The Centurion Cycle - 5. Book V: Of Shadow and Fire
Chapter One: Judgment
Qul Tos, the Gem of the East, was celebrating its first anniversary of its victory over the once great Confederacy, now shattered. That did not mean the end of all conflict however. Only a week ago had the last of the nobles and their supporters, who had revolted against King Jason's rule, had been captured and brought to the capital to face judgment. Today the citizens of Qul Tos were celebrating that end with the hope that a new age of peace and prosperity would now begin. That at least is what Jason, now called the Holy King of Qul Tos, saw when he looked over the battlements of the Labyrinth Keep, high above the city, a people who had come to love their young ruler for his kindness and steady hand. Behind him however, in the Keep's central courtyard he could hear the moans and sobs of the treacherous nobles waiting for judgment.
"I do not want to do this Geoff," Jason sighed, reaching to squeeze the Captain of his Winged Guard's nearest hand.
"It is what must be done. The royal council was unanimous in its decision. You offered these traitors amnesty six months ago but still they fought you, burning and pillaging your lands and killing many who chose to be loyal to you. You might be able to forgive them but justice must be done."
"I know but I've never killed this way before, with words that is."
"You are the king. It is your right and responsibility to pass judgment on these traitors."
"Have the young ones been taken away?"
"Yes, though it is not a Tosian custom, every boy and girl under the age of twenty-one will be spared as is the tradition of the Empire. As a Tosian I must say that is being overgenerous of you. According to our laws any man or woman found guilty of raising a sword against his king or speaking words of treason is to be sentenced to death, regardless of age."
"Do not make me a monster as well as an executioner." Jason said coldly, turning around to look at the prisoners below. "I know what I am doing."
"I was in the council chambers when you told us your plan for the young nobles. It is not without its risks."
"I know but it is my nature to hope for the best. Will you deny me the hope that they will find the same healing I found among the Centurions?"
"It is not the children I am worried about... you are turning your Centurion officers into fathers whether they want to be or not."
"Every Centurion wants to be a father... they just find woman to be so bewildering." Jason chuckled softly. "At least these Tosians are sturdier than any Legatio child a Centurion might have. That was always hard for them... to be great warriors but to have sons who can so easily break."
"If what I've heard is true Philip and the others broke you a few times before you were raised to divinity."
Letting out a sigh, Jason covered his eyes with one hand in weariness. "Please Geoff do not bring up the subject of my so called divinity up again. Not today at least. Not with what I'm about to do."
Placing a hand on Jason's shoulder Geoff gave it a squeeze. "It is what your people believe. All over Qul Tos temples are being built in your honor."
"And what do they pray more than anything? That I protect them from my divine wrath... Philip and his kin. How have I let my people come to see Philip, my lover, as an evil I must protect them from?" Jason said bitterly.
"You know why Jason," Geoff whispered. "Many have made pilgrimages to the Valley of Bones in the Tosian Mountains where Philip and his Spawn killed fifty thousand Huronites in a single night. You are master of the greatest and most terrible force in all of Ares. Most men would be corrupted by such power but you, because you control Philip through love, have been untouched by its taint."
"I do not control Philip, you know that," Jason said, his face turning slightly gray as he blushed.
"Oh yes you do," Geoff laughed. "You got your leash firmly around him. There is nothing he wouldn't do for you."
"And I for him," Jason replied solemnly.
"Isn't that how love is supposed to work?" Geoff said, reaching to tickle Jason.
"When it does. Anyway no relationship is perfect. Even Philip and I have our problems," Jason said, as be bent over to protect his stomach from Geoff's nimble fingers.
"I'll say, in over three thousand years there has never been a pair like you and Philip. Some say this is a sign."
"A sign of what... that a Centurion finally got lucky with a Legatio?" Gideon said, appearing on the battlements covered by his hooded gray robe.
"Gideon!" Jason laughed, going to embrace his best friend, the Duke of Qul Hoth.
"Well, well, glad to be here on this special day," Gideon laughed, reaching down to grope Jason's rear.
"You never know when to stop?"
"You and Varrus want to give me a lesson?" Gideon said sarcastically.
"I should send you to Commandant Oktor."
"How is the old man doing?"
