of what was now a mob.

 

Jumping off the wagon, Sirrus went over to his generals ordering them to surround the palace gates. He knew that the last thing needed was a war between Confederacy nations. Such a conflict would give the Centurions a chance to mount a counterattack. He hoped that Brashear would see the same thing.

 

**********************

 

It did not take long for the Tal Sith to notice the barrier of wagons growing at the gate. On the parapet of the palace wall Brashear raised the white flag of truce, waiting for his arch nemesis to arrive.

 

Climbing on top of the empty supply wagons his men had put up at the gate, Sirrus smiled up at Lord Brashear. “I hope I am not keeping you from your lunch.” Sirrus chuckled.

 

"What is the meaning of this? We are supposed to be allies?" Brashear shouted from his perch.

 

"Allies are supposed to share in the profit as well as the costs of war!" Sirrus shouted back.

 

"I don't know what you are talking about."

 

"The treasure... we were supposed to share the treasure."

 

"What... are you telling me that you thought my men were taking all the treasure for themselves!" Brashear laughed nervously.

 

" Then why are only your men inside the palace!"

 

"I've seen your troops... more animal than human. They would loot the place, destroying priceless works of art in the process."

 

"That seems reasonable... but would it not be wise for all parties involved to share in the responsibility?"

 

Brashear looked as if he had bitten into a piece of bad fruit. "My men need time to catalog everything first... so it can be divided fairly amongst us. Your men would only get in the way."

 

"Fine... but I should warn you that while you are ‘cataloging’ we will be busy setting up a few toll roads."

 

"Toll roads?"

 

"Yes... I think we will set up one right here, in front of the city gate. I think ten thousand gold standards for every supply wagon would be a fair price"

 

"That’s outrageous!"

 

"I know... I think it would take only a few months before you would have spent the entire royal treasury." Sirrus laughed.

 

Brashear remain silent for a few seconds before responding. "Maybe we can compromise."

 

"What do you suggest?"

 

"We have not yet broken into the vault beneath the palace... we can agree to keep it sealed until after we have finished with the Centurions."

 

"I will still want some of my men guarding it… just to make sure that no one tries to sneak in," Sirrus insisted.

 

"Fine..." Brashear grumbled. He then turned and shouted something to one of his men at the gates. The two elephants guarding it moved out of the way.

 

On seeing this, a few dozen of the smaller kingdoms' men started racing for the entrance but Sirrus raised his voice again, causing them to halt. "No looting... we are not invaders but an army of liberation. Let us act accordingly.”

 

The Count then climbed down and walked with his head high, past the gates of Qul Tos, knowing that with this victory he was back in command.

 

 

********************************************************

Chapter Thirty-One: Acceptance

********************************************************

 

For a brief moment, Philip had hoped the impossible would happen; that the Confederacy troops would fight amongst themselves. It was the only reason he had not moved the royal treasury up to the Labyrinth Keep. He and Varrus both agreed that the primary reason for this war was not the Centurion presence or the freeing of the serfs; it was the vault underneath the palace.

 

Qul Tos had always been the wealthiest of the eastern kingdoms. It was the reason the Labyrinth had been built… to protect that wealth. While fighting had not yet broken out amongst the invaders, Philip hoped that it would happen eventually. And, when it did happen, Philip would be ready.

 

Turning away from the cliff’s edge, Philip looked down on the central courtyard inside the Keep. There he could see Jason and Geoff planting saplings they had taken from near the backdoor fort into large pots. There were also some new pots filled with a few of Jason's favorite flowers from the palace gardens that he had saved during the night.

 

Philip could not help but smile at this. Besieged by tens of thousands of men, Jason still cared enough about others to do this thing for Geoff. When he saw the two men playfully throw dirt at each other, Philip laughed. Then his expression changed to something more serious as he gazed back down at the palace and the city below.

 

Soon the Confederacy would start sending teams into the Labyrinth to try and find a route through it. They would find any old knowledge about the maze useless. Many of the old tunnels had caved in while new ones had been added. Pits with bridges only wide enough to let men pass in single file, more ambush points, additional elevators, and a new secret that Philip had added just a few weeks ago, awaited the invaders.

 

Taking his experience with the secret underwater cave he went through to reach Qul Tos, Philip had had a new tunnel dug below the main one. Then he had the middle of the main tunnel caved in. Now, a person needed to climb down a ladder and travel underground for twenty feet before climbing back up to where the elevator leading to the exit of the Labyrinth waited. If the enemy did solve enough of the Labyrinth to get close to the exit, Philip had built a pipe that would fill the lower cave with water, making his own underwater cave.

 

Philip knew that the enemy would eventually find out they needed to swim to get to the other side, but Philip would have a squad of archers waiting for them. As they could not swim wearing heavy armor, they would be easy targets.

 

This train of thought was suddenly broken when Philip heard the sudden shout of laughter coming from the courtyard. Turning around to see what his love was up to now, Philip saw that they had finished planting and had been watering the trees when Jason had poured a bucket of water on top of Geoff's head. Geoff was now rushing toward Jason, succeeding in knocking him down on the ground. With them rolling on the dirt ground it was not long before both of them were covered in mud.

 

Wanting Jason to know he had caught him at play, Philip glided to the ground, lifted Jason up, and hugged him tight. "Having fun?!"

 

"Yes..." Jason blushed.

 

"Well, how about all three of us get cleaned up?" Philip said looking directly at Geoff. He had noticed that Jason's Saint never seemed comfortable around him.

 

"Alright..." Geoff responded nervously.

 

“Oh come on, Geoff... I don't bite." Philip grinned showing off his sharp teeth.

 

"I don't think that is what Geoff is worried about," Jason chuckled.

 

"Then what is it, Geoff?" Philip asked, letting go of Jason before walking closer to Geoff. "Is it my claws, my wings, my horns... or even my tail? Most men come to love my tail."

 

"No....," Geoff replied nervously, looking down at the ground.

 

"Now, now... at least look me in the eye." Philip grinned as he used his tail to raise Geoff's chin up."

 

"No... its your skin."

 

"My skin?" Philip asked, raising his white eyebrows.

 

"It looks... it looks so inhuman."

 

"I see... and you don't know how Jason is attracted to me looking the way I do."

 

"I... I do not," Geoff confessed.

 

"Jason... I think Geoff and I need to talk," Philip said not letting his eyes leave Geoff's face.

 

"But..." Jason protested.

 

"Go clean yourself up... we will be down shortly," Philip ordered.

 

"I understand," Jason nodded, leaving the two men alone.

 

Once Jason was gone, Philip started asking Geoff more questions. "Does Jason know you feel that way about me?"

 

"A little."

 

"And how did Jason respond."

 

"He didn't really care what I thought."

 

"That's because he has never really cared how I looked... only that he loves me."

 

"I guess that is what I don't understand... I didn't know you before you... you became a Demon."

 

"I was pretty much the same as I am now... only a little more passionate."

 

"I see."

 

"I can understand you being prejudiced. I was a Centurion and we Centurions are a very bigoted people. We think we are the best fighters and lovers in the world. Jason was a Legatio... they tend to think pretty highly of themselves as well, believing they are the most intelligent and civilized people in all of Ares.”

 

“Jason is not like that.”

 

“I know,” Philip nodded. “It took Jason for me to see how wrong my prejudices were. I used to think that everyone was prejudiced... making my own bigotries acceptable. Jason has no prejudices, though. Oh, he used to think that all men were monsters but that only lasted a day. Jason was the most accepting Legatio I, and the whole Western Centurion Army, had ever met and we loved him for it. It also got me to thinking... if Jason could be so accepting... how could I, a man who loves him, keep my own prejudices… so I gave them up."

 

"Can’t be that easy," Geoff insisted.

 

"You're right. It’s not, but it helps to have Jason as a role model. All I have to do is ask myself what Jason would do in a certain situation, and it usually leads me to the right choice." Philip grinned.

 

"I guess... I guess I should try to be more like Jason."

 

"I hope so... now tell me the truth... do you not find my tail the least bit alluring?" Philip grinned as he waved his tail in front of Geoff face.

 

"A little...,” Geoff blushed.

 

"Good... now how about we join Jason in the basement. I can let you get acquainted with all the different uses my tail has." Philip winked.

 

*********************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Two: Fate of the Damned

*********************************************************

 

The deer, its eyes glowing green, did not know what it was… only that it hungered. That hunger led it away from Qul Tos, following the Qulos River until it arrived in a field rich with carnage. There it began to feed off the bodies of the dead.

 

********************

 

General Boars and the three dozen of his surviving men were barricaded in the light house; the port, and control of the river lost several days ago.

 

“Sir… the commander of the Confederate forces is calling for our surrender again.”

 

“Again!” Boars laughed.

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“When will these Famulus ever learn that a proper Centurion does not surrender.”

 

“When the last one of us are dead!” The officer laughed.

 

“General... listen!” another man hissed.

 

From the top of the tower, they could hear the sounds of screams. Not a battle cry, but the shivering tone of full terror… and it was coming closer.”

 

Soon pairs of green eyes could be seen glowing from the faces of dead warriors, moving among the living Confederates, killing, eating, and increasing their numbers as they went.

 

“Archers!” Boars commanded.

 

“Yes sir!” Both officers saluted before racing down the stairs.

 

As time passed, more and more of the corpses that had once littered the ground came to life, terrifying and killing all that lived. The entire ruin of the city of Qul Hoth was a sea of green glowing eyes, everywhere but at the lighthouse. From above, Boars watched as his archers rained arrows down from the tower as it was surrounded… a beacon of life in a sea of death.

 

“General… what should we do?”

 

“First of all we don’t invite them in for breakfast.” The general tried to joke, but failed to lift the spirit of anyone, including himself.

 

Near the middle of the night the moaning began. “Sacrifice…. Sacrifice… sacrifice.”

 

“What is that?” Boars demanded not sure what he was really hearing. He was tired from months of siege.

 

“Sacrifice… sacrifice… sacrifice…” the undead continued to moan.

 

“I think they plan on killing us,” one of the officers replied.

 

“I think you are a fool… they could have killed us anytime… why wait now?”

 

“Sir… if I may be so bold… but can this be part of the prophecy?” a commander asked.

 

“The prophecy?”

 

The man started a chant:

 

“A child of love and hate be born

A child above a city of white

A maze through which the darkness fights

To claim its love and with love unite

Together, two will force the fight

The force of hatred and death unite

Two worlds of man a war will make

Until Angel, Demon, Man must fly

From Ares red to blue star nigh”

 

“Are you saying this is the force of 'death'? General Boar’s asked.

 

“Yes General,” the same officer replied. “Ever since King Jason and Commander Philip bonded, many of us have felt that the time of the Prophecy has arrived.”

 

“Then what do you recommend we do?”

 

“Give them a sacrifice… one of our men… maybe that will settle their spirits.”

 

“But who would you have me choose…” Boars demanded. He had a responsibility to his men… to protect both their bodies and their souls. Their stunning silence showed what choice they expected the general to make. In the end Boars saw it himself.

 

Having no reason to say goodbye, Boars stripped himself of his sword and armor before jumping off the parapet. During his brief fall down, he hoped that he would die in the fall. Instead, he landed into the arms of a dozen of the half living men… all with green eyes and the smell of rot about them.

 

The creatures carried the general with a firm grip to the center of town where a lone corpse stood, it’s gray flesh appearing as if it had been chewed upon.

 

“Who are you?” Boars demanded as the undead around him forced him onto his knees.

 

“I am damned,” the corpse replied. “You are now damned as well Centurion. We all are.”

 

“What of my men?”

 

The corpse walked over to Boars touching the general’s face with cold wet rotting flesh. “Since you came to us willingly we will let them leave. You though will be ours forever.”

 

“I am willing to face anything for the sake of my men.”

 

“So be it,” the corpse whispered before it opened its wide jaws, fangs glistening in the moonlight before the corpse bit into the general’s neck.

 

As he felt the creature suck the blood from his body Boars became numb to everything, to pain, to pleasure, to his very emotions as his life was drained away. When the creature stood up his skin was still gray but the rot and chewed flesh had healed.

 

“Come General, stand by my side. All that you behold is now our home. Qul Hoth is our city of the damned and I, Gideon, am its lord and master."

 

**********************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Three: Proposals

**********************************************************

 

That night Logan made sure that Jason was alone before approaching him. It had taken him several days of hard work to make what he was about to give his Angel, and he was not sure how Jason would react. If there was one thing Logan was more proud of than his weapons, it was that he was always upfront about his feelings. When it came to Jason... it was love. The problem was that Logan knew that he could not have Jason all to himself. Too many other people loved Jason just as deeply. Still, Logan was not going to let Philip or any of the others intimidate him.

 

Walking into Jason apartments, he found the young king in his office reading a book. "What are you reading?" Logan asked.

 

"One of my favorite stories as a child." Jason grinned. "Varrus saved all the books that had been in the tower and placed them in my office."

 

"That was nice of him." Logan grinned, sitting down by Jason's side on the armrest. "What is the story about?"

 

"It is about a boy from a small fishing village who wants to be a knight. He goes off on many adventures, saves the princess, is knighted and becomes the king's champion."

 

"Sounds like a good story for any young boy to read."

 

"It was... Being stuck in the Tower, I used to pretend that I was that boy... going off and exploring the world. Now that I have done all those things like in the book… it reads like a different story."

 

"Oh?"

 

"Well, it no longer seems real. I mean, only good things happen to the boy. He always wins. But in real life that does not happen."

 

Logan nodded seeing the point Jason was trying to make.

 

"Yes... considering all the things the boy does, he should have been scared at some point, but the book always has him brave."

 

"Is that what is wrong, Jason... you wish you were as brave?"

 

"Yes." Jason nodded, closing the book.

 

"You're growing up." Logan grinned, hugging Jason's head to his body.

 

"I am?" Jason laughed.

 

"Yes you are," Logan repeated. "Come lay down on the bed with me. I want to ask you something."

 

"Ok..." Jason nodded, getting up from his desk.

 

As soon as he walked into the bedroom, Jason let his white robe slip off his body, revealing what Logan felt was the most perfect example of the male form. Jason’s back was long, tapering down from his broad muscular shoulders to his narrow waist. With each step he took toward the bed the muscles of his back would flex in a little dance.

 

When Jason reached the bed and laid down on his back, Logan was able to see the front of Jason's body spread out before him, his defined pecs, eight pair of abs, his tiny belly button, and the small bush of black hair that surrounded his manhood.

 

Logan, stopping himself from licking his lips, took out the gift for Jason from his pocket and placed it on the dresser. He then proceeded to undress. He was in fit condition and looked a lot younger since Jason had made him his Saint, but he felt he was nowhere near the physical perfection of Jason. With his broad shoulders, strong blacksmith arms, hairy chest, and protective instincts, he had often been mistaken for a Centurion even though he was only a Famulus. Sometimes, he wished he had been a Centurion, as most Famulus attracted to his build usually gave their services to a Centurion, while most Centurions tended to treat him like a child.

 

Being with Jason allowed Logan to exercise his parental instincts to the fullest. Thanks to Jason spending nearly all of his life in the Labyrinth Tower, there were so many things he didn't know about... not math, or writing, but history and life experiences. When Logan or the others would show Jason something, most of the time it was for the first time in his life. Logan knew that Jason's gardening with Geoff was the first time he had ever planted anything. Geoff had laughed when he had told Logan the hundreds of questions Jason asked while they worked.

 

As Logan saw it... Jason was the ultimate virgin... not a sexual virgin as he well knew from personal experience, but his personality was virginal and, even with all the new experiences Jason was going to face in the coming years, Logan was sure that Jason's innocence would not fade with time, as it was too much a part him.

 

Now undressed and holding his gift in his hand, Logan joined Jason on the bed, enjoying the feel of the silk sheets. "I have something I want to give you."

 

"What is it?" Jason asked propping himself on his elbows.

 

"This." Logan said as he opened the jewel case.

 

Inside was a ring made up of dozens of incredibly thin threads of gold interlaced with platinum. At every seventh junction were tiny blue sapphires, the famous gems of Qul Tos.

 

"It’s beautiful." Jason said as he carefully took the ring in his hand.

 

"Thank you... I wanted you to like it."

 

"Why did you make it for me?" Jason asked curious.

 

"Because... because I want to marry you, Jason," Logan stuttered, to his own amazement. He was not known for being reserved.

 

"Logan... the ring is very nice and I do love you, but it is Philip that I am going to marry," Jason said, handing the ring back.

 

"I know... I just have always been honest with what I feel, so I had to tell you... I love you and want to marry you."

 

"I don't know what to say."

 

"Can you have more than one husband? From what I understood, Philip was only to be your consort. Kings are known to have more than one," Logan said, as desperation started entering his voice.

 

"Oh Logan," Jason sighed, as he reached over and hugged the crying man.

 

"Please say yes," Logan wept, crying on Jason's chest.

 

"I can't Logan," Jason said, hating that he was breaking the man's heart.

 

"I just want to be closer to you. I want you to know that I love you. I need to know that you love me," Logan said, now hiccupping.

 

"I do love you, Logan, but I can only marry one person."

 

"You old romantic," Logan accused, chuckling weakly.

 

"I guess I am," Jason agreed. "In all the books I read, only the evil characters have more than one wife."

 

"Philip is a very lucky man then, considering all the good men you had to choose from."

 

"I think I am the lucky one. I was a princess locked up in a tower in need of rescue. I even had a dress." Jason laughed before going back to being serious. "Philip was the man who saved me. From the moment he took off his red mask, I have been in love with him."

 

"I know, but I still wish you would marry more than one of us."

 

"Well, if I were to have two husbands the other would be Varrus."

 

"How about three?" Logan asked hopefully.

 

"It would have been Gideon… if he were still with us."

 

"Four?"

 

"Then you, Logan." Jason laughed.

 

"Well, as long as I am in such good company with Varrus and Gideon I think I can handle the rejection," Logan sighed.

 

"You know... Geoff has not found anyone special."

 

"The captain of the Winged Guards?"

 

"Yes... he really needs someone to love him."

 

"He does have a quiet way about him," Logan agreed.

 

"How about the two of you meet and see how things work out."

 

"It would be nice to see him outside of his guard duties. He takes looking out for you very seriously."

 

"He's trying to make up for trying to kill me," Jason laughed.

 

"What?" Logan said shocked.

 

"Well... I guess you should know that Geoff was an assassin before he joined the winged guards."

 

"But you made him one of your Saints?"

 

"It seemed the best way to stop Philip from killing him, at the time."

 

"You are definitely more forgiving than I am," Logan grunted.

 

"All I ask is that you be patient with Geoff. He has had a hard life."

 

"Harder than yours?" Logan asked seriously, having heard how Jason's mother had treated him.

 

"Yes," Jason readily agreed. "His entire family died in a mudslide which destroyed his home. He blames himself for it."

 

"There is more than what you are telling me," Logan guessed.

 

"Yes," Jason nodded. "But it's up to him to tell you."

 

"I understand."

 

For a long time, Logan remained resting on Jason's chest, but as time passed Logan started seeing beyond his disappointment and began to remember what kind of body his head was laying on. Soon his manhood responded to this realization as it fattened with blood.

 

"Jason... I know I can't marry you but can we still?…"

 

"If you would like to," Jason replied with false innocence.

 

"Oh, I can honestly say I would like that very much," Logan chuckled as he placed more of his body on top of Jason's.

 

Soon the two of them were rolling all over the bed, taking it slow while making it as much fun as possible. In fact they were still at it when Philip finally came back from his long bath. Laughing Philip joined in.

 

 

 

********************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Four: A Single Drop

********************************************************

 

With Brashear's humiliating defeat, Sirrus now had the complete loyalty of the smaller kingdoms. Together they controlled two-thirds of the army massed around Qul Tos, making Brashear's Tal Sith men unnecessary.

 

This new reality was not missed by Brashear. He was now very willing to risk his men if it would regain him his influence over the other kingdoms. So when Sirrus announced it was time to send explorer teams into the Labyrinth, Brashear was the first to volunteer.