"He is well... still hasn't learned how to incorporate his new wings into his fist fighting style yet." Jason said happy to have his friend back with him. Looking at Gideon's face, half hidden by his hood, Jason tried not to wince at the scars that now outlined the veins that branched out from his anima core, covering his entire body. Gideon originally had Geoff's post as Captain of the Winged Guard, one of Jason's Saints. That had been the case until Philip and Gideon, in a moment of playful lust had tried to bond to each other with their anima even though Jason had already claimed them both. The result had been Gideon's disfigurement and the loss of his wings, curse to live a half life. "Have you tried to talk to Philip?"
"You still think Philip is going to talk to me ever again?" Gideon sighed, pulling off his hood to reveal his sunken face. "He thinks what happened to me was a result of him betraying you. Imagine that, a Centurion ashamed he committed adultery," he laughed bitterly.
"He felt he took something he shouldn't have," Jason said calmly. "He has admitted to me he was jealous of us."
"Because things between you two are always so serious while we actually had fun," Gideon grinned, revealing his sharpened teeth.
"We were a comedic pair," Jason agreed. "I miss having you near me Gideon."
"I know but I am not the man I was before. My needs are different. I would never want you to feel ashamed of me."
"And I never will." Jason said placing a hand on Gideon's shoulder.
Reaching back Gideon put his hood over his face again. "I should go soon. I will need to feed tonight I'm afraid. I only came to congratulate you on this most excellent day."
"Gideon..." Jason called as his friend began to walk away.
"Yes?" Gideon replied stopping but not bothering to turn back around.
"You can have one if you like... more than one if you want." Jason said, pointing to the prisoners below.
"Why would you do something like that?" Gideon said surprised as he looked down at the captured nobles.
"Because I know you're lonely. They're all scheduled to be executed anyway."
"I do not think they will see being given to me as such a great mercy," Gideon replied.
"You are still a good man Gideon. You should not live alone," Jason insisted.
"I will pick three then, but in return you must agree to choose two of the three to serve you."
"I don't understand?"
"Is it not a worthy sacrifice to damn one man in order to save two?"
"This is a mean trick you're playing on me," Jason accused.
"You're the one who is offering his condemned to me."
"I... I apologize. All I was trying to do was help you."
"I know, you too are still a good man," Gideon chuckled. "I pick those three... the older brother and the twins. The twins I give to you. By the look of them they only seem a couple years over twenty-one. None older than twenty-four at least."
"The Castilian brothers... Why them?" Jason asked. They having a long tradition of marrying into Huronite families across the boarders next to their lands had been one of the ardent supports of the revolt.
"I think you and Philip would enjoy having a pair of twins. The older one seems to be a dour man. He seems to have enough steel in him to endure my horrors."
"You're not a monster," Jason said sternly.
"In your eyes only," Gideon replied in a loving, gentle voice. "It will feel good to have a warm body against my own again... at least for as long as he lasts."
"I hear they are starting to call you the Master Puppeteer."
"People come to me... they come to me all the time wishing to escape the responsibilities of life. Some are wealthy nobles wishing to cheat death are willing to give up everything they own for the chance to live longer. If you are not careful Jason Qul Hoth might become as wealthy a city as your own."
"You are too good with that staff of yours for me to challenge in combat. You also know I would never willingly try to beat you. So yes, consider this a challenge given that this is the only way I have left to challenge you by. Promise me you will visit me in Qul Hoth soon. My servants have almost completely rebuilt the city."
"I would greatly like that." Jason said as he waved goodbye to his old friend.
"Poor man," Geoff sighed when Gideon was gone. "Even now he still smells like a week old corpse."
"I still have hope for him," Jason said, standing next to his captain.
Shielding his eyes Geoff looked into Ares red sun. "The sun is about to set Jason. It is time."
"First remove the Castilian brothers. After that I'll give my judgment."
"As you wish my king," Geoff bowed as he lifted off into the air, to drop down in the crowded courtyard to escort the three brothers away.
As the red sun began to set, turning the white walls of the Keep bright red, Jason turned to face the prisoners, catching the movement of shadows in his eyes. At the appointed time he stepped forward and pronounced his sentence. "Once we were all nobles and as such we had a duty to protect the lives of our people. What other purpose can our kind justly serve? We take taxes from the land, duties from the road and tolls over the waters. We take and take justifying our greed by saying it is for the good of the people for we are there to protect them. Two years ago I freed the people and gave them the right to protect themselves, making many of you redundant. Your greed did not lessen however. Those people who wished to live in freedom you punished and killed. When the Confederacy invaded our kingdom you betrayed your solemn duty our lands and its people. When you did that you ceased being nobles and became traitors. There is only one punishment suitable for those who betray not just their king but their kingdom as well... death." Jason said before stepping back from the railing.