 

The first group of a dozen men entered the cave expected to be attacked at once. When nothing happened, the order was sent for them to go deeper. That was the last that anyone saw of them. The same happened to the next three platoons sent in. Having had enough of his men disappearing, Brashear ordered a whole company of five hundred men into the Labyrinth. This time men did come back, including the major leading them, an arrow in his left arm.

 

While the healers worked to remove the arrow and cauterize the wound, Brashear demanded answers. "What the hell is happening in there?"

 

"It's a trap, my Lord... one giant trap. After several turns we entered a cavern. It was so large we were not able to see the end of it from the light of our torches. That is where they sprung their trap. They waited until nearly all my men were inside before they started firing their arrows from an upper balcony. We didn't stand a chance. We didn't even have bows to fire back, expecting close combat. Even if we had archers, we could not see them in the darkness. They could see us however, thanks to our damn torches."

 

"Curse them!" Brashear shouted at Sirrus. Out of the five hundred men that entered less the ten made it back. "How are we to fight without torches?"

 

"Torches are not the problem... the problem is that they are not bright enough to let you see where the Centurions are," Sirrus said calmly

 

"What do you suggest we do then?"

 

"We build a fire large enough to light up that cave."

 

"But won't it fill the cave up with smoke?"

 

"Smoke rises, my dear friend. If your Major is correct and the Centurions are firing from an upper balcony, it will hurt them more than your own men."

 

“But how do we build a fire in the middle of the room without being shot down."

 

"Easy... you get an archer to tie a rope to one of his arrows and have him shoot it across the room. Then you pick a dozen brave men. Load them up with barrels of oil and wood and have them carry it all using the rope to guide them."

 

"You've thought this all out... why didn't you warn me of the trap?"

"

Because, my dear fellow, the Labyrinth is filled with traps. I didn't know, until your Major returned, which trap they were up against." Sirrus grinned.

 

"You still could have warned me," Brasher insisted.

 

"And spoil your fun... I think not."

 

If it had not been for the fact that Sirrus had all the other kingdoms’ representatives behind him, smiling at his being made a fool, the Earl would have had great difficulty stopping himself from killing the smug man.

 

Leaving Sirrus and the others before their gloating got the better of him, Brashear gave new instructions to his generals, giving them Sirrus’ suggestions. Once that was done, he went to the merchant who had arranged for the hiring of the Qopo mercenaries.

 

"Tell your men to move out of the city... there is little they can do here, now that the palace as fallen."

 

"Shall I arrange for them to be sent back home?" the dark skinned Dodofan asked.

 

"No... I might still need them. Have them camp on the main road leading to Huron. If Sirrus thinks he will be able to steal the treasure under those fool toy kingdoms' noses, I want to be able to intercept him. Set up a blockade, letting any wagon heading west through but not one heading back to Huron pass without being inspected," Brashear ordered.

 

"As you wish, Lord Brashear. I just hope you do not plan to keep the Qopo here over winter. They do so hate the cold and their fees go up accordingly."

 

"When I get my hands on the Qul Tos treasury, I will have plenty of money to pay your men. You just make sure that the gold does not make it past them."

 

"It will be no problem, but word will eventually reach Lord Sirrus of what you are doing."

 

"I know, but there is little he can do. His hold on the other kingdoms is tenuous at best. He can't go off chasing elephants when there is a war going on here."

 

"If you say so, my Lord, but remember that Sirrus’ family is well known for their cunning."

 

"I am just beginning to realize that. Now if you will excuse me, my so-called generals should be ready to make the next attack. If I'm not there, the other kingdoms will think I'm too much of a coward to witness it."

 

"Then you’d better go, my Lord... in this game, appearance is everything."

 

Watching from one of the palace's towers, Brashear waited to learn if the attack was successful. He knew how impossible his situation was. If the attack succeeded, then Sirrus, the man who planned, it would get the credit. If it failed, then Brashear's generals would be the ones blamed. In both cases, Brashear's credibility among the other kingdoms would sink just a bit lower. Brashear preferred victory over defeat. He had a little less than a hundred thousand men at his command. Large losses, as in the previous attack, could slowly lead him to having no more men or influence than one of the smaller kingdoms. If that were to happen, not even King Samuel could protect Brashear when the hangman came for him. The Earl had to find a way to regain control.

 

After a good hour had passed, something did happen. From different spots all over the cliff side, dark black smoke poured out, proof that the fires had been lit. Brashear raced down to the courtyard entrance of the Labyrinth to wait for the reports of victory. By the time Brashear reached the courtyard he saw why no one had ever smoked out the enemy. The Labyrinth’s ventilation was very effective, already the smoke had almost completely disappeared.

 

Waiting fifteen minutes, pacing, Brashear saw one of his generals come out of the cave, his face black from smoke. "Well, we won... that's about all we can say, though."

 

"How many of our men died? How many of theirs did we kill?" Brashear demanded.

 

"We lost around two thousand of our best archers... two thousand to kill five hundred Centurions. At the rate they are killing us we won't ever reach the Keep."

 

"There has to be a better way," Brashear agreed, gnashing his teeth. "You said the cave is large... how about we start sending in more men to set up a base camp from where we can send out patrols. That would give us a better idea about what we are facing before rushing too many men into another trap.”

 

"Yes, my lord." The General bowed. "Right now I would not mind dipping into that big bathtub they have connected to the palace."

 

"Go and do that then… you've deserved it."

 

After the General saluted and went on his way, Brashear decided to see this cave for himself. Passing through the narrow tunnels he reached the giant cavern. Inside, he did not smell an ounce of smoke. He did, however, feel a strong damp wind on his face. Torches now lit the chamber, placed in holders on the stone walls. As far as Brashear could see, the place was littered with corpses... thousands of them, many of them piled on top of each other. In each body, there were at least two arrows sticking out. Just to remove the bodies would take the rest of the day, using hundreds of men to do it. It needed to be done, however, if this cavern was to be used as a forward base.

 

Looking up, Brashear saw the balcony from where the Centurions had fired their arrows. It was a good twelve feet above the cave floor. Lining the balcony and near the floor below, with their red and black armor pierced, were the Centurions. Each had twice the number of arrows in his body as that of his own men. Out of each oozed a deep blue substance... the legendary Centurion anima.

 

Curious, Brasher dipped his gloved hand into the blue fluid of one dead Centurion archer and tasted it. Besides a tingling of his tongue Brashear did not notice anything special about it. He didn’t feel any braver or stronger than he had before.

 

Seeing all that he cared to see of the great Labyrinth of Qul Tos, Brashear headed back out to the entrance. Outside once again, Brashear felt a sudden urge to bathe. He walked to the other side of the palace where the bathhouse was located. There he found the general already in the water.

 

After he had a chance to relax in the warm water, Brashear found that he could not keep his eyes off the general soaking across from him. The man was in his mid-forties but his blond hair had not yet gone gray and his chest and stomach were still firm. Before he even knew what was happening, Brashear's felt his sex poking out of the water.

 

Nearly as soon as Brashear noticed his aroused state so did the General. "Faggot!"

 

"No I'm not!" Brashear blushed as he sank deeper into the water.

 

The general did not reply to this, instead he quickly removed himself from the water, and raced back to the changing room, keeping his privates covered the whole way.

 

"I'm no Centurion faggot," Brashear kept on telling himself for the rest of the day and until he went to bed. That night, however, Brashear suffered from the strangest dreams in his life, all dealing with the handsome general. It would take Brashear almost an entire week before he realized that these new feelings all originated from a single drop of anima.

 

 

 

****************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Five: Into the Pits

******************************************************

 

After Aegis kissed him, everything that had happened, including the march deep into Mathannon, the slaughter of the other men, even the reason why Aegis’ lover Zophar was not here made sense to Glover. He and the other Austrolans had been blessed in being chosen by the Saint. They were Aegis’s agents; his disciples he would call them. Under Aegis’ leadership, Glover believed anything was possible.

 

Not that it would be easy. Aegis made it very clear that the goal of changing the world of Ares would not come without cost. That was why Aegis had given Zophar the pointless task of delaying the Mathannon army. His lover was a loyal Centurion who took his duty of protecting his men seriously. Any other time in the empire’s past, Zophar would have been a good general. During the chaos of the present, however, Zophar’s loyalty to his men, as admirable as it might be, would have been a hindrance to Aegis. As Aegis would tell Glover, Zophar was not capable of making hard decisions.

 

Still, even with Aegis’ anima flowing in his veins, it did not remove all of Glover’s fear. After a month of traveling ever deeper into Mathannon they were finally at their goal, the breeding pits near Mathannon’s capital, the City of the Holy Sisters. No place on Ares was more feared by Austrolan men.

 

“Well disciples, we have arrived,” Aegis chuckled, peering through the thick bushes to where the dozen circular walls of the pits stood.”

 

“We could not have made it here without you, Lord Aegis,” Neil said with deep reverence.

 

Aegis reached with both hands to touch the faces of his disciples. “I would not be able to continue without you, my children.”

 

“We live to serve you.” Lancaster bowed.

 

“And you have served me well. Now however I must ask much of you.” Aegis said as he handed the former commander his sword.

 

Glover knew what was about to happen, Aegis had told him this day would come the day he had made him a disciple. Still, he could not hide the look of absolute horror on his face as Lancaster hacked off both of Aegis’ wings, the Saint making not a sound.

 

“Burn them.” Aegis ordered, once the deed was done.

 

“My lord, please forgive me but won’t that alert the Mathannonites?” Glover asked worriedly, afraid of questioning Aegis.

 

“If you remember, Glover, I brought you all here so that we would be captured. It is the breeding pits of Mathannon that await us.”

 

“I know my lord. I just do not understand why we must go there.”

 

“My dear disciple… I am glad you have a questioning mind. It is the reason I chose you. Your officers, so used to following the commands of their nobles, would never think to ask.”

 

Glover lowered his head in shame. “Forgive me my lord.”

 

“What ever for… since I am asking all of you to risk your lives, I think you deserve to know what it is I will be asking of you. Mathannon culture is divided into two worlds, the Matriarchs and their followers living in their black walled cities, while the men and those women who earn the Matriarchs wrath live imprisoned in giant pits, their only purpose to produce the next generation.”

 

“But what if they decided not to use us for breeding but…” Glover asked, coving his groin with both hands.

 

“Do not worry disciple, with my anima flowing in you, the Matriarchs would have to be blind not to see you as prime breeding stock.” Aegis laughed. “Even if they make you a eunuch, you will still be able to serve me.”

 

“I would rather serve you as a whole man, if given the choice,” Glover replied.

 

“So do I,” Aegis responded, reaching down to squeeze the flesh between Glover’s legs.

 

While the other men busied themselves destroying the remains of Aegis’s wings, Glover was taken aside by the Saint, where Aegis had the pleasure of renewing his bond to the other man.

 

It was after their love making, while Glover was resting his head on Aegis’s chest, that he felt the tip of a spear against his back.

 

“Well, well, sisters… what have we found here?” a deep but feminine voice chuckled.

 

Glover tried to turn around but the moment he tried to do so, he felt the sharp tip cut into his back.

 

“Why don’t you stay where you are Austrolan. That is, unless you want a long scar,” the same voice laughed, causing Glover to lay still.

 

“What do you want done with the prisoners, commander?” a younger woman’s voice asked.

 

“Send the four other Austrolans to the breeding pits to be judged. As for these two… I think Sister Bethany would like to inspect them herself.”

 

“I never knew the Austrolans had taken up Centurion habits.” The young woman giggled.

 

“From what I understand, a Centurion can be very persuasive when he finds a man he wants,” the commander replied before moving her spear towards Aegis’s chest. “Is that not so?”

 

Glover did not hear what Aegis replied, but felt as the man nodded his head.

 

“So this is what a Centurion looks like.” The younger Mathannonite said. “I wonder what sort of Matriarch he would produce.”

 

“Hahahahaha… you know so little Elisa. Centurions are incapable of producing a sister. The only child his seed could ever produce would be a weak, feeble Legatio. Still, with a few dozen Legatio, the Matriarch could produce an army of eunuch Centurions.”

 

“But why would the Matriarchs want such men? Are they not dangerous?”

 

“Remember the words of the Daughter… men are like any tool, neither good nor evil. If used with a firm hand, even the most dangerous of men can be tamed and made useful.”

 

“So spoke the Daughter,” the younger woman said with deep reverence.

 

“So spoke the Daughter,” the commander agreed before giving out more orders. “Tie both of these men… the Centurion in heavy chains. I very much doubt that simple rope will work.”

 

Not even allowed to dress, Glover was lifted up, with thick, harsh ropes wrapped around his arms and waist. He saw the same done to Aegis, except he was restrained with rusty metal chains.

 

Together, with spear points against their backs, the two men were led out of the forest, past the circular walls of the breeding pits, to a small, black stained stockade.

 

“Sister Bethany,” the commander saluted, taking off her iron helmet, revealing her head, clean shaven but for a single long braid of hair.

 

Inside, reading a stack of documents, was a middle-aged woman. Unlike the commander, she had a full head of black hair, streaked with gray. “Report commander,” she said, not bothering to get up.

 

“My scouts were patrolling the lands east of the breeding pits when they caught sight of smoke rising from the forest. After they had reported to me, I personally led a dozen of my soldiers to the source of the smoke.”

 

“And what did you find?” Bethany asked, disinterested.

 

“I found five Austrolans and a Centurion,” The Commander replied.

 

Hearing the word, Centurion, Bethany looked up from her desk. “A Centurion?”

 

“Yes Sister,” the Commander replied, waving Elisa to push Aegis forward.

 

Walking past her desk, Bethany made her way toward Aegis, her head held high in a smug fashion. “Not even during the siege of Sol was I ever so close to one of your kind.”

 

“You must not have been there for the whole battle. I would have recognized a woman such as yourself,” Aegis smiled.

 

“So you were one of the Centurions who betrayed his fellow men?” Bethany asked.

 

“I was the leader of the traitors.” Aegis said with a bow of his head.

 

The confident smile faded from Bethany’s face, replaced with an angry scowl. “Then I have you to thank for the dimming of my star.”

 

“Oh?” Aegis chuckled.

 

“Leave us commander,” Bethany ordered, her eyes not leaving Aegis’s face. Once she and Elisa were gone, Bethany continued. “Because I did not agree with following your plan, the Supreme Matriarch stripped me of my shawl, demoting me to an acolyte. Disgraced, I have been stranded in this hovel, with no hope of returning to the capital. Now, Centurion, tell me why I should not have you gentled?”

 

“Because, if you are wise, you will see that only through me do you have a chance at being restored as a full Matriarch.”

 

“And how can a man, Centurion you may be, be able to achieve such a feat?” Bethany demanded, staring up into Aegis’s white eyes.

 

“Think of the child I can give you.”

 

“A Legatio, a creature so weak I would have to keep locked up lest he cut himself.”

 

“Yes, a Legatio, a weak creature indeed, but whose seed can bring forth your own army of Centurions.”

 

“Such an army would take generations to be born and trained. How will that help me?”

 

“I think you will find that any child of mine will grow and mature much faster than you would think,” Aegis promised.

 

“And once I have this army, what would you have me do?” Bethany asked.

 

“With an army of Centurions… anything is possible.” Aegis chuckled.

*********************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Six: The Backdoor

*********************************************************

 

When the messenger finally arrived giving him permission to begin his attack, Rondus dared to hope his days of treason would soon be over. He hated working for Sirrus. That Huronite Count was more slippery than the substance he used to wax his mustache. Still, the man's timing could not be better. Tonight was a new moon, which meant they would have complete darkness all the way to the fort. Rondus, using his formidable tracking skills, discovered what paths the Centurions were taking on their patrols. It would take a mad dash, but he could storm the fort and have Sirrus' elite platoon on the aqueduct before midnight. If the elite unit Sirrus had sent did their job as they were supposed to, the elevator would be taken before dawn, giving the Confederacy its surprise victory.

 

The fifty-thousand-man force Rondus commanded was mostly on foot, but Sirrus had the common sense to give him most of the Huron’s cavalry. This let Rondus send a small fast attack force to seize the fort, which should have only a few hundred men guarding it. By the time he and the infantry arrived, the fort would have already fallen. Rondus would then take Sirrus' men up the narrow mountain path that would lead them to the aqueduct.

 

As he made his way back down Rondus knew that, one way or another, his days as a traitor were over, for if the attack failed, he was sure that Sirrus' men would not let him survive.

 

******************************

 

With Varrus acting as night captain of the Winged Guard, Logan was able to spend time with Geoff. Together, the two of them went to the backdoor cave to watch the amazing view of the stars from the large opening.

 

"So tell me about your family, Logan," Geoff asked as they walked down the torch lit tunnel."

 

"Well my father was a blacksmith... he worked at the mines in northern Domus."

 

"A miner..." Geoff grunted.

 

"Yeah..." Logan replied awkwardly, sure that he had somehow stepped on a sensitive issue.

 

"The miners in Ingril caused the landside that buried my home and killed my family."

 

"So I take it you don't like miners..." Logan said nervously, remembering that Geoff was a trained assassin.

 

"No..." Geoff replied coldly.

 

"Sorry," Logan apologized.

 

Seeing that he was making a bad impression, Geoff tried to relax. "I'm not going to kill you, Logan... I just don't like miners." He laughed.

 

"I see..." Logan grinned. "Well I'm a weapons smith and, therefore, not a miner. I have seen how they wreck the countryside."

 

"Yes... I'm now the Earl of Ingril... or so Jason keeps telling me. Right now, I don't know how much power Jason's proclamations have beyond the Keep."

 

"You will make a great lord."

 

"Hopefully I will make a good lord and an even better gardener than I ever was as an assassin." Geoff sighed.

 

"I thought you were the best assassin in the kingdom."

 

"I was... but trust me Logan, being the best at killing people is not a good thing."

 

"Tell that to a Centurion or one of Philip's Demon Spawn." Logan laughed.

 

"Yes… they do enjoy killing. It might have been better if Philip had made me a Demon Spawn but he didn't. I'm Jason's child now and I would not change that for anything," Geoff said.

 

"You love him?" Logan asked curious.

 

"Of course I do... don't you."

 

"Yes... I even made him a wedding ring."

 

"You didn't!" Geoff laughed.

 

"Yes I did... I even gave it to Jason."

 

"And did he accept?"

 

"Of course not," Logan said, trying to hide his disappointment with humor. "Philip would have torn my head off if he had."

 

"That he would," Geoff agreed.

 

"I can show you the ring if you want."

 

"You have it on you?"

 

"Yes..." Logan grinned as he lifted up a gold chain he had around his neck. On it was the platinum and gold ring.

 

"Pretty." Geoff grinned, taking the ring in his hand.

 

"Glad you like it... it took me weeks to make."

 

"Where did you get the metal?"

 

"Well..." Logan blushed.

 

"You mean you took it from the royal treasury!" Geoff laughed.

 

"It is not likely Jason will miss it, and better I use it than let the enemy have it."

 

"I guess." Geoff chuckled.

 

"Boy, this date is turning out bad," Logan sighed.

 

"A date... is that what this is?" Geoff laughed.

 

"It was all Jason's idea," Logan confessed.

 

"Yeah?" Geoff said, now more than curious.

 

"After he turned down my marriage proposal, he asked if I was interested in you. I said I might be, so he made me promise to talk to you."

 

"And your idea of a good date was to take me down a mine shaft." Geoff burst into laughter.

 

"Hey... I didn't know you had a problem with miners," Logan defended himself.

 

"It's alright, Logan... it's the thought that counts," Geoff said as he hugged the bear of a man.

 

"Not to mention the love making."

 

Geoff’s eyebrows rose on that comment. "Sleep together on a first date?"

 

"Why not... we are both grown men, not to mention we have done it with each other before."

 

"But never without Jason," Geoff pointed out.

 

Logan grinned as he moved Geoff until he was sandwiched between him and the tunnel's wall. "I think it would make Jason happy."

 

"That it would," Geoff agreed as he was busy getting his pants off.

 

"You are not suggesting that we do it here, in the middle of a cave?" Logan blushed.