One of Jason's Famulus stewards then stepped forward, pounding his sliver staff against the rock floor. "By order of the king all of you must decided your fate. Pass the door to the North and be taken to the Valley of Bones where your own will join them. Pass the door to the East and enter Hell's Gate. Or pass the door to the West and seek heaven's forgiveness. You have until sunrise to decide. Any found left thereafter will be taken to the north gate to be executed in the Valley of Bones.
"What sort of trick is this? Are you saying we can all pass Heaven's door and be forgiven?"
"Only the repentant may be forgiven. We know exactly who those are." Varrus, Jason's High Chancellor, first among the winged Saints said in a booming voice from the west gate. Pass through heaven's door with a false heart and you will be sent to hell."
"To me," Philip said, appearing only in a black loincloth and red belt so all could see him for what he was. For the prisoners it was the lord of demons. For Jason it was the man he loved more than anyone.
"Were all those theatrics necessary?" Jason asked near midnight when the last of the prisoners left the courtyard, taking the north gate as had most of the prisoners.
"We wanted to impress on them the seriousness of their decision," Philip chuckled, looking with a lustful stare at where his lover was lying on the bed completely naked, his white skin shimmer in the torchlight.
"And how many made the right decision?" Jason asked. After his speech he had retreated to his and Philip's private quarters. Having fulfilled his duty as king he had not wish to watch any more suffering.
"Most prove to be the cowards they really are and left through the north gate." Philip replied, undoing the belt and knot that held his loincloth in place.
"That is what you and Varrus predicted. How many passed Varrus' test?"
"Seven... only three of them men."
"So few," Jason sighed.
"That is also what we expected. They did refuse your amnesty after all. Those three men are now being paired with your Saints so they can begin their training as acolytes. What I want to know is who those two twins outside our quarters are?" Philip said as he slid up the bed next to Jason.
"A gift from Gideon. I let him pick from the prisoners."
"That was nice of him. He did take someone for himself didn't he?"
"The older brother, Julian" Jason sighed. "Did I do the right thing?"
"That depends," Philip said, chuckling as he rolled on top of his lover.
"On what," Jason laughed, feeling Philip's long tail wrap around his right leg.
"If you will let me have the twins?"
"I think Gideon intended for me to have them." Jason said giving Philip a rueful look.
"But I don't have a pair of identical Spawn," Philip said his fanged teeth failing terribly to produce an effective pout.
"Neither do I," Jason replied doing his best not to sound annoyed.
"But you're always the one complaining about having too many lovers."
"And you always say you don't have enough," Jason replied tapping Philip nose with a long pale finger. "How about we each take one? That way they can keep each other company."
"Very well... shall we take them tonight?"
"No, tomorrow," Jason replied, wrapping his arms around Philip's thick neck. "Tonight is a special night for us both."
"It is almost our first anniversary. In another week it will be a year since I became the Prince Consort."
"You're right it will be," Jason sighed, his face now looking tired.
"What's wrong?' Philip asked concerned.
"The same thing that's been wrong these many months. I just don't have the endurance I used to."
"Today was a busy not to mention hard on you. We don't have to make love tonight if you wish."
"Do not lie Philip... you wish it. You wish it greatly. It has been over a week since we made love."
"You've not been feeling well," Philip said running his large hands through Jason's black hair.
"I've not felt well in a long time," Jason sighed. "I didn't know an Angel can become sick."
"Kristen has checked you himself. He found nothing wrong with you," Philip insisted.
"But something is wrong. It is as if a part of my heart is missing."
"I wish I were enough to fill it," Philip whispered, a gray tear running down his black, lighting streaked face.
Jason chuckled softly as he wiped the tear from his lover's face. "You are more than enough my lecherous husband."
Laughing Philip started tickling Jason's sides. "Lecherous?"
"Would you rather I call you a whore?" Jason retorted not able to hold back his own laughter.
Wrapping his tail around Jason's left bare thigh Philip explored Jason's body with his strong hands. "There is not a Centurion Legion without a few dozen of them."
"And I so happened to fall in love with the biggest one of them all," Jason said giving Philip a playful shove, knocking him back onto the pull downed black silk sheets at the foot of the bed.
Seeing Jason's tired face, Philip crawled over his lover, letting a hand close his Jason's black opal eyes. "Sleep my husband."
"But..." Jason whispered barely in protest.
"Sleep, we do not need do this tonight." Philip said calmly
"But it is my duty..." Jason whispered as sleep took him.
"Sleep my Angel. May you wake up stronger tomorrow," Philip sighed. As his lover slept he watched him trying to see with his keen eyes any sign of aliment. Except for the tired expression on Jason's face Philip could not find a single flaw.
Leaving Jason alone in their large bed Philip opened the door to the bedroom, letting Jacob; Jason's half tamed wolf inside, taking Philip's spot curled up against Jason. Passing the twins he slapped each one playfully on the rear. He then went down the hall and entered the chambers of the High Chancellor, Varrus Argus, Jason mentor and the closest thing both of them had to a best friend.
"Come in," A deep voice said from behind the oak door.
Opening it Philip saw Varrus sitting in his study, his lover Field Marshal Marcus practicing the steps of a twin-ax master in a room the two used for sparring. "Varrus may I speak to you."
"Of course Philip though I am surprised to find you at my doorstep at this hour," Varrus said, standing up to his full seven foot height. "If you're not with Jason, you're down in the Labyrinth playing with your Spawn."
"It's about Jason... something is wrong."
"Something has been wrong for the past few months." Varrus said as he glanced over a long parchment.
"I know. I wish I knew how to help but not even Kristen has been able to figure what is wrong with him."
"What about among the Legatio or Famulus healers?"
"I have asked but they are as clueless as we are."
"Is there anyone you've not talked to?" Philip asked his voice turning frantic as he passed around Varrus' study.
"Only one and that is because we can't find him," Marcus said, placing his pair of axes on a weapon stand.
"Academic Melkior, the oldest Legatio alive. He came to Qul Tos with the other refuges from the Academy but disappeared about six months ago."
"About the time Jason became sick." Philip sighed. "You have no idea where he might be?"
"We have searched the city and palace but found no sign of him. If there is anyone who does know it's Jason." Varrus said as he signed the bottom of the document.
"Why haven't you asked him?"
Varrus folded and sealed the scroll he was working on before answering. "Because he refuses to talk about it."
"Which means he knows something," Philip grunted.
"Jason must have some reason not to tell us where the Academic is." Varrus replied collapsing into his chair behind his desk.
"What about Oktor? He is Commandant of the Academy." Philip said shaking a long clawed finger.
"I have already talked to him but he says he knows nothing." Varrus said rubbing his tired eyes.
"Do you believe him?" Philip replied.
"He gave me no reason not to believe him. That doesn't mean he isn't a good liar." Varrus chuckled.
Rolling his shoulders a few times Philip stretched out his bat like wings to prepare them for flight. "Then I think I will have a chat with our Commandant."
"You will find him in the Valley of Bones overseeing the final construction of the new Academy." Marcus said going behind Varrus to massage his lover's shoulders. "Before you go please ask Jason to lighten Varrus' work load, if he must work though the night much more to keep up with all the paper work he will soon wear out those gorgeous violet eyes he so fell in love with."
"Why do you insist on calling it that," Philip grumbled though he knew the reason all too well.
"The bones of fifty thousand men lie unburied there do they not?"
"Yes. But it makes the place sound cursed."
"Maybe it is. It was created by the work of you and your Demon Spawn."
Puffing up his chest Philip took up a defensive pose "They killed Logan."
"So you killed fifty thousand Huronites in revenge. Does that mean the scales of justice are now balanced? Remember Philip you are a monster no matter how well Jason has tamed you."
"I have killed only our foes, those who dare hurt my Angel. Are you saying enemies deserve death?"
Letting out a sigh Varrus left his desk to stand in front of Philip, placing his hands on the man's broad shoulders. "But who are our enemies my dear Lord of Demons? We swore to protect Domus with our lives. Yet how did we find ourselves labeled as traitors while the monsters Armageddon and the false Emperor Xavier fests on the anima of our brothers?"