 

"Why not... If anyone comes down the tunnel, we could always cover ourselves with our wings.

 

Soon the two men were down on the floor, their pants below their knees when they heard the sound of heavy armor running toward them from the elevator entrance.

 

"What is going on?" Logan asked after the running guard.

 

"The fort has fallen!" the man called back, not missing a step as he raced to raise the alarm.

 

"The fort has fallen?" Geoff shouted, trying to jump back onto his feet only to trip and fall on top of Logan.

 

"Well, this turned out to be a short date," Logan sighed as he tried to stuff his hard-on back into his pants.

 

"We'll finish this up later," Geoff apologized, getting back on his feet and staying up this time.

 

"I sure hope so," Logan laughed getting up himself.

 

Once the two of them had their pants back on, they ran to the cave exit to look down on the scene below. Even sixty feet up on the cliff side, they could hear the sound of thousands of enemy cavalry as they filled the valley.

 

"How did this happen?" Logan asked.

 

"We don't know... none of our patrols caught sight of them until they were already on the fort. This left us no time to bring down reinforcements," one of the three Centurions guarding the elevator replied.

 

"Well, there goes our backdoor," Geoff sighed.

 

"Don't worry. There is no way they can get up here," one of the other Centurions grinned encouragingly. "We always keep the elevator platform up at night, just in case something like this happened.

 

"We are so high up that an archer would have to shoot straight up to reach us," the first Centurion laughed.

 

"Still... it is amazing that the enemy found this place so quickly," Geoff pointed out.

 

"Yeah... I remember... Rondus had to guide my building crew every step of the way to get here," Logan agreed.

 

"They might have found another guide to lead them here," one of the Centurion guards shrugged.

 

"But that would mean that the Confederation knew in advance that we had a backdoor," Geoff pointed out. The implications of that statement silenced everyone there.

 

"I think you need to go tell Philip that we are dealing with a traitor," Logan told Geoff... his mood completely serious.

 

"Why not both of us go?" Geoff said, not sure why Logan was staying behind.

 

"I need to take the elevator apart." Logan replied while he looked around for tools.

 

"Take the elevator apart... why?" one of the three Centurion Guards asked, confused.

 

"The elevator is the only way up here. Since they knew where our fort was, I bet the enemy knows about the elevator. It is only logical that the enemy must have some plan to take the Keep through the Back Door."

 

"And what plan could that be?" the same Centurion guard demanded.

 

"I don't know... all I know is they must have one. Better that we get rid of the elevator just to be safe," Logan said before turning his attention back to Geoff. "Get going!"

 

Geoff ran as fast as he could until he felt as if his lungs would burst. Darting out of the tunnel, heading directly into the keep, he did not notice the dozen or so men in black that slipped into the tunnel after he left.

 

*******************************

 

Sometimes the chain of command can be inefficient. The Centurion who had told Logan and Geoff about the fort falling went to the sergeant on duty instead of going directly to Philip. That sergeant then took the guard, a private, to his captain who in turn took them both to his commander. It was not until the report was given to a general that any order was given, and that was for the sergeant, captain, and commander to return to their posts. The general then did exactly what the guard should have done in the first place and went directly to Philip. As it so happened, so did Geoff, arriving at Philips office at the same time.

 

"How did the enemy learn about our backdoor... we were so careful?" Philip cursed.

 

"It’s not just that they found it but they sent an entire army directly for it." Varrus nodded.

 

"It has to be a traitor!" Geoff spoke up.

 

"Yes... that makes sense but who? Everyone who worked on building the fort is accounted for," Darius grumbled... acts of treachery were so rare among Centurions that it was not the first thing that popped into their minds when things went wrong.

 

"It is clear that the Confederation knew the exact path to the backdoor and how to avoid our patrols," Philip grunted.

 

"Go wake Caleb and bring him here," Varrus said nervously to one of his messengers.

 

"You are not thinking Caleb betrayed us," Philip said in disbelief.

 

"No... but Rondus. We all know how much he hates foreigners, and no matter what we do we will always be foreign usurpers in his eyes."

 

"So you are saying he switched sides to get Calebos... I mean Caleb back on the throne," Darius asked.

 

"Yes... it would also explain how the enemy started finding all those convenient paths and fords that led them past our ambushes," Varrus pointed out.

 

"It makes sense..." Philip agreed. "But he knows that Caleb doesn't want the throne."

 

"That man is both crazy and stubborn... a dangerous mix. He could be thinking he is doing all this for Caleb's good," Darius said, agreeing with Varrus's arguments.

 

"We need to talk to Caleb to get a better idea of Rondus’ intentions if he has betrayed us," Philip insisted, not willing to see a man, who he had thought was a friend, become his enemy.

 

"What about Logan... he's trying to tear down the elevator by himself!" Geoff spoke up having not heard anything that would help his friend."

 

"Send six more archers to the tunnel exit," Darius told another of the waiting messengers who left at a run.

 

"Will that be enough?" Geoff asked, unsure.

 

"It should be... it will take the enemy some time to get to the elevator, more than enough for us to cave the tunnel in and block it up," Philip said reassuringly.

 

"Fine... Geoff said, taking a seat in an attempt to relax, remaining jittery.

 

"Geoff, you can go back and help Logan if it will help you calm down." Varrus smiled, seeing that the first seeds of love were growing in the former knight.

 

"I think I would prefer that," Geoff agreed, jumping up from the chair he had just sat in, and racing out of the room.

 

"I see that Jason had been playing matchmaker," Philip chuckled.

 

"A good thing too. Both of those men were starting to look like they would be pining after Jason forever," Varrus laughed.

 

“When do you think the two will get married?” Philip asked.

 

“Hopefully, well after both of us,” Varrus replied.

 

"So, you and Darius?" Philip grinned, arching his eyebrows.

 

"Well, we know better than to outshine you and Jason, so we plan to have a small ceremony a few months after yours," Varrus explained.

 

"You will be inviting Jason and me?" Philip asked.

 

"Would Jason ever forgive me if I didn't?" Varrus laughed.

 

"Not likely... congratulations." Philip winked at Darius. "Both of you will have your hands full, I predict."

 

Just as everyone was laughing at the last comment, Jason came running into the room, looking scared.

 

"What is it?" Philip asked, getting up onto his feet.

 

"Logan... he's dying!"

 

"I want every available man heading for the backdoor at once!" Darius barked as soon as the shock of Jason's statement wore off.

 

Philip remained still for almost a minute, unsure what he was to do. A part of him wanted to run off to save Jason's Saint but another part of him felt he was needed to comfort his Angel. In the end, it was Jason's need that overrode his own. Philip took Jason in his arms and sat him down on his throne like chair and tried to reassuring him that everything would be all right. Jason, though, due to his connection to all his children knew better. Logan was dying and there was little anyone, including Philip, could do about it.

*******************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Fall

*******************************************************

 

 

Logan had just removed the first of four chains that held the elevator platform when an arrow whooshed past him, hitting the Centurion guard next to him in the arm. Looking back into the cave Logan saw over a dozen men, dressed in black cloth approaching with weapons drawn.

 

"It seems like you were right," the guard laughed, pulling the arrow right out of his arm. "The enemy does plan to take the backdoor tonight. We will take care of these men. You just make sure that elevator is taken out of commission permanently."

 

"I will," Logan agreed, getting back to work on the second chain.

 

Logan did not know how long he had been at it but with the second chain down and the third halfway off, Logan took a break to see how the fighting was going. Eight of the attackers were now dead, leaving seven. This was good, considering that Logan had been counting on only three Centurions to protect him while he worked. But, as Logan began to look at the Guards, he saw that one was already dead, his blue anima dripping out where a spear had been thrust in him. The guard who had received the arrow wound to the arm now had three arrows in him, one in his chest, another in the same arm, and another on his right thigh. The last guard was without a scratch, but that would not last long when his partner became too weak from his injuries to keep fighting.

 

Seeing the need to hurry, Logan went back to work on the third chain. He had just finished removing it when he heard a loud "twang" followed by a "thud" as an arrow hit him in the chest, puncturing his lungs.

 

Almost dropping from his perch atop the chains it was only hearing Jason's voice screaming in his head that shook Logan back to attention. As he gasped for breath while coughing up blood, Logan saw that there was only one Centurion left and still five attackers. Now knowing that dropping the elevator platform would be his last act, he focused on the task at hand, while trying to comfort Jason as his thoughts screamed in his mind, begging him not to die.

 

"It's ok, Jason... everything will be alright," Logan whispered as he continued to work to break the last chain.

 

"No it won’t be," Jason sent back. "You will be dead."

 

"But you will be safe," Logan replied as a calm began to overtake him.

 

"I don't want to be safe. I want you alive!"

 

"Jason... you need to be safe. So many people count on you. Please look after Geoff for me. I don't know what we would have had together but I'm sure it would have been wonderful." Logan smiled just as he saw the last Centurion guard fall off the cliff.

 

"Please don't," Jason begged.

 

The fourth and final chain was almost broken. Logan just needed a little longer to break it and send the platform crashing to the ground below. As the platform below him was now hanging on by a single chain, the enemy could not reach him with their swords. They still had a bowman with them and he already had an arrow drawn. Before it flew, though, the final chain cracked. In the next instant Logan was hit by another arrow, this time in the throat.

 

The force of the blow knocked Logan off the master chain, causing him to fall with the wooden platform he had just freed. Too weak to spread out his wings he continued to fall. In those last moments of life, Logan took hold of the ring around his chest and sent Jason one final message. "Thank you for loving me."

 

The next second he was dead.

 

********************************

He did have one witness who would live to tell the tale. Geoff, his assassin blades in hand, had just broken through the six Confederate troops guarding the entrance to the tunnel, killing two in the process. The rest he left to the six Centurion archers that had been sent but took their time in arriving. Geoff arrived just in time to see the fatal arrow hit Logan's throat.

 

Geoff response to that was quick and deadly as he threw one of his knives into the archer's back, dropping him to the ground. Before the other Confederate soldiers knew what was happening two more daggers hit their target. That left Geoff to fight the two remaining attackers just as Logan started his long fall to the bottom of the cliff.

 

Dispatching the two remaining men took less than a minute as Geoff wielded his two short swords with skill that would impress a Centurion master. Geoff then hurried to look over the tunnel's edge, there on the bottom of the mountain was Logan's body, looking just as shattered as the wooden platform under him. Around the site where Logan had fallen were dozens of Confederate troops holding up torches.

 

Before Geoff could experience his own grief, that coming from Jason suddenly overwhelmed him, bringing him down to his knees. After the first wave of incredible grief passed, all that Geoff had left in him emotionally was his old anger and hatred. Somehow he would find his way down to the valley floor and hunt down the traitor he held responsible... Rondus was about to meet his equal when it came to tracking.

 

****************************

 

Philip too felt the moment that Jason registered Logan's death. Philip had never felt such sadness before, but when it ended he noticed that something was different. The leash that had inhibited him and his Demon Spawn from attacking was gone. In its place was a deep anger that someone had dared hurt his Angel, and a thirst to kill the ones responsible. Darius also noticed that he was free. He was standing up, sword in hand, his eyes glowing an even brighter red.

 

Philip went to the wall and took down the double-bladed sword he had left hanging there, unused for almost two months. Jason was still crying uncontrollably, but Varrus was holding him, trying to calm him down.

 

The father of Demons, though, did not want to calm down. Heading out of the room he ran into Kristen, tears running down his face, overcome with the grief Jason had sent to all those bonded to him.

 

"Go to Jason," Philip ordered, not missing a step toward the keep's main entrance, where he knew every single one of his Demon Spawn would be waiting.

 

Outside, not making a single sound, were all two thousand of Philip's children, his Spawn. All of them were armed to the teeth, their eyes blazing bright red as they waited for their master's orders. It was then that Jason's second wave of grief hit. This time, Philip let out a deep roar in response, giving sound to the pain his lover was feeling. That was all his Spawn needed to hear. Like one giant body they swarmed toward the backdoor tunnel, running on the floor, walls, and ceiling. They then burst out of the tunnel exits like water from a busted pipe, many of them jumping the sixty-foot drop to the ground, with only a few taking the effort to climb down the shear walls of the cliff face. Flying high above his children was Philip, looking down on the fifty thousand invaders who had unsettled Jason. After just a few minutes of his Spawn attacking the Confederate soldiers, the entire army was in full retreat, convinced that hell itself had descended on them.

 

Escape though was not going to be so easy. As far a Philip was concerned, every single person involved in the attack was responsible for Jason's pain and, therefore, deserved to die. Philip knew his Demon Spawn could outrun even the fastest horse when it came to distances over five miles. The retreating Confederate cavalry would ride their horses to exhaustion, leaving them helpless against Philip's wrath.

 

As for the men on foot, they were dying by the hundreds with each minute that passed. Philip's Demon Spawn did not have the Centurion weakness of being at risk for losing their anima if injured. Their stomachs had near impregnable bone plating, protecting their core. His children also healed faster than the normal Centurion, making them able to recover quickly from any injuries. That, added to their increased strength, speed, reflexes, endurance, and their weapon training, gave Philip an army that could defeat numbers hundreds of times greater than their own.

 

Seeing a group of horses moving away from the fort in a protective circle with one horse in the middle, Philip found his first target. As he dove toward what he hoped was the commanding general, Philip mouth actually drooled in anticipation of biting into the man's neck.

 

*************************

 

Soaring down to the valley floor below, Geoff began his search for revenge. Instead of going straight to killing, however, he went to Logan's broken body first. There was something he needed to collect for Jason before Geoff could start collecting blood.

 

Reaching under Logan's shirt, Geoff felt for the wedding ring Logan had shown him this very night, but all he got back was blood on his fists. The ring had to have been looted but which of the dozen of tracks around Logan's body belonged to the thief? After following several of the tracks, Geoff found a pair that interested him. They were from a large heavy set man, and eventually led to that of a horse. As those tracks seemed to be the only unusual ones around, Geoff decided to follow them. But to do so he would need a horse... two horses would be even better as he could take turns riding both of them and, therefore, be able to travel faster than a man on a single horse.

 

Finding horses turned out not to be a problem. Finding ones that were not already dead, dying, or lame was harder. Philips's children were not just killing but feeding off their victims. If these were the images Jason had seen before he had forbidden Philip and his Spawn to ever fight again, Geoff could understand why he stopped it. Still, Philip's children were amazing killers, moving from one target to the next without a moments pause. Geoff started to wonder why he wasn't being attacked, apart from his glowing blue eyes and mix of white and black hair he looked just like the Confederate soldiers. Then Geoff remembered that he was bonded to Jason and therefore in a way to Philip. It also meant that he, Geoff, had an indirect bond to every single one of Philip's Demon Spawn. That connection, as weak as it might be, must be the reason the Demon Spawn did not mistaken him for an enemy... or at least that is what Geoff hoped.

 

It was in the stables of the ruined fort that Geoff finally found two horses unharmed amongst all the carnage. After saddling both, Geoff took them back to where the trail had started. From there it took him a good twenty minutes before the trail of the heavyset man on a horse broke away from all the chaos of the fleeing troops. By this time the early summer sun was starting to rise, making the mystery man's trail that much easier to follow.

 

Finally getting on one of the horses, Geoff began what would become a two-week chase.

*********************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Aftershocks

*********************************************************

 

By nightfall of the second day, Philip and his children had swept the valley and nearby hills of every Confederate soldier and officer, but with no sign of Rondus. A few of his Demon Spawn reported that a single man on horseback had escaped, but Geoff had demanded that the kill be his. Philip, knowing that Geoff and Logan had just started to become close, sent out the word that no one was to touch Geoff's prey.

 

Considering the isolated path his Spawn reported Geoff to be taking, it would not surprise Philip that the man he was chasing was indeed Rondus. That tempted him to take up the chase but, just as he started flying in the direction where Geoff was last reported, Philip felt his throat tighten. The leash that Jason had let go of two nights ago was back in place.

 

Philip knew he was supposed to return to the Keep. Jason had not only put the leash back on but was tugging at it, calling him back home. Seeing his Demon Spawn on the ground turning around and returning toward the backdoor tunnel, Philip gave up joining Geoff in the chase, and began to fly back to Jason.

 

****************************

 

When he landed in the central courtyard, Philip was met by Varrus. "You should clean yourself off before seeing him," Varrus suggested.

 

Looking down at the dried blood that caked his body, Philip nodded, allowing Varrus to lead him down to the basement. As he did his best to clean himself up, Philip began to ask Varrus what had happened with Jason while he had been gone on his rampage.

 

"He is still very upset. It was worse than when Gideon died. Jason had to witness every moment of Logan's death."

 

"You mean he saw everything?"

 

"Yes... just like he can see what you and your Demon Spawn do when you go off killing. Death seems to tighten the bond Jason has with people."

 

"It must have been very painful."

 

"It was... it was made worse in that Jason knew there was nothing he could do to stop it, as the first arrow gave Logan a fatal wound. The second to the throat only killed him faster."

 

"Did he and Jason... communicate during those last moments?"

 

"Yes... Logan told Jason not to worry, that he was happy knowing he was dying to protect him, and he thanked Jason for loving him."

 

"I know Logan must have been trying to comfort Jason, but such words must have hurt."

 

"They did indeed... do you know where Geoff is? Jason has been calling for him but he has not come back."

 

"Geoff is tracking the last survivor of the attack force."

 

"You mean you've killed them all?"

 

"All fifty thousand or so," Philip nodded.

 

"What did you do with the bodies?"

 

"We left them were they fell. Let the Confederacy send scouts to see what happened, all they will find is a valley littered with their men's bones."

 

"Don't tell Jason that... I beg you," Varrus pleaded.

 

"I know better than that," Philip grunted.

 

"I know... but right now we need to be extra careful with Jason. He's half convinced that everyone he knows will die."

 

"Well, won't they?" Philip replied remembering what Kristen had said about each of their life spans.

 

"Jason does not know that yet, and I have no plan to tell him anytime soon!" Varrus said angrily.

 

"He will find out one day."

 

"I know... but he is too young to deal with it right now."

 

"Well, as Kristen said, it is your job to help Jason deal with us dying."

 

“But can't it wait until he is at least a hundred or so before telling him." Varrus sighed.

 

"You can. Since I will be the first to go, you will be the one who will have to deal with Jason after I am gone. You don't want to tell Jason too soon, but you don't want to wait too long, or else he will feel cheated."

 

"Yes..." Varrus nodded, not able to hide his tears.

 

"Now come... we need to be cheering Jason up, not depress him," Philip insisted as he splashed hot water in Varrus's direction.

 

"Hurry up and get dressed. Jason has been feeling a little abandoned lately."

 

"Why... who else is missing?"

 

"Well, you, Darius, and Geoff were out getting revenge. Caleb is so filled with guilt that he can't even be in the same room with Jason without breaking down. As for Kristen, he is torn between wanting to help Jason and taking care of Caleb, so I told him to be with Caleb."

 

"So... You have been the only one Jason's been able to turn to... poor Jason."

 

"No, poor me... It's been two days and Jason has not made love with anyone... that’s a record for him since he arrived here."

 

"Well, I think I can solve that," Philip laughed.

 

"Philip... Jason needs your gentle side now... love making should not be your main concern."

 

"I can be gentle," Philip insisted.

 

"It would help if you retract your claws," Varrus pointed out.

 

"Sorry..."Philip blushed. "They have gotten real dirty over the last few days."

 

"I know... be sure that they are clean before you go see Jason, last thing he needs to see is you extend them by accident and have them covered with blood."

 

"You must be mothering him," Philip accused.

 

"Didn't you know that is my role? I'm the mother, you're the father, and Jason is our son."

 

Varrus let Philip go to Jason's apartments alone. When he entered the sitting room, it was completely dark and empty and so was the bedroom. It was only behind the office door that a dim light shown. Opening the door, Philip saw Jason, his head resting on his desk. Next to him was the silver staff Logan had given him.

 

For the first time since Jason had taken that first drink of anima almost a year ago, he looked just as fragile and helpless as he did when Philip found him in the tower. The areas around his eyes were puffy, but instead of having red blotches they were black. The same was true of his nose, which looked as if it had been running for some time. His black hair looked disheveled and longer than usual. The plate of uneaten food on the desk just added to Jason's pathetic look.

 

"Jason..." Philip asked in the most tender voice he could muster.

 

"Yes..." Jason replied softly, letting his fingertip feel the feathers that Logan had taken so much care to etch into the staff.

 

"I'm back."

 

"I know."

 

"Aren't you happy to see me?" Philip tried to ask cheerfully.

 

"You went killing," was Jason’s near despondent reply.

 

"I know... but they had to pay for what they did to Logan."

 

"I know... that is why I allowed it."

 

"You mean you wanted me to kill all those men," Philip said, taken aback.

 

"Yes... does that make me a bad person?" Jason asked, raising his head to look up at Philip for the first time.

 

"No... when a person is hurt, it is natural that he be angry at the people who hurt him and want to hurt them back."

 

"But most people can't kill the people they hate."

 

"True," Philip agreed.

 

"I should have kept Logan safe." Jason changed the topic.

 

"You tried to... you sent Geoff with him."

 

"But in the end he died alone... none of his friends were with him. I should have been with him... he ... he wanted to marry me."

 

"He did? ... I didn't know that."

 

"I didn't want to tell you because I was afraid you would get jealous."

 

"I would have only become jealous if you said yes," Philip said quietly.

 

"I could never do that," Jason sighed, a weak smile growing on his face. "Did you find his body?"

 

"Yes... I saw it," Philip replied, not going into more detail. He remembered seeing it during the early stage of the slaughter. He faulted himself for not seeing it brought back to the keep for burial. "I will go pick it up myself. Where would you like him buried?

 

"In the palace garden... I would like to plant a tree over him so he won't be alone."

 

"Well, we don't have control of the gardens yet... we can wait until we take it back. Of course we could take the palace back a lot faster if you let go of my leash just for a week or so."

 

"No... no more killing. You did enough for awhile."

 

"Fine... I guess we will have to do it the old fashioned way," Philip sighed.

 

As Jason did not say anymore, Philip just stood silent, hoping Jason would tell him what he needed, but after a long while with not a peep, Philip decided that he would have to be the one to tell Jason what he needed.

 

"I think you're due for a haircut," Philip said, deciding that would be the first thing he would have Jason do.

 

"I guess," Jason said noncommittally.

 

"You guess? You're as shaggy as a dog!" Philip laughed, lifting Jason to his feet and dragging him to the sitting room.

 

Philip then went to the guard outside and ordered that a Famulus body servant be brought up to Jason's apartment with a pair of scissors, fresh towels, a bowl, and a pitcher of hot water. The guard was gone for less than ten minutes when a black-robed Domus Famulus appeared at their door.

 

For a brief second Philip was taken aback, the man triggered a comforting feeling from the Demon.

 

"What is your name?" Philip asked once the Famulus had placed his things on a table.

 

"Thomas, my lord." The Grau bowed. He was already deep in both Jason’s and Philip’s minds, suppressing any memory of him and the Grau. In their eyes he had a brown mop of hair, brown eyes, and a nondescript appearance.

 

"Lord?" Philip laughed.

 

"You are to be the prince consort to the king..."

 

"I'm still a Centurion by birth... you may call me Commander."

 

"But you are a Commander who commands a Field Marshal." Thomas smiled broadly.

 

"You remind me of someone… but I cannot place you. Philip tried to remember but it was all a blur like a dream.

 

"He must have been some character. Now what would you like me to do for you, my Lord Commander." Thomas laughed, combining the two titles together.

 

"Alright... I see it will be easy to get along with you. I want you to give Jason here a nice Centurion haircut. Then I think he can do with a good bath. While the two of you are gone doing that, I will see dinner brought in. After dinner, we could do with a good back massage, and then you can sing us a song."

 

"The Song of Zophar was fairly new and popular before we fled the capital," Thomas offered.

 

"Never heard that one... what is it about?" Philip asked, always eager to hear a new song.

 

"It deals with the now concluded war with Jadoor. It’s about a commander whose general dies, and he takes his place to lead his men in one final battle to hold back the Jadoorian army."

 

"No... I think we would rather listen to a happier song."

 

"Well, there is the comic Famulus jig called the Legatio Bread Thrower."

 

"Legatio Bread Thrower... Philip chuckled knowing quite well where that song had its origins... During the period of mourning after Field Marshal Darius's predecessor was assassinated the markets had been closed. The Legatio and Centurions did not suffer as they had large stores of food. The Famulus though had no extra supplies as they could only afford to buy food on a day-by-day basis. Jason... on hearing the Famulus beg for food, had gotten Philip's mother to bake several dozen loaves of bread, throwing them off the roof to the hungry Famulus below. That day Jason endeared himself to the Famulus, but earned the wrath of Field Marshal Lukas.

 

"I think I would like to hear that one," Jason smiled.

 

"Good... we can hear it before bed. Now let’s get this boy trimmed." Philip clapped.

 

After wetting down and drying Jason’s hair, Thomas went about cutting it with quick efficiency. It was trimmed fairly short but left enough on top to show Jason's waviness. When done, he made Jason walk around the room so Philip could inspect him.

 

"Shall I do the rest of him?" Thomas then offered.

 

"The rest of him?" Philip laughed. "His head seems pretty well cut.

 

"I'm not talking about the hair on his head, my Lord Commander." Thomas smiled.

 

"Oh..." Philip replied an evil grin growing on his face.

 

"What hair are you talking about?" Jason asked confused.

 

"I need to think about this." Philip nodded.

 

"Maybe it would help to see the actual hairs?" Thomas suggested.

 

"That's a good idea... you heard him, take them off." Philip said as he moved over to Jason and began to pick at his robe.

 

Halfheartedly Jason took off his robe and let it fall down to the ground.

 

"So what do you think?" Thomas asked while Philip gave Jason a through examination.

 

"Well, that is one thing about Jason... he has never had much body hair."

 

"I take it that you like that about him." Thomas giggled.

 

"Yes indeed," Philip agreed. "He's my own personal marble statue, completely smooth and hard as a rock."

 

"How about his armpits?" Thomas offered.

 

"Let me see!" Philip said eagerly. He lifted up Jason's right arm and gave the black curly hair a hard look. He finished his inspection, but first licked Jason's smooth biceps, then the hair. "Let's get rid of it!" Philip decided.

 

"What about what I think?" Jason protested.

 

"Don't you want to make me happy?" Philip pouted.

 

"Yes..." Jason smirked.

 

"Then you will do this little favor for me. I would just love to be able to lick your armpits without getting hair on my tongue.

 

"Now how about his groin?" Thomas continued.

 

"Well, the hair on his balls will have to go. As for the rest, a little trimming is all he really needs."

 

"But if you do that my balls will get cold!" Jason said panicked.

 

"You'll survive." Philip grinned.

 

This time Thomas had Jason lay down on the bed. For Jason's armpits, Thomas took a bottle out of a large black bag that almost look identical to the one Kirsten always had with him. Pushing a button on the bottle, cold white foam came out and covered the area Thomas wanted to shave. Thomas then flipped out a sharp razor and made a series of quick clean strokes until both pits were hairless. He then did the same to Jason's balls, acting more carefully.

 

When done, Jason tried to get up but Philip pushed him back down. He climbed on top of Jason, swirling his tongue under Jason's right arm while he used a free hand to fondle Jason's cleanly shaved balls.

 

"Does the Lord Commander approve?" Thomas asked after he had given Philip time to examine Jason.

 

"The Lord Commander approves a lot." Philip grinned.

 

Thomas then turned his attention on Jason. "Good... so tell me, your majesty, what parts of the Lord Commander would you like to see changed."

 

Seeing that it was now his chance to humiliate Philip, Jason pulled the black robe off his lover's body. It turned out, though, to be harder for Jason to pick any hair he wanted removed. He loved the soft white hair on Philip's chest. Trimming the hair around his crotch and balls would have left his manhood naked. Jason even found the white tuffs of hair under Philip's arms to be attractive. Philip insisted that the underarm hair be removed at least, and Jason finally decided that the small amount of white fuzz on Philip's ass could go as well.

 

After both of them were done and finished inspecting each other, Thomas took Jason aside for a complete bath while Philip saw to dinner. Neither of them saw the small syringe Thomas took out of his black bag before following Jason down to the basement.

 

*********************************************************

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Price

*********************************************************

 

Lord Gideon… master of Qul Hoth, Lord of the Dead, watched as the surviving Centurions from the lighthouse marched out under the escort of his undead servants. Throughout the ruined city the sounds of saw, hammer, and chisel could be heard as the half living men and women worked to rebuild the city to Gideon’s specifications.

 

As the Centurions were led past him toward the edge of the city… Gideon gave them a message and a warning. “Tell Jason that the dead now rule over Qul Hoth. Tell him that it is I, Gideon, who has made this possible. Let Jason know that so long as he respects the borders of my lands, I will not spread my children among his. If he does what I ask, and keeps the living away from me, I will forever remain his loyal servant.”

 

“And if he does not agree to these terms?” one of the surviving officers asked.

 

“Then I will see that all of Qul Tos is made in my image…”

 

“Is there anything else?”

 

“Yes…” Gideon grinned… telling them the last thing he wanted, enjoying how their faces went white.

 

*********************************

 

"I think you found the hot water too relaxing." Thomas giggled as he shook Jason awake.

 

"Sorry..." Jason bushed as he slowly opened his eyes.

 

"That's alright... you look cute when you have your eyes closed." Thomas grinned. "I've never seen a sleeping Angel."

 

"Still, I am sure Philip is waiting for us."

 

"He is... but can I ask you something before we go back."

 

"Yes."

 

"Can I sleep with you?" Thomas said, knowing that the Dominus wanted more than just blood samples.

 

“You want to become a Saint?"

 

"No... I just want to know what it feels like to make love to an Angel."

 

"Right now, I don't know how good of an Angel I am... I let Logan die."

 

Thomas moved in closer, putting his arm behind Jason’s head. "Then I think you need to make love to show me what a good person you are."

 

Thomas then entered Jason's mind and stimulated the pleasure centers of his brain. He slipped a hand under the water and took hold of Jason. The king responded by cupping Thomas's perfectly round ass in his hands squeezing it.

 

"It's my best feature." Thomas giggled as he rested his head on Jason's chest.

 

"What is?" Jason asked.

 

"My ass... everyone says so."

 

"Really." Jason chuckled.

 

Thomas then pushed away from Jason and swam to the edge of the pool, lifting himself out until his ass was out of the water and in full view. Wriggling his butt, Thomas climbed out of the pool and went to a bench where a stack of towels waited. He took one of the towels and laid it down on the stone floor, lying down on his stomach.

 

"Come and get it!" Thomas laughed, giving his butt a good slap.

 

Jason, though, remained in the pool, looking unsure of himself.

 

"Oh, come on, Jason... do I look so ugly."

 

"No..." Jason blushed, his checks turning a shade of gray.

 

"Then get over here!" Thomas laughed, going back into Jason mind and giving it a jerk.

 

Soon Jason was out of the water and on top of Thomas, where Jason’s spurred lust took over. When the deed was done, Thomas had to help Jason up, wrapping a towel around his waist before leading the king back upstairs.

 

There, Philip had dinner waiting, fresh trout he caught from a nearby river, some of the precious garden vegetables cooked lightly in olive oil, white wine, and a chocolate pudding for dessert. This menu was not what Philip would have wanted, a nice pair of pan-seared lamb chops would have been better, but this was for Jason.

 

After dinner, Thomas gave both men back massages before tucking them into bed, but not before collecting more blood samples. Then he collected his things, putting them all into his black bag before leaving.

 

Using the aquifer to escape, Thomas was quickly flown away aboard a zephyr. On his way back to the Old World, to the blackened lands of Mordel, Thomas rubbed his stomach. If Jason was the "thing" the Dominus hoped he was, Thomas’ future was now assured.

 

*********************************************************

Chapter Forty: Disposed

*********************************************************

 

The Confederacy had only broken through five guarded chambers, taking heavy casualties in each, but progress was still progress. In one giant chamber where they had built a camp, the floor had collapsed into a stake fill pit, killing hundreds and crippling thousands. Archers guarded two more rooms, while in another, an army of five thousand Centurion spearmen held off the tens of thousands Sirrus sent against them for over a week.

 

During all that time, Sirrus waited to see the Huron’s banners hanging from battlements of the Labyrinth Keep. It never happened.

 

On the day that the total number of deaths passed fifty thousand, with the same number of wounded, a messenger finally came from the backdoor.

 

"They are all dead!" the man, still in shock, replied.

 

"What do you mean they are all dead? I sent fifty thousand men there!" Sirrus shouted as he pulled the messenger away from Brashear's ears.

 

"Sir... the whole valley is filled with our men... rotting in their armor. They are all dead."

 

"You don't mean that. You are supposed to say that they were pushed back and retreated somewhere!"

 

"No sir... I looked for tracks and they were all limited to a ten-mile radius. All of them ended at a corpse."

 

"But there were fifty thousand men there!" Sirrus repeated again as if repeating that number would change what the scout was telling him.

 

"My lord... they are dead. I could show you, but the smell... the stench is horrendous."

 

Sirrus' face went pale and his voice began to weaken. "Fifty thousand..."

 

"Shall I give this report to the generals?" the scout asked.

 

"No... I will tell them... you go and rest."

 

"Yes sir." The scout saluted before leaving.

 

Instead of summoning all the generals from the kingdoms, Sirrus gathered only the ones loyal to Huron... the ones he could halfway trust. Sirrus told them the situation and what had happened to the army he sent to the backdoor. He did not allow for any interruption until he finished talking.

 

"We must retreat," his most senior general said after none of the others spoke up.

 

"Why... we still have over two hundred thousand men," a younger general said.

 

"Fifty thousand of whom are wounded," another pointed out.

 

"The fact is, we have lost half our force and have caused only minimal casualties to the enemy," the senior general pointed out.

 

"Fifteen thousand by our best estimates," Sirrus grunted.

 

"Out of a force of over fifty thousand, which means they still have thirty-five thousand men," the senior general began. “We figure that we are only halfway through the Labyrinth, which means we can expect to suffer another fifty thousand dead and fifty thousand wounded. That would leave us a total force of one hundred fifty thousand men with only fifty thousand fit for battle. The Centurions might lose another fifteen thousand men, leaving them twenty thousand. Outnumbering the enemy five to two might be considered a superior force in most wars, but not against Centurions."

 

"You are not counting their wounded! That's not fair," the younger officer pointed out.

 

The senior general stood up, went over, and punched the younger man in the face with his armored fist. "A Centurion does not stay wounded long enough for injuries to matter, you fool. One of our men breaks an arm or is hit by an arrow, and he is out for weeks."

 

"That's enough..." Sirrus sighed.

 

"Yes, my lord." The senior general bowed before going back to his seat.

 

"So we can't win this war. We still have the royal treasury however. Why not take that and head back home."

 

"We could, but then we would have to worry about being attacked from the rear by Centurions. They have that army fifty miles to the west just waiting to slam us between them and the city."

 

"I am not saying we remove all our allies... just our men," Sirrus explained.

 

"And how will you do that?" the senior general asked.

 

"Simple, I give an inspiring speech, order an all out attack, and give Brashear command. It would not take long for most of the Confederate army to be engaged in the Labyrinth. During that time we could kill the remaining men guarding the treasury, empty it and be on our way back home."

 

"What would stop Brashear from finding out?" one general asked.

 

"We cave in the entrance." Sirrus snickered evilly.

 

"You are a demon of a man, my lord... it is a good thing you are on our side." The senior general grinned.

 

Once the meeting was over, Sirrus went back to his room in the palace for stress relief. Lauren was not the same beauty she had been when he had first picked her. She was getting fatter and her face was often flushed. He even had seen her run out of his room, looking sick. Sirrus was certain that she was pregnant, and that was something he could not have. While the king found Sirrus’ talents useful, he was from a minor family. It was his wife who had the royal pedigree that gained him access to the king's ear, she being his majesty's niece. Coming home with a bastard child would not only guarantee him a divorce, but also the king's disfavor. That was something he did not need, especially since he would be coming home in defeat. No... Sirrus would remove this little inconvenience tonight. He only needed to get rid of her in a manner that would not come back to haunt him.

 

It was his room’s view of the Labyrinth that gave Sirrus an idea. Why not let the Centurions kill her for him. Drawing a knife he went to the bedroom where Lauren was waiting, wearing one of the old queen's dresses, sitting on a chair next to the bed.

 

"Follow me dear." Sirrus grinned waving his knife to the door he had just come from.

 

"Why my lord..." Lauren ask, her hands trembling in her lap.

 

"I want to show you and the baby something."

 

"Baby... what baby?"

 

"The baby growing inside you, my dear... you are pregnant."

 

Lauren jumped from her chair. "How... how did you know?"

 

"Oh please... my wife has had enough children for me to know the signs."

 

"Are you angry?"

 

"No... how can you say that, Lauren, after I have treated you so kindly."

 

"The... the knife," she stuttered.

 

"Oh this... this is to keep us safe. Where I am taking you is dangerous."

 

Lauren was afraid to ask, but needed to know. "Where, my lord?"

 

"The Labyrinth." Sirrus grinned.

 

"I... I would rather stay here," Lauren begged.

 

"But I want you to see it, so you will understand."

 

"Please my lord... you are scaring me."

 

"Am I? Well, after you have seen the Labyrinth you will be truly scared. Now come with me or I will be upset with you, wench."

 

Seeing she had no choice, she let herself be guided. Sirrus led her through a series of tunnels, caverns and pits, with Sirrus always staying behind to make sure she did not run away. Finally, they reached the giant cavern where his men had tried to make camp, only for the floor to fall from under them, killing and injuring thousands. This giant hole in the ground marked the extent of the areas they still patrolled. Beyond it were two more caverns that changed hands on a daily basis.

 

Sirrus led Lauren down the ladder, across the pit toward the ladder that led up the other side but instead of going up with her, he pull the ladder down, letting it fall to the floor.

 

"Lord Sirrus..." Lauren yelled from the top of the pit.

 

"I'm sorry, Lauren, but the ladder must have fallen and I am not strong enough to lift it back up," Sirrus lied.

 

"How am I to get down?" Lauren asked, looking back to make sure a Centurion was not around the corner.

 

"You can't... you better go looking for the exit."

 

"Can I get to the palace from here?"

 

"No, my dear... I am afraid you will have to make your way to the Keep."

 

"But that is where the Centurions are!" Lauren screamed.

 

"Yes... but they should not kill you... you are only a slut after all. Still, these are Centurions, so I don't think you can offer them your body."

 

"Please, Lord Sirrus. I know a woman from my village who can get rid of the baby... please don't leave me here."

 

"And have you kill my child." Sirrus laughed.

 

"If it’s not the baby... why do you want me to die?"

 

"It is too complex for your little mind, wench."

 

"Please tell me!" Lauren begged. If she knew the reason she might be able to change Sirrus' mind.

 

"Alright... I will tell you. It is about the baby. My wife is a little sensitive and would not understand me having a bastard. Still, the child is mine, so I would not have you, of no blood, kill it. I do not mind having the Centurions kill both you and the child, however."

 

"That makes no sense," Lauren wailed. Any hope of reasoning with Sirrus dashed.

 

"I told you, your little mind would not understand. It is all about honor. You killing my child would dishonor me while a Centurion killing both of you would not," Sirrus explained in an almost jolly tone.

 

"You monster!" Lauren said, the tears pouring down her eyes.

 

'Well... since this conversation has turned into name calling I guess I will leave you now my dear. Ta-ta."

 

"No!" Lauren called out as she saw Sirrus walk away from her until he disappeared in the darkness.

 

Lauren remained where she was for almost an hour crying. She felt she had only two choices. One was to throw herself off the edge and hope she died from the fall or to go deeper into the Labyrinth in hope that the Centurions would either see that she was not a Confederacy soldier and let her live or give her a quick death.