"What is it you're trying to say?" Philip asked, his brow furrowing.
"Remember what you are Philip, though a demon you might be you were born a Centurion as Jason was born a Legatio. Do not forget this when it comes time to do your duty," Varrus said staring into Philip's glowing white eyes.
Phillip nodded his head as he let out a deep breath. "I won't."
"Remember Philip... things are about to change again. You must be ready," Varrus warned one last time before the demon left his chambers.
Chapter Two: The Scroll
"So Lord of Demons you have finally come down from your mountain." Oktor thought to himself as he looked up at the night's sky to see a dark winged shadow approaching from where he sat on his meditation pillow. Going back inside his newly completed house the Commandant went to his study and took a scroll out of his desk drawer. He then went back to the patio and sat down cross-legged, meditating as he waited for Philip to arrive.
"Oktor," the commandant heard the demon growl as he settled down on the ground before his house.
"Your highness," Oktor bowed, offering up the scroll, his eyes downcast.
Arching an eyebrow Philip was taken aback by the Commandant's submissiveness. "You were expecting me?" He asked as he took the scroll.
"I know Jason's torments as well as any of his Saints." Oktor replied stretching out his black raven wings.
"But you know more than most," Philip replied. Seeing that the seal on the scroll was that of Melkior... former High Ambassador of Ares, the closest thing the Empire ever had to a true emperor.
"All I can offer you is in that scroll. I do not know if this scroll contains all you seek but I was instructed to give this to you. I beg your pardon for not seeking you out when it was given to me but Melkior made me swear not to."
"Why?" Philip demanded as he popped off the lead seal with a clawed finger.
"He did not think you would be ready for the truth until you sought it out yourself.
Carefully unrolling the scroll, Philip's eyes had no problem reading it with only the dim light of the moon. "Do you know where he is?"
"No I do not. I told the High Chancellor the truth when I told him I didn't know where Melkior is so why bother asking," Oktor said with a hint of desperation. He so much wanted to be believed. Keeping secrets, especially from another Centurion was considering almost dishonorable if at the very least very rude. Philip was not the kind of man who accepted such rudeness from anyone. "I suspect only Jason knows that secret. The scroll however was meant only for you. I have not read it."
Having read it once, Philip forced himself to read it again. "This can't be! Why didn't you tell me?"
"I do not understand your highness."
"My brother, you labeled him a demon, did you not?"
"Aye... so I told you. I sent his sword master to test him. Unfortunately your brother had already surpassed his teacher in both strength and skill."
"You never told me what happened to him after you expelled him from the Academy however."
"All I know was he had been arrested and sentenced to life in prison for the crime of killing a Legatio Senator... Senator Perils I believe. For all I know he still rots in Domus' dungeons."
"But he's not in prison Commandant. Not according to this." Philip growled throwing the scroll at Oktor's ashen face. "He stands by the right side of Emperor Xavier as the demon Field Marshal Armageddon."
"Alex... Alex is Armageddon?" Oktor said, baffled, his knees going weak.
"According to that scroll he is. Why did Academic Melkior know but not you? I left my brother in your charge Oktor," Philip said his temper rising.
Seeing the dance of lighting across Philip's obsidian body Oktor felt fear enter his heart. "I would not be the first to admit Melkior is a greater mind than me. I swear to you Philip, I didn't know."
"You should have. You could have prevented it." Philip spat, his sharp fangs glistening in Oktor's frightened eyes.
"Your brother was mad, butchering my other students. What was I supposed to do?" Oktor said defensively.
"You should have never let Xavier near him."
"He was a Field Marshal. Was I to deny his request to mentor your brother?"
"You should have known better. You knew there was no love between me and Xavier." Philip spat before he took a deep breath to calm himself. "Does Jason know what this scroll contains?"
"No he does not. As I said Academic Melkior instructed me to only give it to you. I myself don't know what it written on it."
"Though the truth is most horrible it explains much."
"Does it say what is wrong with the king?" Oktor said, his voice gaining strength as Philip's temper lessened.
"It does." Philip said leaning against a wooden post part of Oktor's house. "My love suffers from the same illness Melkior battled his whole life with... anima addiction."
"Anima addiction? But only Centurions are believed to have ever suffered from that. It is what makes them go mad and become demons."