 

In the end she decided to risk being killed by the Centurions. She did not have the courage to kill herself... in fact she didn't want to die at all. Taking one of the stacked torches left over from the last attack, she lit it from one of the ones on the walls. She was about to make her way deeper into the tunnel when she heard the sound of footsteps coming from the pit. Suddenly realizing that the lit torches on the wall meant that regular Confederacy patrols came by to replace them, Lauren called out for help. Soon she saw the ladder come back up and she raced to it but when she looked down she saw that two soldiers were already coming up so she stepped back to thank her rescuers.

 

"Thank you so much for saving me!" Lauren shouted with glee.

 

"Any time, my lady," the first soldier said as he reached the top of the ladder. "His lordship told us that you might need some looking after."

 

"Lord Sirrus..." Lauren said with dread.

 

"Yes... that was the one." The man grinned with a sinister look in his eye.

 

"Can I go down now?" Lauren asked seeing that the guard was between her and the ladder.

 

"Now, now... is that the way you treat your rescuers? Should there not be some gratitude?"

 

"Sensing she was in danger, Lauren turned around and ran deeper into the Labyrinth. One thing she did not have to worry about from the Centurions was rape according to all that was said about them.

 

"Hey... get back here, you slut!" the guard shouted as he drew out his sword and started running after her, forgetting where he was. As soon as his partner caught up with him he did remember and slowed down. But as both men could not recall the last time they had touched the flesh of a woman, they were not about to let their prey escape.

********************************************************

Chapter Forty-One:

The Tax Collector, the General, the Hermit, and

the Assassin

*********************************************************

 

Brashear had tried almost everything to end his infatuation with the blond general, but nothing seemed to work. He even tried sleeping with one of the women brought along for the officers' pleasure but it did no good. Teas, potions, herbs... some of it made him sick but none of it would get rid of his dreams or the fluttering of his heart whenever he saw General Yates.

 

That left him with only one option... to somehow get the General interested in him. Just a few weeks ago that would have seemed impossible, but recently he had been losing so much weight that he had two of his servants stitching him new clothes. His muscles were also starting to show a little... a big improvement since he had never been interested in exercise.

 

It was in the massive royal library that he found his answers. Written in the secret journals of the Calebos’ fathers, was the tale of a Qul Tos captain. He had fought and won in a skirmish against Centurion troops, the old king and his two sons, Calebos included, had been there to celebrate. During the festival the old king described in his book how the captain had taken the collected anima fluid from the dead Centurions and filled it in a cup, which he offered to the king and both sons. The King and his younger son… the boy who would become King Daslan, refused but Calebos, agreeing with the captain's belief that drinking it would give them the Centurion's strength, accepted it. After Calebos had his fill, the captain finished it off.

 

That marked the moment in time that the king noticed changes in both the captain and his son. Both became more physically active, with the captain taking the young prince on as a sparring partner. It was not until many years later that he found out that the two had become lovers. When he did, he had the captain killed... convinced that it had been the captain's aim to draw his son into Centurion debauchery. So that the king’s younger son could assume the throne, Calebos needed to die as well, but he just could not bring himself to do it. Instead he imprisoned Calebos under the palace to remain there until he was dead and his younger son crowned. At the end of the book the king left a warning... to drink the Anima of a Centurion would give a man some of their powers but it would also give them their lust.

 

With this knowledge Brashear knew what he had to do. Somehow he would have to get General Yates to drink Centurion anima. Brashear also wanted to consume more for himself... to lose more weight and become more physically attractive to the general. It required that he raid the bodies of the dead.

 

**************************

 

Geoff could feel Jason's summons tugging at his heart. The young man didn't care who Geoff was chasing. He wanted Geoff to come back to him so that they could grieve together, but, with each passing day, Geoff felt himself getting closer to his prey.

 

Whoever he was chasing was skilled at hiding his tracks. A few times Geoff was led off course only to be forced to double back. Still, with the advantage of speed and his own skills as a tracker, Geoff was making progress. He started off a half day behind his adversary, then eight hours, then four. By the time he reached the Jasper Mountains near the boarder between Qul Tos and Domus he was only three hours behind. The tracks lead into a narrow canyon, his target could only move in one direction...deeper into the mountains.

He was into his second day in the canyon when he found the dead horse, ridden to exhaustion after two weeks of running. Geoff checked the body for any clues as to who the man was, finding nothing but a worn saddle.

 

Geoff then found the footprints of the heavyset man running at full speed deeper into the canyon. Getting back on his horse, Geoff followed the trail, seeing where the man had stumbled and cut himself. Geoff watched with excitement as the man he was chasing gave up any pretext of hiding his tracks, running and stumbling in the mud, slowly slowing down to a near crawl.

 

It was just past a small herd of goats that Geoff saw his target. He was a heavy set elderly man, holding himself up with a club as he struggled to make his way into a nearby cabin. Geoff got off his horse and drew his two short assassin’s blades from their sheaths on his back. Walking at a calm pace Geoff let the man stagger into the house, giving him a few seconds before he walked in himself.

 

Geoff had expected to see the head of a club racing for his head when he walked past the fur curtain but instead he saw the old man collapsed on his bed. Now able to see the man's face... he saw that it was indeed Rondus.

 

"Can't you leave an old man in peace!" Rondus grumbled as he turned his face to see who had been chasing him for so long.

 

"If you were just an old man... yes, but not you... you are a traitor."

 

"No... I'm a patriot!"

 

"We will let history decide that." Geoff grinned, after such a long chase he was in no rush to end it.

 

"Too bad it is always the victors who determine what is recorded as history," Rondus grumbled. "By the time they are written, I will be labeled a villain."

 

"You did betray the king."

 

"Calebos is the only king I have... not that oversized child!"

 

"Has not Jason's rule been just?"

 

"Yes... and he will be remembered as the greatest king in Qul Tos's history... a man who is not even of Tosian blood!"

 

"Caleb did not want to be king. He did not want you to betray Jason. And he most certainly did not want Logan to die."

 

"I..."

 

"Don't tell me you thought that we could be attacked and have no one die."

 

"No... I was going to say that I wanted all of you to die... all you foreigners deserve to die."

 

I'm from the province of Ingral just north of here. I also was born in Qul Tos."

 

"But look at you now... black and white hair and glowing blue eyes...WINGS! You are not a Tosian... you're a freak!"

 

"What about Caleb?"

 

"Calebos... his name is Calebos!"

 

"But he wants to be called Caleb."

 

"I never said the boy was not a fool!"

 

"Jason has told me that Caleb is very upset with you."

 

"He knows?" Rondus said with dread.

 

"Yes... how could we not know it had to be you who betrayed us? You were the only one missing who knew the entrance to the back door."

 

"You can speak to Jason... in his mind?"

 

"Yes... all we Saints are connected to him."

 

"Please tell him to tell Caleb that I am sorry. What I did, I did for him and my pride... I could not stand seeing a usurper on the throne."

 

"Done... now is there anything else you want to confess?" Geoff asked as he tightened his hold on the hilts of his swords.

 

"Yes... I need to give you a few things," Rondus said as he got off the bed and opened his trunk. "It's a sword... I won't unsheathe it though."

 

Taking a few steps back Geoff watched as Rondus removed a sheathed sword with a sapphire encrusted hilt. Rondus then placed the sword on the ground and pushed it over to Geoff.

 

"That sword was given to me by Calebos’ grandfather for finding the secret passage to Domus. It marked me as a noble... but noble is not how I acted. I always held my nose up, believing that I was a true friend to the king, a loyal man of the kingdom. That is why I so wanted Calebos to be king, even though he didn't want the crown. I convinced myself that what I did was for the good of the kingdom, when it was really my pride. I knew that, but I felt it made me a better traitor than all my fellow nobles who betrayed their kingdom out of greed or power. The results though... the results are always the same."

 

There was a long period of silence before Geoff decided to end it. "It's time."

 

"Wait... I need to give you one more thing." Rondus said as he took something from around his neck.

 

What Rondus took out was a gold and platinum ring that glistened with tiny blue sapphires. "Logan's ring... why did you take it?" Gideon asked, adding another crime to Rondus' list.

 

"I could not help myself... it was so beautiful. The sapphires… I couldn’t help but take it. That is why I live in this forsaken pass."

 

"Enough!" Geoff shouted. He was struggling to not kill the man here and now, he was so angry. He could not stand listening to another one of the old man's stories.

 

"I... I guess it is indeed time," Rondus said sadly. He had wanted to talk more. He wanted Geoff to understand why he took the ring, to gain some inch of forgiveness before dying, but that was not to be.

 

Rondus took three steps to the middle of the cabin and went down on to his knees. Geoff walked behind him, letting his right blade pass before Rondus' face.

 

"Get it over with," Rondus said with tears stinging his face.

 

Until that moment Geoff had no idea how he planned to kill Rondus but seeing the ring hang from Rondus' neck he knew exactly how he wanted the traitor to die. "I will let you die the same way Logan did."

 

"Slow, I take it."

 

"Yes," Geoff said grimly before he stabbed Rondus in the side of his chest with his left sword.

 

Rondus let out a sharp scream of pain as he toppled over. For a few minutes Geoff let him grovel on the floor in pain, watching the old man cough up his own blood. Then Geoff took his right sword and stabbed the man in the throat, almost severing the neck. The only response Rondus made was a single cough that sprayed blood into the air. Then he was dead.

 

Geoff went over to the bed, cleaned his swords and sheathed them before going back to the now dead body. With a single jerk he yanked the chain off and pocketed the ring. Geoff then went to work setting the cabin ablaze. There was to be no reminder that Rondus had ever lived.

 

Watching the cabin burn to the ground Geoff felt Jason enter his mind. "Please come home now."

 

"I will Jason... it is all over."

 

"It was Rondus... wasn't it?"

 

"Yes... I made him pay for Logan."

 

"Don't tell Caleb please... at least not right now."

 

"Yes my love. I'll be back in a week or so. I'll let you know when I get close."

 

“No, don’t”

 

"You don't want me back home?" Geoff sent, confused.

 

"No...Go to where we have our second army. Tell the Centurion generals they can start their counterattack. Its time we ended this war."

 

"Yes, Jason. I will do that at once. It should take me only a few days to reach them and another five days for them to reach the capital."

 

"Darius is already planning the counterattack here. It will be in time with yours."

 

"Good... when we meet again I will have something to give you." Geoff said as he fingered the ring in his pocket.

 

"Logan's ring?" Jason asked.

 

"Yes."

 

"Will you do something for me?"

 

"Yes, Jason?"

 

"Wear it... Logan wanted someone to wear that ring... I would feel that Logan's spirit would be less lonely if he knew you were that someone."

 

"I will, but when I see you I will put it on your finger myself," Geoff insisted, putting the ring on as he sent his message to Jason.

 

"Be careful, Geoff. I can't lose another friend," Jason said as his presence drifted off.

 

"Yes..." Geoff sent back just as Jason was leaving his mind.

 

Leaving the horses behind, Geoff spread his wings and soared into the air. He moved at a fast pace, heading out of the canyon knowing that the sooner he arrived at the second army's camp the sooner he could help liberate the city of Qul Tos and Jason.

 

********************************************************

Chapter Forty-Two: Freedom

*********************************************************

 

Lauren had no idea where she was. She had taken so many twists and turns she had lost all her bearings but when she found herself entering a large cavern, she hoped she had made her way back to the place where the chase had all started. Instead, however, she found herself in different cavern, well lit by oil lamps hanging from a high ceiling. At the end of this cavern was a small opening. The sidewalls were made of wood panels with small square openings in them. From each, Lauren could see a notched arrow.

 

"There you are, wench!" one of her pursuers shouted as he made the last turn into the passage.

 

Seeing she had no other choice, Lauren ran forward into the cavern screaming for help as she went. As she ran she could hear the sound of whistling arrows thud into the opposite wooden walls, then a few short screams of pain.

 

It was not until she reached the end of the cavern and entered the relative safety of the tunnel that she turned around to see what had happened. Less than twenty feet into the chamber were her two pursuers, six or seven arrows sticking out of each of their bodies. She then saw doors open up in the wooded walls, followed by the Centurion archers who had been hiding there.

 

Knowing she needed to flee again, Lauren tried to run but found the way blocked by a figure in black and red armor. "Help me!" she pleaded.

 

"Don't worry, dear... you are safe now," the Centurion said calmly.

 

"No... don't call me, dear... he, he would always call me that," Lauren cried, remembering Sirrus.

 

"Then what would you like me to call you?"

 

"My name is Lauren."

 

"Then Lauren it is. Don't worry, we will soon have you cleaned up and on your way to see the king."

 

"King?"

 

"Yes, King Jason... he is our little Angel."

 

"A child? You let a child lead you?"

 

"Well, we do tend to think of him as our child but he's twenty-one, so almost a man." The Centurion said as he led her deeper into the Labyrinth.

 

"Is he a good king?"

 

"Well, we Centurion have never had a king, but as a Field Marshal he is pretty good, especially since he has Darius and Philip helping him out."

 

"Are they his lovers?" Lauren asked.

 

"Philip is... he is the one who is really in charge. Jason usually listens to his advice, most of the time."

 

"Why did you Centurions come to my country?"

 

"We first came here to free Jason from his mother. We stayed on because it was decided that, until Jason returned to rule, Qul Tos needed to be run as a protectorate of Domus."

 

"But Jason is now king."

 

"Yes, but then there was a civil war back home so we can't really go back there."

 

"So you Centurions will be staying here."

 

"Yes... You Tosians might have some strange customs, but we think we can make a home for ourselves here, especially with Jason as king."

 

"I hope you enjoy living here. Centurions seem to be a lot nicer than my own people, but maybe that's because I'm female."

 

"Why do you say that?"

 

"Well, if I was male you would have raped me by now."

 

"Sorry lady, but we don't do that. We might dress you in black and call you an ill-mannered Famulus but we would never rape you."

 

"I wish you would."

 

"Really?" The Centurion laughed

 

"I mean... there is a man I know that I would like to see raped."

 

"One of the ones we killed?"

 

"No... the man who would call me "dear"... Lord Sirrus, the leader of the army you are facing."

 

"I see." The Centurion nodded as he led Lauren to another chamber. "You see that man with black and white hair and blue, glowing eyes?"

 

"Yes..." Lauren said nervously, having never seen a man looking like that.

 

"That is Saint Caleb... he will lead you the rest of the way."

 

"Thank you, Centurion."

 

"Dovin... Commander Dovin, Lady Lauren."

 

"Thank you, Dovin." Lauren bowed, before the commander turned to head back the way he came.

 

The room Lauren was in was set up more like a barracks, beds everywhere and a small fire lit under a hole in the ceiling that took away all the smoke. The man that Dovin had pointed out to Lauren was at a table, writing something on parchment. As Lauren didn't know how to read, she had no idea what the symbols meant.

 

"Ahhh, you are our visitor." Caleb grinned looking up from the table. "I will be with you shortly.

 

As Caleb continued to write, Lauren watched the hundreds of Centurion eating, sleeping, practice fighting, and playing cards. They did not seem disturbed that they were living in the middle of a mountain. Lauren, for her part, was always looking at the ceiling, fearing it would cave in at any moment.

 

After Caleb finished writing his message he handed it to the Centurion next to him. "I want caverns eight and nine cleared out by tonight. We have reports that several thousand more enemy troops are in position to attack. I don't want our men trapped here."

 

"Yes sir." The Centurion saluted before leaving.

 

Caleb then turned attention back on Lauren. "So what's your name?"

 

"Lauren."

 

"Then that would place you from the northern part of Qul Tos, near the Huron boarder.

 

"Yes... how did you know?"

 

"Well I am a native Tosian after all." Caleb laughed.

 

"But you look so...."

 

"So?"

 

"... foreign," Lauren confessed.

 

"Wait until you meet Philip and Jason." Caleb chuckled, as he wrapped one of his wings around her.

 

"What do they look like?"

 

"Night and day... night and day," was all Caleb was willing to say for the moment.

 

Leading her back to the main passages, he took her past several more chambers, down a pit which led to a tunnel and up another ladder, where an elevator waited. Riding on the large platform terrified Lauren to no end as she was sure the chains would break, sending them all down to their death. So when the platform reached the top, Lauren was the first to run off it and down the tunnel to sunlight.

 

Finally free of the maze she had been sure would be her tomb, Lauren went down on her knees and prayed to whatever gods the Centurions had. It was then that the shadow of two of them fell on her. Looking up, she saw a creature with skin blacker than that of the Qopo, eyes that shown with a white light, two pointed horns on the top of its head, and a long slender tail that waved behind it. Thinking that the Centurions had tricked her and planned to feed her to this monster, she staggered to get up and run back the way she came, only to run right into Caleb.

 

"Why are you running away?" Caleb asked.

 

"A... a monster," Lauren exhaled as she clung to Caleb for protection.

 

"Awwww… you scared her Philip," Caleb laughed, as he guided Lauren back to where Philip stood with Jason.

 

"Not my problem," Philip growled.

 

"Come on, Philip, be nice... she's had a rough day." Jason elbowed his lover.

 

Hearing a much softer voice coming from the monster's direction, Lauren looked up and saw Jason, white wings and all. Seeing a possible savior she ran from Caleb's to Jason's arms, hiding her face on his chest.

 

"Everything will be ok," Jason said to reassure her.

 

"Why... why do you have this monster with you," Lauren demanded.

 

"He is my lover," Jason said matter-of-factly.

 

"But... he is ... hideous."

 

"I know... but I still love him." Jason joked, while giving Philip a wink of an eye.

 

"You're making fun of me!" Lauren accused. Being treated like a fool had been Sirrus' favorite game.

 

"Not at all..." Philip spoke up. "Jason actually finds me very handsome... don't you?"

 

"Yes I do," Jason agreed.

 

"But... he is so black."

 

"And that is a problem?"

 

"Lord Sirrus would threaten to give me to the Qopo."

 

"Qopo?" Jason asked, confused.

 

"Dark-skinned men from the southern continent. The ones who rode the elephants," Philip explained.

 

"I will have to look them up in the library. Do you like books?" Jason asked Lauren.

 

"Me... I am a serf... learning one’s letters is not proper."

 

"You are no serf. I freed all of them," Jason insisted.

 

"I was never freed," Lauren replied.

 

"I guess the Centurions had not reached your lord's lands before the war started. All the serfs were to be freed."

 

"I wished the Centurions had come to my home. I would never have ended up with Sirrus if I had my freedom."

 

"Who is Sirrus?" Philip asked.

 

"He is the leader of the Confederacy liberation force," Lauren replied.

 

"So that is what they are calling themselves," Philip laughed. "You will have to tell us all about him after you have had a chance to rest."

 

"Yes... that would be nice," Lauren nodded.

 

"Good... I think you will like living here."

 

"You won't be sending me back to my village?" Lauren asked.

 

"Not unless you want us to," Jason replied.

 

"Thank you, your majesty." Lauren bowed before rushing over to Jason, giving him a kiss.

 

"What was that for?" Jason blushed.

 

"I've never kissed an Angel before... I just wanted to see what it felt like," Lauren replied as her own face turned bright red.

 

After Lauren was gone, Philip went over and tackled Jason to the ground. "I'm glad you are mine."

 

"Getting jealous?" Jason laughed.

 

"Well, that was the first time I've seen a woman kiss you. I just wanted to make sure you wouldn't go running after her."

 

"She's pregnant you know." Jason said when they were back in their bedroom.

 

"She is... how do you know?" Philip asked.

 

"I can sense the baby growing inside her. She's not sure if she wants to keep it," Jason said sadly.

 

"Why not?" Philip asked confused.

 

Jason frowned. "She doesn't like the father."

 

"I see... it must be that Lord Sirrus."

 

"Yes," Jason replied

 

"Well, it is her choice."

 

"But it's a baby! Why should she die because his father was a bad man!" Jason insisted.

 

"How do you know it’s a she?" Philip laughed.

 

"I just do."

 

"It is still her choice."

 

"But..." Jason protested.

 

"You can go ahead and talk to her about it... just don't get pushy," Philip relented.

 

"I'll talk to her after her nap... and I won’t be pushy," Jason said.

 

"Good..that will give me some time then," Philip leered as he slipped a hand under Jason's shirt.

 

"Time for what?" Jason grinned as well.

 

"To prove to you that I'm so much better than anything you could ever have with a woman."

 

"You are jealous!" Jason laughed.

 

"Well, I am... she can give you one thing that I can't."

 

"And what's that?" Jason asked just as he felt his pants being slipped off.

 

"A baby," Philip replied.

 

"How does one get a baby?" Jason asked innocently, having never been told.

 

"Oh Jason..." Philip purred.

 

"Is this something I should have learned a long time ago?" Jason blushed.

 

"Uh huh." Philip nodded.

 

"You going to tell me?"

 

“No... I think I better show you." Philip grinned as he pulled the last of Jason's pants from his feet, lifting Jason's legs up to begin Jason's education.

 

When Philip was done, Jason had a silly grin on his face. "I guess you have been trying to give me a baby for some time now."

 

"Oh yes... but so far no luck," Philip sighed.

 

"Well... I guess we will have to keep on trying," Jason replied.

 

"I have no intention of stopping," Philip agreed.

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Chapter Forty-Three: Unleashed

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For a long while, Philip and Jason rested on the carpeted floor in each other's arms, watching the sun set through the window. Their peace was eventually interrupted by a knock on the door.

 

"Yes?" Philip asked.

 

In strolled Darius, looking serious. "The Confederate army looks to be gathering for one massive attack. They have almost emptied the entire city, sending all their troops into the Labyrinth.

 

"Good... as soon as that attack burns out, start our counterattack. If our luck holds, we will have pushed them beyond the palace walls by the time our reinforcements arrive," Philip commanded.

 

"I will see that everything is taken care of..." Darius nodded, just as there was a loud roaring sound coming from the valley floor.

 

"What was that?" Philip shouted as he stood up from being on top of Jason.

 

"I'll find out... You stay with Jason to keep him safe," Darius said as he left the room.

 

The first loud roar was followed by three more, each one louder than the last. When Darius came back, his face was covered with dust. "They've caved in the entrance to the Labyrinth."

 

"But I thought you said that they were getting ready to mount an attack."

 

"They were... most of their army is now trapped inside the Labyrinth."

 

"Then why block the entrance?" Philip asked.

 

"I think you need to see for yourself." Darius replied.

 

"Fine... can Jason come?

 

"Yes."

 

Together all three of them went outside to the battlements to witness the chaos below. The Confederate troops were fighting each other with men in green and gray livery out numbering the others in their multi-colored array of uniforms.

 

"Ask Caleb to join us... I want to know which country the green and gray men are from." Philip told one of the guards.

 

Five minutes latter, Caleb was running to them while his eyes were looking down to what was happening below. Already, most of the other Confederate soldiers had surrendered to the green and gray men.

 

"Who are those men?" Philip asked.

 

"Those are men from Huron," Caleb explained. "The kingdom to the north."

 

"It looks like they just betrayed their allies." Darius chuckled… relieved that the shaky alliance had finally broken.

 

"Yes... and look what is coming up the street." Philip grinned, pointing at wagon after empty wagon making its way to the palace.

 

"Looks like they plan on leaving you broke." Darius laughed as he gave Jason a hearty slap on the back.

 

"It's alright," Jason replied.

 

"No its not!" Philip snarled.

 

"But I thought you wanted them to fight over the gold?" Jason asked.

 

"I did, but that does not mean I wanted them to get away with it. Please, Jason, let me send my Demon Spawn after them."

 

"No," Jason replied sternly.

 

"Well, how about this... let Philip's Spawn carry our Centurions down the cliff to the palace below," Darius suggested.

 

"Not a good idea..." Caleb said. "There are still thirty to fifty thousand men down there while we only have two thousand Demon Spawn. We would overwhelm them eventually, but not without heavy casualties."

 

"We wait," Jason decided. "We can always go to war with Huron latter."

 

It took everyone a few seconds before they all realized what Jason had just said. The idea that Jason would suggest they go to war with anyone was too humorous for them to hold back from laughing.

 

"Jason... do you really want us to go to war with Huron?" Darius laughed.

 

"Well, they went to war with us... and they are trying to rob us," Jason pointed out as his cheeks blushed gray.

 

"True... very true," Philip agreed. "I think Darius and I will need to start making plans for our king's new military ambitions."

 

"Huron has some of the finest farmland in the east, not to mention the best wine. Of course, it is all farmed by serfs," Caleb pointed out.

 

"I guess we will have to go free them then." Jason grinned.

 

"Oh, I'm sure the Huron nobles will just love that," Darius snickered.

 

"Right now we have over a hundred thousand Confederate troops trapped in the Labyrinth to take care of," Philip pointed out.

 

"Shall I order an all out attack?" Darius asked.

 

"No... let's give them a chance to surrender," Jason insisted.

 

"Fine with me. We could make them dig their own way back out." Philip laughed just as one of his Demon Spawn approached.

 

Letting his Spawn whisper something into his ear, the expression of Philip's face darkened. "It looks like we will not have a chance to ask them to surrender. It appears they are determined to die fighting. Our men have already been pushed back two chambers."

 

"We should order our own counterattack," Darius recommended to Philip.

 

"But we're not ready. Too many of our men are still in the Keep," Philip pointed out.

 

Caleb knew what needed to be done and knew that only he, Kristen and Varrus could ask him. As he was the only one of the three there at the moment, the task fell to him. "Jason..."

 

"Yes..." Jason asked nervously, already knowing what Caleb was going to ask.

 

"Release Philip's children."

 

"But so many people will die," Jason said, becoming upset.

 

"So many people will die if you do not," Caleb pointed out. "But, if you do not, the people who will die will be your friends, your family.

 

"But I have to watch them die."

 

"I know, Jason... Varrus, Kristen, and I will be with you. It will be ok."

 

As if on cue, Varrus and Kristen came flying… sensing their Angel’s need.

 

"Jason... it has to be done," Philip said calmly.

 

After a long silence Jason nodded his head. "I know... but wait until I'm inside before starting,"

 

"Fine... my children will be ready," Philip agreed, turning his head to look toward the mountain top entrance of the Labyrinth, the one that the enemy had been trying to reach for weeks, already his Demon Spawn were racing toward it, moving into position, waiting for the leash to be removed.

 

Philip gave Jason a parting kiss before he glided down and entered the cave himself. He passed by the Centurions, many of them nervous, a few cheering, all of them knowing what was about to happen. Finally Philip arrived to where the Centurions were trying to hold back an endless charge of Confederate troops, the bodies piling on top of each other. There Philip was made to wait with the smell of spilled blood filling his nostrils. He could see the eager looks of his Demon Spawn and knew the same had to be true of his own face.

 

Just when it looked like the enemy was going to break through, the leash was off. In a single united roar, Philip and his children celebrated their freedom.

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Chapter Forty-Four: Seduction

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Completely unaware of what was happening, Brashear and General Yates were in the palace bathhouse, enjoying each other's company. All it had taken was a bottle of wine, laced with a few drops of Centurion anima to get the general to see things Brashear's way. Yates was actually aggressive, often pinning his new found lover against the wall.

 

It was after their third bottle of laced wine that they heard the roar of the entrance to the Labyrinth caving in. "What was that?" Yates jumped, getting back onto his feet, splashing water in Brashear's face.

 

"Ready again?" Brashear asked dreamily.

 

Yates looked down on the now slim and trim Brashear and could not help but feel the emotion of lust burning in his veins. Then there was a second roaring sound... something he could not ignore.

 

Climbing out of the pool, Yates covered himself with a white robe and peeked out the large brass doors. In front of the palace, he could see Huron troops fighting the few remaining soldiers from the other Confederate nations. He also witnessed dozens of large wagons being brought to the front of the palace and loaded with heavy chests.

 

Knowing he did not stand a chance against the Huron's superior numbers, Yates ducked back into the bathhouse, barring the doors behind him.

 

"Get dressed!" Yates ordered as he went to where his armor had been discarded.

 

"What's happening?" Brashear asked as he went to his clothes.

 

"It looks like Sirrus has betrayed us. His men are killing off the other Confederate troops and wagons are being loaded up with what I guess is the royal treasury."

 

"But that loud noise we heard?"

 

"Most likely it was the entrance to the Labyrinth being caved in."

 

"So we are on our own?"

 

"Yes." Yates nodded as he strapped on his sword belt.

 

"You know... we might as well stay here," Brashear said.

 

"You’re right... there is no way we can sneak out of here, not with Sirrus' men all over the place," Yates agreed, letting his sword fall back onto the floor.

 

"And since they will be busy looting they might not even come here."

 

"Right again." Yates grinned, working to get his armor back off.

 

 

"Anyway, maybe... just maybe, when the Centurions come back to take over they will see us making love and might spare our lives... seeing that we share their love of men." Brashear winked.

 

"A very good assumption." Yates licked his lips.

 

"So how about you and I just getting back into that nice warm water and enjoying ourselves.

 

"I can think of nothing better to do."

 

With that, Yates watched Brashear dive back into the water, swim over to the far side, climb out of the water, walk over to the wall and bend over, wiggling his ass. Yates let his hands run through the blond hair that covered his chest while licking his lips. He had no idea what had come over him. One day he was trying to avoid Lord Brashear's hungry looks, then the next he was returning them.

 

Diving into the water and swimming toward Brashear's wiggling ass, Yates' giant grin let copious amounts of water into his mouth that had to be forced out before each breath. Reaching the far end he climbed out on his knees and scooted to where Brashear was waiting. Yates then claimed the Earl, not just with his lust but a growing sense of love as well.

 

*************************

 

Exhausted, Yates returned to the warm pool to relax. Brashear went to the changing room where he kept the bottle of anima fluid he had collected from the dead Centurions. He drained the bottle into two crystal glasses and brought them back to the pool, handing one to Yates.

 

"What is this?" Yates asked, curious.

 

"You've been enjoying what we've been doing?" Brashear asked with a wicked grin."

 

"Yes I have... not sure what I am going to tell my wife, though." The general laughed.

 

"Same... my marriage was more political than from any real feelings we have for each other. I had to keep a close eye on her to make sure that I was the real father of those she presented to me as my children."

 

"How were you able to know for sure?" Yates asked as he began to sip on the blue fluid.

 

"I keep her locked up, with me being the only man allowed to see her until she is pregnant."

 

"She allows that?"

 

"If I caught her trying to pass a bastard for one of my sons, I would have every right to divorce her and keep her dowry. I know when I don't have her locked up she sees other men. I have seen other women. The only rule is that no children can result from her little fun." Brashear explained.

 

"Well, no children will be coming from what we do." Yates laughed.

 

"I know... which makes things perfect." Brashear grinned, as he took a deep swig of his own drink.

 

"Well, things are different for us in the military... certain things are expected of us. One of those things is to marry young, preferably a senior officer's daughter. The other is to have plenty of boys who can later keep up the family military tradition. As to sleeping with other women... that is allowed, but just like with you nobles, the offspring are not to follow us home," Yates explained

 

"So what do you do when one of the wenches get pregnant?" Brashear asked.

 

"That's where a lonely private with no real future comes in handy."

 

"But why would a private agree to marry such a loose woman?"

 

"Easy... we offer him a promotion he would never really deserve, and send him and his new bride off to some remote outpost."

 

"I see." Brashear laughed.

 

By this time the large amount of anima both men were drinking was starting to have its effect. The General, not in bad shape to begin with, was starting to develop some nice definition, all to Brashear's liking.

 

The general also started to notice changes in the lord standing across from him. The man who had once been too fat to ride a horse was becoming thinner by the minute. His waist no longer had any gut, while the muscles around his arms and shoulders grew to make them look broader, giving him a v-shaped body.

 

Yates then looked down at his own body and dropped his glass into the water out of surprise, "What is going on?"

 

"You know the stuff you have been drinking?" Brashear giggled.

 

"Yes... what the hell is it?" Yates demanded.

 

"It is the famous anima."

 

"Why are we drinking it?"

 

"Because I have read up on it... it is not only the source of a Centurion's life but also his strength. The more of it you drink the more like them you become."

 

"You mean their physical strength?" Yates asked, starting to become impressed by his new body.

 

"Among other things." Brashear grinned.

 

"As well as their physical desires..." Yates asked nervously.

 

"Well, tell me... did you ever desire another man before I gave you that bottle of wine?"

 

"There was anima in it?"

 

"Just a little," Brashear said as he held up two fingers only inches apart to stress the point.

 

"You made me gay?"

 

"I had to do something. I made the mistake of drinking a little anima without knowing what it would do to me. Do you have any idea how it feels to be lusting after a man while knowing that he is not interested in you?" Brashear replied, letting some of his frustrations show.

 

"But you tricked me."

 

"Yes."

 

"Then why should I not kill you?" Yates threatened.

 

"You can kill me, but only after you answer me this... Has what we have been doing for the past few hours not been enjoyable? Do you look down at your body and not only find that you like it, but feel a sense of lust from it? Don't you see that I am most likely the only man from Tal Sith that shares your feelings? Don't you see what we can gain from a partnership together... you a general, and me the king's most trusted noble?"

 

Brashear, having sampled anima several times in the past week, knew quite well what effect it had to be having on Yates. With each drinking there was always the physical change but after that, there was the mental one that manifested itself with a strong emotional desire to kiss the nearest man before having sex with him. By watching Yates's facial expressions, Brashear could see that Yates was struggling between his anger at him and his desire to bend him over and fuck him again.

 

Just as Brashear calculated, lust turned out to be the stronger emotion as Yates grabbed hold of him hard and pulled him into a deep and powerful kiss that ended with him biting Brashear's lower lip until it bled.

 

Yates was still angry and expressed his anger through the rough way he handled Brashear, but he also knew that all that Brashear had asked him was correct. He indeed found his new sexual urges exciting if not addictive. The male form that he had only looked at to determine ability was now a thing to admire and lust after. The feel of hard muscle against hard muscle was so much more electrifying than any of the soft flesh of any woman he had ever touched. Brashear seemed to know this, which made him know the general better than any man or woman on earth. The partnership, as Brashear had called it, seemed also attractive.

 

With Brashear's connections to the king it would not be hard for him to arrange for them to be assigned on the same missions. Yes, the king might find out about their sexual relationship, but Brashear's importance to tax collection would probably convince the king to give a blind eye to that social taboo. In a fight between morality and money, money always took first chair in Tal Sith. With Brashear, Yates would be able to pursue a male to male relationship without any negative consequences. He was just going to make the Earl pay a little for putting him into this position.

 

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Chapter Forty-Five: The Bride

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"Sir... they are trying the dig their way out... we don't have much time," one of Sirrus' generals warned.

 

"How much is left to cart off?" Sirrus asked as he continued to observe the loading of the wagons.

 

"Sir... we have been at it for two days now and have barely made a dent."

 

"But over a hundred wagons have been loaded!"

 

"Yes but we can only put two chests on each because of the weight of the gold. We have already overloaded a dozen wagons, their frames snapped in half."

 

"How much have we, then?"

 

"Two hundred and twenty seven chests all filled with gold, none of the bars of silver, nor any of the art work. I have a few of my men collecting their best gems for the last wagon."

 

"And how much gold in each chest?"

 

"We estimate over three hundred pounds in each."

 

"So over thirty four tons of gold." Sirrus grinned.

 

"Yes my lord." The general smiled as well.

 

"Then I think we can call this little military venture a success. Load up the last wagon. Its time we got this caravan on the move."

 

"At once my lord." The general bowed, leaving to issue the needed commands.

 

Three hours later Sirrus was at the head of a long column of wagons, his army of fifty thousand either riding or guarding them. Looking back on the city, Sirrus was amazed at how undamaged it looked. The palace stood, shinning white in the summer sun. Nearly every house was still standing as only a few had been torn down to place the catapults. The city walls, while pitted, remained a formable barrier. And then there was all that treasure. Yes, Sirrus had taken most of the gold but there was still mountains of silver bars from the Qul Tos mines in Ingral, the gem-encrusted art work that would have taken too much space, hundreds of lesser jewels, suits of gold and silver leafed armor, bolts of silk, and a rare collection of Wu pottery. All of that wealth had to be left behind, and it pained Sirrus.

 

Then there were the unanswered question... what had happened to all the men he had sent to attack the back door? What force could the Centurions have that had killed so many men in such a short time leaving no survivors? And, why had the main army not faced such a force? All these questions Sirrus was happy to leave a mystery, for he was sure that learning the answers would mean that he would have met the same fate as his men.

 

With the wagons loaded the way they were, travel was very slow. Six wagons broke just from the shear weight of the chests, causing wheels to break. Each time a wagon broke Sirrus had a twisting pain in his stomach as all that wealth had to be abandoned. Another result was that the horses had to be rested once every hour, forcing them to move at a snail's pace. By the end of the first day's march they had only traveled sixteen miles.

 

To add to the bad news, one of Sirrus' scouts, watching their rear, arrived. "What do you have to report? Sirrus asked.

 

"The second army is moving rapidly toward Qul Tos, with their cavalry moving ahead of the main force."

 

"How many?"

 

"They have five thousand on horse," the scout replied.

 

"We can easily handle them," Sirrus said confidently.

 

"Sir... our wagons are spread out for a mile. Our lines are very thin," one of Sirrus' general's pointed out.

 

"Then what do you recommend?" Sirrus asked the general.

 

"We should set up a rear guard to stay five miles behind the wagons. A force of thirty thousand should be enough to keep the enemy away."

 

"That will only leave us twenty thousand men..."

 

"Yes, but with no enemies to worry about in front of us, all we have to worry about is bandits."

 

"True... do it then," Sirrus ordered.

 

"Yes my lord." The general bowed.

 

That night Sirrus slept alone in his tent... which was uncomfortable for him. During the long months of battle he had gotten used to Lauren. It had been a great way to relieve the stress of the day.

 

Tossing and turning, Sirrus finally gave up and called in a guard. "Go find me a girl, preferably blond and slim. Also make sure she is timid and quiet... I don't want to deal with a talkative wench tonight."

 

"I think I know the type, my lord." The guard grinned.

 

"Good... a gold standard if you bring her here by midnight."

 

"Yes!" the guard cheered before heading out into the darkness. It was just after the changing of the midnight watch that the guard came back, almost out of breath dragging a curly blond woman behind him. Yes, Lauren's hair had been straight and, yes, the guard was a few minutes late, but Sirrus was so happy that he had a new playmate that he gave the guard the gold coin he promised.

 

After leading the woman into his tent, handing her a glass of wine, Sirrus decided to begin the conversation. "What is your name?"

 

"Tara, my lord."

 

"Is it your custom to sell your body?"

 

"No, my lord," the woman said, keeping her head down.

 

"Why do I not believe that..." Sirrus snickered. "You know what I think?"

 

"No, my lord."

 

"I know you don't know... you are too stupid. What I think is that you've sold yourself often, that you are a harlot, a whore, a woman who sells herself to the pig herders while they are still covered in shit."

 

With that Tara reached under her tunic and drew a knife, racing to stab her tormentor with it. Sirrus, in near shock that a woman would dare attack him, had enough sense of mind to deflect the knife with his arm where it cut deeply, but the process saved his body from the brunt of the jab.

 

Pushing the woman out of the way, Sirrus called for his guards, who came in swords drawn, moving quickly between Sirrus and his attacker. Tara, seeing that she was trapped, turned the knife on herself and fell down dead on top of Sirrus' pile of pillows.

 

"Damn it! Bring me that guard who brought this bitch here!" Sirrus ordered.

 

Within three minutes the guard was back, face pale, having been warned by the men who brought him of what had just transpired. "Where did you get this woman!" Sirrus demanded.

 

"At a party," the guard stuttered.

 

"What sort of party?" Sirrus demanded.

 

"I don't know, my lord."

 

Sirrus looked at the dead woman closely, under the light of the torches the dress had looked orange, the sleeves dirty, but on closer inspection Sirrus saw it was white, what he had taken for dirt, lacing.

 

"You were at a wedding party, you fool. The woman you brought me was the bride!"