"So do Legatio it seems. Given the amounts of anima Jason was given two years ago we should not be surprised. Though the symptoms are different he is suffering from the same anima sickness."
Shaking his hands nervously Oktor began to pace about the wood deck in front of his house. "Anima sickness but Jason has not gone insane."
"In Jason's case the illness has left him weak."
"I see," Oktor replied scratching his chin. "If only our supply of anima was great enough to help him."
"That is why Melkior left... he has consumed more anima than you can possibly imagine over his long life. With his own supply running out he decided to escape from temptation least he commit a horrible crime... the stealing of anima."
"Where is he now?" Oktor asked deeply concerned.
"By now he is dead... he told only Jason where he planned to die."
"Why did he bother even telling Jason?"
"So he might harvest his anima... a Legatio's anima rich with over two thousand years worth of knowledge and wisdom."
"Did Jason consume it?" Oktor asked.
"I do not know but it might explain why he seems so troubled. To have so much knowledge thrust upon him like that...What could Melkior been thinking?"
"I think I do..." Oktor whispered. "He wants Jason to confront your brother in the hope of saving us all. Giving that Alex is rumored to have the anima of legions inside him Melkior must have thought that only his own most potent anima could given Jason the ability and strength to dare challenge him.
"If that is the case he died a fool," Philip grunted, stretching his wings to leave.
Intending to return to bed before Jason noticed he was gone Philip stopped when he saw the two Castilian twins sleeping before his door. Looking down at the two men nestled together Philip could not deny the rush of lust that was quickly growing in him. Whipping out his tail he brushed both men's faces with an almost tender caress. When they opened their eyes they first trembled at the demon's sight.
"Do not be afraid," Philip said calmly, going down on his knees before them. "I will not harm either of you."
"What do you wish of us my lord," One of the brother's said sitting down on his knees his head bowed down to the cold stone floor.
"Oh I can think of a few things," Philip chuckled as his tale slipped down the opening in the man's shirt at the neck tickling the twin's nipples playfully.
"My, my lord?" The twin, Tomal, stuttered feeling Philip's dominating presence overwhelm him.
"Rise Tomal and you too Gabriel. There is much I wish to show you two and many pleasure for we all can have." Philip said his white eyes going ever brighter.
"We live to serve my lord," both eventually stammered out.
"Maybe," Philip chuckled and he wrapped his tail tightly around Tomal' waist, drawing the man closer to him. "But on this night it will be I who will serve you."
Mesmerized by Philip, Tomes parted his lips, welcoming Philip deep passionate kiss when it came. So did Gabriel when Philip took him. For three hours Philip watched as his anima took hold of the two turning them from normal plain men into creatures of true passion so when they were ready they more than eagerly followed Philip to the baths beneath the keep where the three of them made love well into dawn.
Not once during it all did Philip worry what Jason would think. His husband knew his nature and would overlook Philip's insatiable appetites.
Chapter Three: Terrible Despair
"My demon Field Marshal why do you look so glum. Step away from the window so we might feast." Emperor Xavier said from the dining table in the half completed palace he was building from the very stone of the former Grand Hall of the Field Marshals, one of its original thrones at the head of the long table.
"I look toward our enemies my Emperor." Armageddon explained as he closed the curtains around the north facing windows.
"If that is the case you are looking in the wrong direction." Xavier chuckled. "It is to the south you should look.
"To the Dukedom of Aquanos, but our treaty with the Federation? Aquanos is their vassal state."
"Led by a rebellious duke. Do not worry Armageddon I am sure the King of Jadoor would be thankful if we were to present him with James' head."
"I do not know the meaning of fear. I only know my desire for victory and I must warn you we are not yet strong enough to make war with the Federation again."
"You have so little faith in our legions?"
"Our legions are not as vast as they once were. The loss of the students at the Academy robbed us of many fine future officers."
"But we are breeding hundreds if not thousands of new Centurions each day."
"Many of whom you kill."
"So their anima may strengthen those of our young who are worthy many of whom are almost full grown."
"Mad and undisciplined," Armageddon insisted.
Chuckling Xavier plucked a grape from a bowl of fruit. "Some say the same of you my Field Marshal."