 

"I didn't know, my lord... She was the only woman who fit what you wanted."

 

Sirrus ignored the man's pleas and continued to rant. "Do you not know that the most common wedding gift at Tosian weddings is his favorite hunting knife?!"

 

"No, my lord..."

 

"You brought an armed woman to my bed!"

 

The frightened man dug his hand into his pocket and took out the single gold piece, offering it back to Sirrus, his shaking hand almost dropping it to the ground. Sirrus went over to where the woman died, pulled the knife out of her, nodded to the other guards who immediately took hold of their frightened comrade and held him as Sirrus approached him with the bloody knife.

 

"Do you know the price a commoner like you pays for endangering the life of a noble?" Sirrus asked as he waved the knife in front of the guard's face.

 

"Death, my lord..."

 

"Yes death..." Sirrus grinned just as he stabbed the guard in the stomach. "It is good you know at least one thing."

 

"Forgive me, my lord," the man said just as Sirrus stabbed him again with the same knife the woman had used to kill herself.

 

After the guard was dead, Sirrus used the man's gray uniform to clean the knife. "Bring me a healer and remove these bodies but leave the gold piece with this fool. I want him buried with it."

 

"Yes, my lord." The two guards saluted before going to work.

 

After the healer left, Sirrus looked down at the twelve stitches on his arm. He was sure it would leave a scar, but he believed he would be able to tell the king and his wife that it had been an injury earned in battle and not from a newly married bride.

 

Seeing that all his nice, soft pillows were now stained with blood, Sirrus was tempted to sleep on the hard ground like most men but the indignity of it turned out to be more than he could handle. In the end, Sirrus flipped all the pillows over to their clean sides, planning to have them cleaned in the morning. As he tried to fall asleep he could smell the woman's blood and found it had an almost salty, sour scent.

 

Sirrus didn't know why he did it, only that he was compelled to. He flipped one of the pillows over and licked the still damp blood off it. He did not know what disturbed him more... the fact that he liked the taste, or the fact he now had an erection.

 

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Chapter Forty-Six: Survivors

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By the third day the furnaces had run out of fuel and the water gone cold. When that happened, Brashear was ready to surrender to Sirrus, but Yates, knowing how much Sirrus hated his lover, insisted they remain hidden until it was safe to leave.

 

It was in the middle of the night on the fourth day that both were awakened by the sounds of screaming men. Yates dragged Brashear to the front and lifted him on his shoulders so he could look out the high windows.

 

What Brashear saw shocked him almost to the point of falling backwards. He could see the yellow and black uniforms of his Sithian troops mixed in with the other colors of the allied soldiers running as if demons were upon them. It turned out they were.

 

Racing about on all fours were men with red eyes that glared from the darkness. They came pouring out of the palace from both doors and windows, leaping onto the backs of Confederate troops before letting their razor sharp teeth sinking into their victims’ necks.

 

Most men ran, a few tried to fight back... both met the same deadly end. Only the ones who stopped running, throwing down their weapons and going to their knees were treated differently. A demon would jump onto their backs, but after the monster had its arms around the surrendering man, it would drag the man back into the palace and out of view.

 

Soon the courtyard in front of the palace was empty of both men and demons, only silent screams coming from the palace broke what appeared to be a peaceful night.

 

Until the sun finally rose, Brashear clung to Yates, afraid that at any moment the monsters he had seen would burst in kill both of them, but the attack never happened.

 

When the Earl awoke, the first thing his mind registered was a knocking sound coming from the entrance of the bathhouse but instead of being the loud banging sound of something trying to break in it was a soft knocking of a maid trying to gain entrance.

 

The next thing Brashear noticed was that Yates was not lying next to him. Panicked, Brashear searched the room franticly with his eyes. He found Yates in the last place he would have guessed he would be, at the front door about to unbar it.

 

"What do you think you are doing?" Brashear shouted, his heart beating wildly.

 

Yates gave Brashear a lopsided smile. "I am going to surrender."

 

"But!" Brashear protested.

 

"Accept it my lord, the war is over. Whatever is on the other side of this door might be a demon, but I don't think so."

 

"Why?'

 

"Because the person on the other side of the door is laughing at us." Yates grinned.

 

"Laughing?" Brashear asked, suddenly relieved.

 

"Yes." Yates grinned.

 

"Then tell them that Earl Brashear, commander of all Tal Sith forces, is ready to surrender," Brashear said with sudden formality as he got off the floor.

 

"You don't really want me to say that do you?"

 

"Yes I do... they might not kill us if they know I am important," Brashear insisted.

 

"They might... if they decided you are at fault for everything," Yates pointed out.

 

"Well, that is a risk I am willing to take. They would be fools not to use us as hostages."

 

"Fine..." Yates agreed, bowing to Brashear before coming to attention, facing the door. "May I present his lordship... Earl Brashear, commander of the Tal Sith host, treasurer for the king, and husband to her ladyship the Duchess of Korland."

 

To this both Yates and Brashear heard uncontrollable laughter. Yates gave Brashear another bow, a more cynical one, before he unlocked the door.

 

As soon as the door opened, Brashear saw Yates' jaw fall open while at the same time taking several steps back. With the morning sun rising behind him, Jason, white wings practically glowing, walked in, followed by Varrus.

 

"Hello." Jason grinned. "Is the water still hot?"

 

"What are you?" Brashear said in almost a whisper.

 

"The man before you is Jason... Holy King of Qul Tos, master of the staff, father of Saints, and betrothed to the Demon Philip," Varrus said with deep formality and reverence.

 

"Varrus stop that!" Jason laughed.

 

"Well, they made you listen to all that nonsense before opening the door," Varrus pointed out.

 

"I know, but I don't like wearing all those titles," Jason complained.

 

"You know... with the war over, you will have to go back to holding court."

 

"But you are so much better at it than I am. Why can't you handle the nobles for me?" Jason begged.

 

"Because Jason, it is part of your responsibility to your people."

 

"Yes but..." Jason continued to protest.

 

As Brashear listened to the two argue he could not believe that the young man before him was actually all the things that Varrus had said he was. Holy king? Yes, he did look like a creature out of mythology, but his demeanor was no different than that of Brashear's own son, a boy more concerned about having fun than fulfilling his duties as the future Earl and tax collector for the king.

 

Yates, though, was totally hypnotized by both Angel and Saint. Not once did he look back toward his lover, his eyes shifting between Varrus and Jason.

 

"So is there any coal left?" Varrus asked Yates between verbal spars with Jason.

 

"None," Yates stuttered.

 

"Well, it looks like we will have to go back to the Keep to get clean," Varrus told Jason.

 

"I see... do you think the fires will be back on by tomorrow?" Jason asked.

 

"Only if the Famulus have the time to build them. There are a lot of things that need to be done."

 

Jason nodded;"I know..."

 

"So what shall we do with you two?" Varrus asked Yates and Brashear.

 

"Hopefully, not kill us," Yates replied.

 

"No... the killing is all over for now," said Varrus.

 

"What were those things?" Brashear asked as he joined Yates by his side.

 

"I told you Jason was betrothed to the Demon Philip... Well, Philip has his own children, his Demon Spawn. Those were the men you saw killing yours."

 

"Men... they looked nothing like men," Brashear insisted.

 

"But men they are," Varrus argued.

 

"If you say so," Brashear said, not convinced. "As long as you agree not to hand me off to Philip or his children then I surrender myself to be used as a hostage."

 

"A hostage!" Jason laughed.

 

To have his surrender laughed at infuriated Brashear. "I will have you know my king will place a high value on my return."

 

"We don't take hostages," Varrus chuckled.

 

"But I'm an important man!" Brashear shouted.

 

"He is, your majesty," Yates said calmly to Jason. "His family is in charge of collecting taxes for Tal Sith. His mission was to see the war over before the fall harvest or else the king would have been forced to send another man to take command here.

 

"So you are saying the king needs Lord Brashear back?" Varrus grinned.

 

"Yes."

 

"Would he agree to signing a peace treaty with Qul Tos," Jason asked, hopefully.

 

"With his main army destroyed I think he would be eager to sign any peace agreement," the general said.

 

"What about the other kingdoms?" Varrus asked.

 

"That is harder to say. Some kingdoms like Isil have their own problems, and would be eager to get out of the war. For others, though, the war is the only thing keeping their nobles in line. Those kingdoms will not abandon the fight as long as one of the major kingdoms is still fighting," Yates explained.

 

"But if Tal Sith makes peace with us then there is only Huron," Varrus pointed out.

 

"Huron is made up of snakes and traitors. They were the ones who trapped my men inside the Labyrinth and looted your treasury," Brashear jumped in.

 

"We know who to blame for what happened," Varrus said calmly. "We are making plans to punish Huron for its greed."

 

Yates raised his eyebrows on hearing this. "You plan on invading?"

 

"Yes," Jason replied.

 

"If you are able to conquer Huron then the smaller kingdoms would be eager to surrender, but it will not be easy. Huron is twice the size of Qul Tos with three times the population. Half of their army also escaped and with the gold they took, the king will be able to raise an even larger army," Yates said.

 

It was just then that Brashear remembered something... something that not only made him happy but sent him into uncontrollable laughter.

 

"What is it?" Yates asked.

 

"My elephants," Brashear chuckled.

 

"Your elephants... It was you who came up with the idea to attack us with them?" Varrus shouted.

 

"Yes... but I sent them away you see."

 

"You sent them where?" Jason asked.

 

"I sent them to guard the road to Huron. I just remembered that I didn't trust Sirrus not to try to take all the gold for himself, so I sent the Qopo to wait and ambush him."

 

"And what were your orders for after the Qopo had removed Sirrus of his prize?" Varrus grinned.

 

"To bring it back here," Brashear replied.

 

"And will they be willing to return the gold to the royal treasury... as a requirement of the peace treaty, of course?"

 

Brashear cringed. "I take it that is nonnegotiable."

 

"Yes." Varrus grinned.

 

"Any other nonnegotiable points?" Brashear asked, concerned how much this peace will cost his nation.

 

"Yes... one more, your lover here has to agree to remain as your country's ambassador.

 

"My lover?" Brashear asked, feigning ignorance.

 

"Your lover, the man next to you." Varrus pointed at Yates.

 

"He's not my lover... I'm not even gay!" Brashear protested.

 

Jason laughed, went over and hugged first Yates and then Brashear before taking their hands and bringing them together.

 

"I don't think we can fool them, my lord." Yates smiled.

 

"Fine... but I can not have his majesty finding out about this quite yet," Brashear begged.

 

"We have no problem with that." Varrus nodded.

 

"So why do you want me to remain here?" Yates asked.

 

"Simple. You made it clear that the King of Tal Sith depends on Lord Brashear for the kingdom’s income, without which the king cannot maintain his army. I am just betting that so long as we keep you hostage, Brashear will be sure that the king never has the income to mount another war against Qul Tos," Varrus explained.

 

"Bastard," Brashear grumbled. "You know this will mean I will have to find some excuse to come back here after each tax season."

 

"Yes, but at least while you are here, you will not have to worry about hiding your love," Varrus pointed out.

 

"True..." Brashear agreed.

 

Once that was settled, Varrus and Jason led the general and noble into the palace where Varrus had a formal document written, declaring Tal Sith out of the war. After both Yates and Brashear signed the document, Varrus and Jason led them to a balcony where they gave the two men their first experience of flight, dropping them off in a matter of seconds at the mountain Keep they had spent months trying to reach.

 

There, Jason and Varrus left them while they went to clean up. It did not take Yates or Brashear long before they noticed that many of the other men around them were their own in yellow and black or from the other Confederate kingdoms.

 

In all, there were twenty thousand survivors out of the two hundred thousand that had come from all the Confederate kingdoms. This was not counting Huron, which had escaped with fifty thousand. All the men reported that they had surrendered to the red-and-black-skinned attackers and had been carried up the mountain to either the Keep or to the other side, a valley filled with bones of the men Sirrus had sent to attack the back door.

 

As Brashear talked to many of them, all agreed that peace with Qul Tos was in their kingdoms' best interests and would go back home and say that to their kings.

 

That night Brashear slept alone for the first time in days. Neither he nor Yates wanted to be found practicing what was seen as a Centurion perversion. It would be a long time before they could. Brashear needed to start heading back home to Tal Sith to inform the king of what had happened and the treaty he had arranged. Then there were the taxes that needed to be collected. With the heavy snow that would fall in the wintertime, traveling the five hundred miles between Qul Tos and Tal Sith would be nearly impossible. That meant it would not be until spring that Brashear could come back to Yates. He wished that he, too, could just stay in Qul Tos. Going to sleep that night, Brashear dreamt of the day that he and Yates could be together again.

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Chapter Forty-Seven: Surprises

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When Geoff finally arrived at the army camp, the Centurion commanders were excited to see him and even more happy that they could finally join the fight. If there was one thing a Centurion hated, it was being asked to not take part in a battle. In addition to the twenty thousand Centurions, there were now eighty thousand Qul Tos volunteers, men and women, made up of mostly of free serfs eager to take up the sword and bow to defend the freedom King Jason had given them.

 

Another surprise for Geoff was the over two thousand students from the Academy and their teachers. Both Melkior and Oktor had agreed that there was no way they would surrender their Legatio students to Xavier. Nor would they place their Centurion students under the command of the Demon Armageddon, who they still did not know was their former student, Alex. Learning that Armageddon was marching to the school with a large army, Oktor decided they had to flee. With the way to the Gate closed, Melkior led them through the underwater cave, having known of its existence centuries before Rondus had ever found it. With Melkior acting as a guide, and Oktor leading the teachers, they had made their way to Qul Tos.

 

During that long and tiring journey, the Legatio began to respect their fellow Centurion students for both their bravery and their survival skills. It was not too long before many a Legatio would turn to a Centurion for emotional comfort. The Centurion boys, surprised at the change from the usually snobbish Legatio, enjoyed immensely having the Legatio come to them. Still, Oktor and the other Centurion teachers demanded that all the Centurion students act as gentlemen.

 

When the West Centurion Army's scouts found them, though, they were hungry, tired, and a little desperate. On arriving in the army camp, the Legatio fell to their knees in relief while the Centurion youths ran around excitedly. The idea that they were in the middle of an army camp during a time of war lifted the boys' spirits immensely.

 

Oktor, having long been away from the battlefield himself, also took pleasure at being in the company of a Centurion legion. As a commandant, his rank was equal to general, a title which he used to insert himself into the nightly officer's meetings. He did have enough sense to keep his mouth shut, however.

 

After the officers left he would have a meeting of his own with his fellow Centurion teachers and discuss through the night how they would have done things differently if they had been in command. It was a useless exercise, but allowed them to feel like warriors again.

 

In six days Geoff and the others arrived at Qul Tos to discover, to their disappointment, that they were not really needed. Hanging from the palace and the city gates were the blue and sliver banners of Qul Tos. Still, when they marched through the front gates of the city, they were greeted as if they were saviors by their fellow Centurions, Domus Famulus, and Legatio exiles. Marching straight to the palace, Geoff, Oktor, and the other commanders and teachers were greeted by Jason, Varrus, and Philip, holding green wreaths of victory, which they placed on each of their heads.

 

"Varrus?" Oktor asked his former lover, seeing his black wings.

 

"Yes Commandant?" Varrus grinned.

 

"What has happened to you?"

 

"Jason." Was Varrus' one word answer.

 

"Jason?... he's here?... where is the young man?" Oktor asked.

 

"I'm here, sir." Jason stepped forward.

 

Oktor looked at Jason and could not believe he was the same boy he had known. Not just the wings, the black eyes, or the white skin... it was his 6'4" height, a muscular frame that would put a Centurion to shame, and his much older face.

 

"How can this be?" Oktor said amazed.

 

"Love..." Philip grinned as he stepped forward and wrapped his tail around Jason's chest.

 

And you are?" Oktor asked, a little intimidated.

 

"Philip," Jason replied.

 

"I... I don't know what to think," Oktor said, completely confused.

 

"It is simple... I love Jason, Jason loves me... we gave each other our anima and, as a result, our bodies changed," Philip explained.

 

"But... but you look like a Demon," Oktor stuttered.

 

"Yes... and I have never been happier," Philip said with a toothy grin,

 

"And you Jason... are you happy with Philip?" Oktor asked with concern, knowing the age difference.

 

"Yes Commandant... I am." Jason nodded as he let himself be pulled closer to Philip body.

 

"Sorry, Varrus," Oktor apologized, thinking that Varrus had lost Jason to Philip.

 

"Why... you don't think Jason and I don't share an intense relationship? How do you think I got these black wings?"

 

"Jason... you still love Varrus?"

 

"More than I did back at the Academy." Jason nodded.

 

"I don't understand," Oktor sighed.

 

"It is very simple... Jason has two lovers... Varrus and myself," Philip explained.

 

"And no jealousy?"

 

"No... I am also Varrus' lover," Philip said as he wrapped an arm around Varrus' shoulder.

 

"I can imagine it must be very crowded in bed." Oktor laughed.

 

"Yes... sometimes things do get a little out of control, but only because we care a lot about each other," Varrus agreed.

 

"Commandant...?" Jason began to ask, his voice nervous.

 

"Yes, Jason?" Oktor responded, hearing the concern in Jason's voice.

 

"Do you know anything about Alex?"

 

"No, Jason, I'm sorry. I don't," Oktor replied. He was not about to tell Jason all that had happened to Alex after Jason and Philip fled the Academy.

 

"Alright, Oktor... Now that we have told you all the things you missed, let's get down to real business," Varrus said as he began to lead them into the palace.

 

"Not yet... tell me how come you had us rush all the way here, only to find the battle over."

 

"That, my friend, is a little more complicated," Philip warned.

 

"You can't confuse me more than I already am." Oktor laughed.

 

"Then let me introduce you to Field Marshal Darius and my fellow children." Philip grinned, as he opened the doors to the throne room where row after row of Philip's Demon Spawn stood at attention.

 

"Domus protect us..." Oktor exhaled.

 

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Sirrus was starting to think he was cursed. Hot on his heels was an army made up mostly of angry serfs. In front of him, ten miles from the Huron border were Brashear's Qopo mercenaries on their fifty elephants, blocking the only road for miles.

 

The Count at first tried threats. With his twenty thousand remaining soldiers he had been sure the Qopo merchant would allow them to pass. When that didn't work, he tried bribery, but Dodofan pointed out that breaking their contract with Brashear would set a bad precedent, and hurt their long-term interests.

 

The only option the merchant gave Sirrus was to abandon his wagons and all the treasure on them. Then, and only then, would the Qopo let them pass. This was not an option for Sirrus if he expected his king to let his head remain connected to the rest of his body.

 

With the Qul Tos army closing in from behind, only two days march away, Sirrus had only one real choice left, and that was to charge forward against the Qopo's elephants. But, by the time he reached that decision, the sun had almost set. If there was one thing worse than fighting elephants, it was trying to fight them at night. So, against his better judgment, he allowed his men one night's rest to ponder their fate.

 

That did not mean the night was a total loss. Once again Sirrus had a local girl brought to his tent but this time, after having sex with her, he had his guards kill her right there on the same pillows on which the other girl had died. Sirrus then lay down on the pillows, letting the blood smear all over his bare skin. Sirrus knew if his wife ever found out about his new hobby it would mean the end of him, but his wife's dowry had included a large estate with thousands of serfs bound to it. Sirrus was sure he could indulge himself without his wife ever finding out. That was, of course, if he made it back home.

 

The next morning when roll call was made, almost half the men had deserted, with several of the chests broken into and looted. Now, with only twelve thousand men left at his command, Sirrus knew that it was a lost cause. He still had to report to his king that he had at least tried to bring the treasure of Qul Tos with him.

 

Picking the best of his cavalry and giving them pack horses loaded with the gems stolen from Qul Tos, Sirrus sent his remaining infantry and the wagons forward, hoping that at least a few would make it out alive.

 

After the order was given, and his men were on the move, Sirrus took his horsemen off the road and over hilly terrain before returning back to the road but on the Huron side of the border. There he waited several hours for any sign of the wagons. Noon passed before the first of his men came within eyesight, looking beaten and tired.

 

Sirrus spurred his horse forward to meet his men, demanding to know where the wagons were. Many of the men glared at Sirrus, hating the man who had demanded they fight against armored beasts while he took a safe path around them.

 

It was not until a lieutenant came staggering up the road that Sirrus finally got any answers to his questions.

 

"What happened," Sirrus demanded.

 

"The elephants, they crushed us."

 

"But the wagons... what happened to the wagons."

 

"Your wagons are what they went for first. The Qopo charged through our lines as if we were just air. Then they went from wagon to wagon, flipping them over. Before we could reorganize and turn around to face them all the wagons were destroyed. Then they came for us, their archers shooting arrows down on us from above. We did manage to kill three of the beasts, surrounding them and sending men between their legs with pikes. Most of them were crushed in the process but we tried our best, my lord."

 

Under normal circumstances, Sirrus would have killed the man for bringing him such bad news. But, after seeing how broken the lieutenant was, and knowing that as soon as reality set in he would look the same, Sirrus spared the man's life.

 

That night the rest of the army disbanded. With all the food left behind in the wagons, there was nothing to hold the men together. Out of a force of over a hundred thousand men only Sirrus, his remaining officers and knights, started the long journey back to Randor, the capital of Huron. They only had three sacks of gems to offer their king. Sirrus could not help but feel that a noose was wrapping tighter around his neck with each step he took toward his king.

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Chapter Forty-Eight: The Future

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The flesh had all rotted away under the intense summer sun, leaving only white bones that were now scattered across the valley floor. Philip had not brought Oktor here to see the destructive power of his Demon Spawn. He had brought him to make the Commandant an offer.

 

"I know the fort is too small for all your students but it can be easily expanded with so much stone and lumber handy," Philip said, as he stood with Oktor on the fort's walls.

 

"Yes, I can see the possibilities, but it will not be as grand as the Cube." Oktor sighed.

 

"Better something than nothing."

 

"... but can we have it all ready in time for the fall?"

 

"Well, until it is ready you can hold classes in the Keep," Philip offered.

 

"What about your Demon Spawn?" Oktor asked.

 

"I'm thinking of moving all of them into the Labyrinth... keep them out of sight for a while. My men like it in there anyway."

 

"They seem the type to like the dark and gloom," Oktor agreed.

 

"They are not as bad as you think they are," Philip sulked.

 

"Not from what I saw in the Labyrinth, bodies piled on top of bodies. How we Centurions could agree to become such things is beyond me."

 

"Then I guess me asking if you want to become one of my Demon Spawn is out of the question?"

 

"It is indeed... why would anyone want to?"

 

"To live longer," Philip replied.

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"My Demon Spawn will live for two to three hundred years. For a Centurion approaching forty, becoming one of my children gives them a chance to live a full life."

 

"What about Varrus... he is Jason's Saint, is he not? How long will he live?"

 

"Eight hundred years or so."

 

"So why have not other Centurions gone over to Jason, asking him to make them into Saints."

 

"Because the relationship is much different for Jason than it is for me. I like my men... even care about them, but love them?... no. Jason needs to love someone before he can make them one of his children. The relationship is much more personal than what I have with the Demon Spawn."

 

"Still... can I pursue this option with Jason?" Oktor asked.

 

"Can I know why? I mean, is it just because you don't want to become a Demon Spawn."

 

"No... In truth I want Varrus back. He was my lover before I was forced to send him into exile for sleeping with Jason. It was a mistake, but I had no choice. The law was clear."

 

"It was not your mistake, Oktor... it was Varus'. Even he would tell you that," Philip replied.

 

Oktor, clearly frustrated, pounded on the wooden walls of the fort. "But how do I get him back?"

 

Philip reached over and put a clawed arm around Oktor. "You don't... soon Jason and I will formalize our relationship and give one another the bond oath. Varrus will be Jason’s second while Darius is to be mine."

 

"But he is a Demon Spawn!"

 

"Yes... it helps make them a good match, the perfect mix of light and darkness. What Varrus and Darius are doing is just formalizing their own relationship with each other."

 

"So it is too late for me to get back with him," Oktor sighed.

 

"Yes... Better you move on," Philip agreed.

 

"Still, if I had to pick between the two, I would rather have wings than fangs."

 

"Suit yourself..." Philip said with a toothy grin.

 

As the two men continued to look across the valley, Oktor tried to imagine what a new Academy would look like. The place was isolated, which was good, with plenty of land for his young students to go off and practice their scouting and survival skills. There was a place next to a narrow stream which would be ideal for building a damn to form a small lake. A village could be built to house the teachers and Famulus. It would take longer to build a road to connect the valley with the rest of Qul Tos but, until it was, all supplies could be brought in through the backdoor. Yes... given a year or two of hard work, this place could become a functional school. Now... all Oktor needed to worry about was living long enough to enjoy it.

 

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Jason sat in his chair, holding a letter one of the survivors of Qul Hoth had given him. At his feet was Jacob, sound asleep. Deep down Jason had known the truth but until now he had refused to believe that Gideon was still alive, or a part of him that is. Whatever creature had sent this list of demands to Jason was not the same person Jason had known and loved.

 

“First Alex, now Gideon.” Jason said to himself, his voice causing Jacob to perk up his ears.

 

Reaching down to scratch Jacob’s head, Jason let the letter fall from his lap. Most of the demands listed were not hard to meet. Gideon wanted the city of Qul Hoth and all lands surrounding it for three miles. No one was to enter the city without Gideon’s permission. If anyone did so, Gideon would refuse to be held responsible for what would happen to the unfortunate soul. Jason knew it would be his responsibility, and that of his Centurions, to keep people away.

  

The Qulos River… the main artery of the kingdom would remain open to river boats and barges. Gideon would, however, charge a toll on any ship or barge passing Qul Hoth. Such a toll would make rebuilding Qul Tos more difficult.

 

Leaving his chair Jason made his way to his office where a large tapestry displayed a map of his kingdom, Jacob following after him. Letting his hand trace the coast of Lake Hotha, his fingers stopped at a point northeast of Qul Hoth, on the other side of the Qulos River. That spot on the map showed a land both green and blue, the Mot Wetlands. It made up the east bank of the Qulos River for ten mile, well outside the lands claimed by Gideon.

 

If the lands were drained a canal could be dug out, connecting the lake to the river further upstream. If it all worked well, even a new city could be built. Jason did not know how Gideon would view circumventing his control of the river but he had to try.

 

Looking up at the letter again, Jason read the final demand Gideon had made… the hard one. Gideon was hungry. No matter what creature he fed off of, living or dead, his appetite could not be sated. The Lord of the Dead, as Gideon now referred to himself, believed that only one person could end his hunger… Jason himself.

 

Once every fortnight Jason was to come to Qul Hoth, alone, and spend one night with Gideon. During that time he was to give himself to Gideon, not in an act of lovemaking but as a dish to be eaten. In the letter, Gideon promised him it would not hurt. He would take only a little of Jason’s blood. That was not the hard part for Jason. It was keeping it a secret from Philip that he found difficult.

 

Jason knew that Gideon was right, however. If Philip knew, he would do whatever was in his power to prevent Jason from making his trips to Qul Hoth. After all that had happened during the siege of Qul Tos, Jason did not want to have to put a new leash on his lover.

 

Going to his desk, Jason wrote a short letter, sealing it with the royal blue seal. Putting it in an ivory message tube, Jason handed the letter to Jacob.

 

“You know who to give this to?” Jason asked, the wolf nodding its head in reply. “Good, follow the river until you reach the ruins of a large city… Gideon should be there.”

 

Jacob, taking the tube between his sharp teeth, wagged his tail a few times while Jason gave him a final scratch behind the ears.

 

“Be careful Jacob. Come back to me.” Jason said as he watched the wolf leave.

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Chapter Forty-Nine: The Prince Consort

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The next day was special for both Jason and Philip. That morning Philip came in, wearing a set of black and red armor. Philip went over to where Jason was still asleep and shook him awake. "Morning, little one."

 

"Philip." Jason smiled, slowly opening his eyes, looking up at him.

 

"Jason... you know what today is?"

 

"Yes," Jason nodded. Today was the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Labyrinth Tower. It was also their wedding day.

 

Philip lifted Jason up from the bed and carried him to the basement where Varrus was already in the water, waiting for them. There, Philip left Jason to be bathed by his mentor.

 

During the bath and their slow lovemaking, Varrus went over every moment of their shared lives, telling Jason how much he meant to him. At the end of it, a Centurion tattoo artist came down and drew Varrus' family mark on Jason's upper left arm, a sword pointing upward in the middle of a circle. At the same time Varrus received the mark of Jason's father, Agamemnon, three spears crossed together.

 

After that was done, Geoff came for Jason. He led him back upstairs where three Famulus servants cut and styled both men’s hair, massaged scented oil into their skin, and dressed them in their wedding clothes, Jason wearing the silver armor Logan had made for him and the blue sapphire encrusted royal crown. Geoff put on a gray doublet with hose and a thin gold circlet around his forehead as Jason had made him the Earl of Ingral, the wealthiest fiefdom in Qul Tos. Geoff already had plans to change the mining territory back to its natural beauty.

 

Thirty minutes before the ceremony, Oktor came and performed the blood ceremony, making Jason and Geoff sworn brothers for life. All it entailed was the making of small cuts on their right thumbs, which were pressed together so their blood would mix. The two men kissed, and only that, as Jason's armor proved to be a formidable barrier to any fondling.

 

Varrus came back for Jason, wearing the blue and silver robes of High Chancellor, a silver circlet on his forehead. In his right hand he held a long staff, topped by an oval cut sapphire.

 

"It's time." Varrus smiled. He went over to Jason and hugged him, while taking in his perfumed scent. "We are going to have to do this more often, you smell good enough to eat."

 

"I don't know... the Famulus told me that it is very expensive," Jason warned.

 

Varrus nuzzled Jason's cheek with his face while taking in a deep breath with his nose. "Trust me, it's worth it."

 

Geoff, who had also had the perfumed oil rubbed into his skin, was feeling a little left out. "Hey... I don't smell bad myself!"

 

Varrus, chuckling went over to Geoff, letting his nose brush against the younger man's face. "You smell wonderful as well."

 

This smelling of each other's bodies went on for almost five minutes until there was a knock on the door and a black-robed Famulus stepped in. "The ceremony is about to start."

 

Varrus, remembering why he had come here in the first place, grabbed Jason's hand and rushed him out the door. "We better hurry. Philip will kill me if we are late."

 

Once outside, Varrus, Geoff and Jason flew up into the air and soared down to the royal palace. Below them, filling the palace courtyard and walls were the Centurions, Famulus, and the few Tosians who had not gone with the rest of the army to chase down the remaining Huronite troops.

 

The three men flew around for a few minutes letting Jason's subjects cheer, celebrating not just his wedding but their victory over the Confederacy. There was then a loud blare of trumpets signaling the start of the ceremony. Seeing that they now needed to hurry, Varrus, Jason, and Geoff landed in the palace garden.

 

The Famulus, under Geoff's guidance had spent day and night restoring the garden to its old beauty. Where the dozen pine trees had once stood were now saplings of oak, pine, elm, and laurel... the different trees that could be found in the kingdom. Small sprouts which would grow into new bushes and flowers were already peaking up from the ground. Come next year the garden would be in full bloom.

 

Varrus led Jason to the white marble altar before moving to one side. The trumpets could then be heard again, followed by a Centurion march. In the middle of it, Darius, Kristen, and Caleb came in. They walked at a slow pace before joining Geoff and Varrus, forming a circle around Jason. Finally, as the song ended, Philip landed in the garden, wearing a Centurion commander's armor, minus the facemask that would not fit due to his horns. Walking into the circle Philip took his spot by Jason's side.

 

It had been decided that there would be no one to perform the ceremony. The vows and commitments would only be made between Jason and Philip in front of witnesses. They did not need to make any promises to each other, nor swear any oaths. Instead each gave a small speech telling how important the other person was to him. Philip described the day Jason gave him his anima, while Jason talked about the day he first met Philip, the day that happened exactly one year ago that changed their lives so much.

 

At the end of the ceremony Philip took the sapphire ring he had made for Jason, taking it from his right hand and slipping it on his left. Jason then did the same, taking his lover's ring and moving it to Philip's left hand.

 

The two then just stared at each other, Jason looking into Philip's white glowing eyes, receiving the same look in return. A single tear formed in the corner of one of Jason's eyes. Philip's tail reached out and brushed the tear away as it fell down Jason's cheek.

 

Slowly Philip moved closer to his husband, bending down until his lips just brushed against Jason's. For a brief few seconds the two men shared each other's breath, the warm damp air moistening their lips. Jason then leaned forward, pressing harder against Philip's lips, letting his tongue slip out and enter Philip's mouth. There it was met by Philip's own tongue, which dueled with Jason's until it was forced out. Philip then leaned forward and pursued Jason's tongue into his mouth.

 

Soon Philip's arms were wrapped around Jason's backside, lifting him off the ground. Philip then spread out his wings, causing Darius and Gideon to duck. Philip then lifted himself and Jason off the ground, flying into the air while still maintaining the kiss.

 

Together they soared into the sky, reaching up until the air became cold and thin. Then Philip went into a spinning dive, heading rapidly toward the ground. Just fifty feet above the keep, Philip spread out his wings, letting them come to a soft landing in the courtyard.

 

Philip grabbed hold of Jason's legs lifting him up so that Jason was cradled in his arms. Taking Jason back to his apartment, Philip let out deep purrs, eager to claim his husband in bed.

 

That turned out to take some time. Both men needed help removing their ceremonial armor. Luckily, Varrus arranged for two Famulus to be waiting for them. Once down to their undergarments Philip dismissed the servants locking the doors behind them. He then turned around to find Jason already naked, spread out on the black silk sheets, his body clearly showing his excitement.

 

It took Philip's remaining self control to remove the last of his clothing without ripping them off. But when he, too, was naked he was just as hard as Jason. Philip joined Jason on the bed and made love to him as if it were the first time.

 

After that the two rested, Philip remained on top of his husband, holding him protectively. Jason was his in a way that no one else could be. Philip now saw why the Famulus had the custom of marriage; it allowed for an expression of love that went beyond sex.

 

After an hour of resting, there was a knock on the door. When Philip replied, three Famulus came in carrying clothes for the wedding banquet that was about to start. Philip was dressed in a black doublet and hose with Jason in blue and silver.

 

The two made their way to the Keep's courtyard, where tables and benches had been set up in a square, with a large bonfire in the middle. On it chicken, pigs, legs of lamb, and an entire bull were roasting. Grilled on smaller fires were fish from Lake Hotha and the Qulos River, soups, stews, and vegetables.

 

Philip enjoyed eating the select pieces from the bull, lapping up the gravy with fresh white bread. Jason had a rich fish stew, followed by grilled eggplant and mushrooms and some pasta topped with a zesty tomato sauce.

 

During all this, the Famulus played music while the Demon Spawn performed gymnastics and staged fights using an array of traditional Centurion weapons. Near the end, but before dessert, one of the Legatio stepped forward and recited the Song of Zophar, a long tale of a commander who became a general and the commander who betrayed him out of love.

 

After the sad ending of the tale, the plates were replaced and the dessert brought out. There were cakes, puddings, custards, and cookies. There was a light pastry filled with cream and drizzled with honey. There were strawberries dipped in chocolate. There were baked apples stuffed with cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts. The main dish though was a large, five tiered cake with layers that alternated between raspberry chocolate and lemon cream, symbolizing Philip and Jason.

 

When the meal was finally over, both Jason and Philip were stuffed and ready for sleep. They said their goodbyes to everyone and returned to their apartment where they found that the Famulus had changed the sheets, lit a fire for them, and left two small glasses of orange liqueur on the nightstand.

 

While Jason undressed, Philip picked up both glasses and handed one to his husband. "To the most wonderful day in our lives."

 

Jason let his glass touch against Philip's before responding. "And to more like them."

 

"Many more." Philip grinned before emptying the glass with one swallow before slamming it into the fireplace, shattering it.

 

Jason took a little longer but eventually he emptied his glass and joined it with Philip's, the many pieces of glass glittering like gems in the glow of the fire.

 

Philip knew Jason could never hold his liquor, already his cheeks were beginning to blush gray. "Time to get you back to bed."

 

Now truly tired, Philip climbed on top of Jason. The two fell asleep, just as they had one year ago for the first time: a Centurion who had seen a damaged young Legatio, fresh from his first haircut, spending his first night free from the terror of his mother. Who would have guessed that the Legatio would come to want to be a Centurion? In Jason, Philip found a man who truly needed him, who only wanted to be held in safety. In Philip, Jason found his anchor, the one thing that he could depend on in life. They were now the perfect pair, dark Demon, light Angel. Together they would live their lives as one, leading the people of Qul Tos through whatever the future would bring.

 

Epilog:

Jason woke with a start, his body covered with cold sweat, every part of him trebling with fear. Even he realized he was within the safety of his bed his heart remained filled with dread. A nightmare... another damned nightmare, if that was what it really was.

Every night since the day of his wedding Jason could not go a night without his slumber being haunted by the same visions. It had to mean something, but what? He didn't know. Logically he did not want to act on what the dreams showed him but with Geoff's spies reporting worse and worse news from the lands to the west of Qul Tos, his majesty understood it was only a matter of time before he would have to intervene, regardless of what it would lead to.

With the majority of the Legatio being used as breeding stock to restore the Imperial legions back to strength he had to act. With King Aiden's treasury empty and constant food riots within Jazzard and throughout the Western Alliance, it was only a matter of time before another war occured.

Then there was the matter of the pain growing within him. Philip, what should he do about him? Philip's had never been able to control his lustful adventurism. Jason knew from the beginning making the Demon his Prince Consort would not change him. At this time however, he needed Philip to be with him, and only him, to comfort his fears and give him the courage to do what must be done.

Jason knew what the visions wanted him to do about the empty side of his bed, but how could he hurt his most beloved by abandoning him. Wasn't that what Philip was doing every night when he would go down into the Labyrinth to join his cohorts in their daily pleasures?

No, it wasn't. Philip's nightly betrayals were not done to hurt his beloved. What Jason was contemplating doing... coming to accept he needed to do, would hurt his Demon deeply.

What was he to do? Follow his heart and remain by Philip's side or do what he must do, not for himself, but for the sake of all Ares.

Covering his face with both hands Jason began to sob. Why had he been dealt such a terrible hand? No matter what decision he made those who are dear to him would suffering because of it.

"My dear boy... please forgive me for this intrusion..."

Looking up Jason's keen sight saw old master Melkior sitting on the overstuffed chair nearest to the door. "Please don't tell any anyone?"

"What is there to tell? Do you think those who are bonded to you do not know the pain you are in? It doesn't matter really, in time the truth will come out. I am not here because of Philip, your majesty. I came because I know what days are left to me are now very short and there are things you must know before my passing... things you must do, and do quickly, or your suffering will be shared by our entire world."

"So you knew about the nightmares..."

"Ah, no, Jason, I didn't. Given the sadness I've seen in your eyes of late I conjectured something far worse than Philip philandering was upsetting you. But now you have told me the true reason behind your pain I beg you to forgive this old goat for not warning you about them."

"Could you have stopped them, Master Melkior?"

"No... I could have stopped them no easier than I could stop the flow of time. I... I am terrible sorry you have been suffering in silence without anyone, especially I, who knew the doom of your fate err long before you were born.

"It does not matter if you told me from the beginning or years later. That you are telling me at all is what matters. You know what I should?"

"No, I'm afraid not. I have never suffered from the sickness afflicting you, at least not that one. What I do know... from what I was taught by the first of your kind is you should not ignore them and that matters will become far worse before they get better... if they ever do. That is all I can tell you on that matter, which is probably why I didn't dare to until now.

That does not mean I have nothing to offer you, for I certainly do. There is something else I've been keeping from you... something related to Philip's poor brother. It is about the anima. I must finally tell you...

     

This ends the first half of the Centurion Cycle

To be continued...

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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