"I kill the enemy. I always win," Armageddon said with no pretense of a boast. Since he had been named the Field Marshal of Demons and leader of the anima engorged younglings he had never lost a battle. In truth it was he, not Xavier, who kept the Empire together from the fear his very name sent shivering down the spines of every man, woman and child in Domus.
"Yes you do with skill none have ever seen before my blue skinned friend."
"I live to serve you my Emperor," Armageddon bowed.
"And as my most loyal servant I have rewarded you richly," Xavier replied, placing a vial of anima on the table.
"Is this the anima of a child?" Armageddon asked suspiciously. The anima of the newly born was without memories or wisdom. In fact such anima was the very opposite, a chaotic potion of unaware thoughts and animistic urges. For Armageddon such anima was more than worthless, but dangerous.
"Nay my Field Marshal." Xavier said in a jolly tone hoping to remove this disgusted look off his Field Marshal's face. This is the anima of General Placard... the last of the rebellious generals to foul my dungeons."
"Ah, a rare treat." Armageddon chuckled, a grin replacing his frown. He watched Xavier pour the anima into a pair of lovers' goblets.
"Please Armageddon sit... you should not have to enjoy this anima's rich flavor on your feet."
"As you wish my Emperor," Armageddon said, sitting down in a low standing chair so his massive height would not tower over Xavier.
"Drink my blue demon and become even stronger." Xavier said, handing Armageddon the larger of the two silver goblets a habit that had become a tradition between the two. Once Xavier's bond had been the more dominate but as Armageddon gorged himself on the anima of Domus' greatest generals Armageddon's power, his very presence came to outshine Xavier's own. When he had originally designed his plans to create a demon Field Marshal he had intended to rid himself of such a dangerous creature eventually. Now the very thought of even punishing his creation no longer passed his mind. Just as Armageddon was fatally addicted to the elixir that now stained his skin blue and gave him his solid purple eyes Xavier was addicted to his Field Marshal, for protection, for his bond, for the only kind of love left to him. The Emperor had once been a proud man and had once preferred dominating his lovers in bed. Now the only sexual pleasure he could still enjoy was the hard rough wild ravishing only Armageddon was capable or daring enough to give his Emperor.
Once the two had drained their cups the rest of the meal was quickly forgotten as anima's sexual rush overcame them. Armageddon, so much stronger, larger, and quicker than Xavier could ever hope to be quickly overwhelmed the Emperor, making love to him with the same aggressiveness he showed in battle. By the time the anima lost its effect Xavier lay bruised on his bed, the arms of the demon Field Marsha; wrapped tightly around him. Inside it both thrilled and frightened the emperor that his Field Marshal had such a hold on him. It often made him wonder who the true master was.
Feeling two warm bodies wrapped around his naked form Jason let a small smile form on his face believe the two men he loved above all others, Philip and Varrus, had come to comfort his troubled mind. Slowly, opening his eyes he was therefore surprised to see two identical Demon Spawn smiling at him with wide grins.
"Good morning master," Tomal said, almost giggling.
"You two are the twins?"
"Yes master," Gabriel replied pressing his hard muscular body tighter against Jason's own strong frame.
"Philip," Jason said letting out a deep sigh to prevent his temper from rising. He was not so upset that Philip had claimed both brothers for his own but that once again his lover had left their bed to satisfy his sexual hungers. Jason knew Philip's nature and the ways of the Centurion but he could not help but feel slightly rejected if not abandoned. But Philip was Philip and Jason knew there was nothing he could do short of hurting his lover that could change his nature. Though Jason felt unintentional hurt by Philip's lack of consideration he could not imagine the idea of bringing Philip to task for it. "May I ask what the two of you are doing in my bed?"
"Lord Philip sent us. He though you could use the company," Tomal said still smiling.
"That was most kind of him," Jason said his thighs feeling the heat and hardness of the two Spawn's swelling manhoods.
"You are the most beautiful creature we have ever seen," Gabriel said kissing Jason's pale neck.
"More beautiful than all of Ares itself," Tomal agreed before exploring Jason's board chest with his tongue.
"More..." Gabriel started to say but was cut off when a large body of fur hit him with such force as to knock him off the bed.
"Jacob..." Jason said calmly as his wolf stood over Tomal his fur sticking up as he growled at the Spawn. "It is all right Jacob. Philip didn't mean it."
Giving Tomal a final warning snort Jacob took Gabriel's spot and began licking Jason's face.
"I apologize for Jacob," Jason told Tomal who looked both surprised and frightened. "He is most protective of me."
"I... I only wanted to please you," Tomal stuttered.
"Maybe another time after Jacob gets to know you a little. Wolves are very territorial animals after all." Jason said.
"I'll say," Tomal said as he slipped out of the bed, he and his brother rushing out, not bothering to dress.
"I wasn't in danger Jacob," Jason said to his wolf in a chiding tone. "Philip was only trying to surprise me." On hearing Philip's name Jacob let out a low growl. "Come on Jacob you should not hate Philip so. He is my lover after all. I wish the two of you would get along."
"So would I my beloved Jason..." Philip said appearing in the room, Varrus standing behind him. Jumping from the bed Jacob went to Varrus wagging his tail playfully at the Saint.
"He seems to like me well enough," Varrus chuckled scratching the wolf behind his ears.
"If Jacob is going to ruin all my surprises for you I might have to cage him." Philip told Jason.
"You will do no such thing my lecherous husband." Jason said sliding out of the bed. As he stretched out his body and wings he did not notice that the lustful gazes doing so triggered from both Varrus and Philip.
"May be you should rest some more," Philip said, going to one side of the bed.
"As your mentor I must agree. You have been very tired of late. Best to save your strength," Varrus said as he went to Jason, wrapping his long strong body around his king.
"If I go back to bed than I doubt you two will allow me much rest," Jason chuckled even as he let Varrus guide him to the mattress.
"As you said you have a most lecherous husband. Maybe you should leash him to your bed to keep him for your own pleasure?" Varrus said, Philip holding Jason tightly as Varrus cast off his robes.
"And you Varrus, most beautiful of all?" Jason said... even after three years the very sight of his mentor's naked body filled him with a deep desire that not even Philip could give him.
"See Philip he said most beautiful. I have told you before you keep him too humble," Varrus told the Demon before looking down at Jason. "Nay I am not the most beautiful of all. Compared to you I am but a homely man."
"You are still the most beautiful man I know," Jason said as Varrus lay down next to him head to toe.
"Then I shall find you a larger mirror." Varrus said as he took hold of Jason's manhood, gently squeezing it, feeling the power of Jason's growing erecting feeding his own desires.
"Oh Varrus what am I to do with you?" Jason sighed as pleasure filled him.
"Nothing at all. Let us take care of you for a change," Varrus said before wrapping his warm mouth around Jason's hard sex.
"I'm sorry if the twins surprised you," Philip said, from behind Jason, his hands playing with Jason's chest.
"I..." Jason whispered not able to say how he truly felt. Now that Varrus and Philip were with him he didn't feel he had the right to complain about his husband's whoring.
"I do not know how I became so lucky to have both you and Varrus as lovers," Philip said, the closest he had ever come to apologizing.
"Do not worry about it," Jason sighed as he felt Philip's hand slid down to his rear. Soon he felt his lover's sex penetrate him feeling him with a brief pain followed by a fulfilling pleasure. With Varrus' own erect manhood inches away from his lips Jason let his own lust take him and took it in his mouth. When his sexual pleasure reached its explosive climax he let out a deep moan, his entire body becoming taunt for a few brief second before they relax as a peaceful calm fell over him.
"We should do this more often?" Philip chuckled as he held his resting husband tightly against him.
"I know what we should do but it's completely impractical." Varrus said. He knew Jason's heart and the secret pain Philip was causing him. Just like Jason however he knew of no solution to it. If he could only dare to take Jason away from Qul Tos to a place far from the troubles of the royal court where on he, Jason, and Philip could live together in each others' arms. It was what Jason wanted at least. Jason was king however. Not only that, he was becoming a great king which meant Jason had a deeper responsibility to remain on the throne. After the defeat of the Confederacy Jason had become a legend. In the year that had passed that legend had taken on religious aspects. They did not call Jason the Holy King of Qul Tos for no reason. In a few more years the religion growing around the king would become a powerful force, not just in Qul Tos, but all of Ares. That made what Varrus said next all the more necessary. "The Legatio refuges came to me again yesterday."
"What did they want this time," Philip grumbled.
"They are concerned about Jason as usual." Varrus replied as he gingerly tried to move to the subject he needed to discuss with both men. "They know Jason is not well."
"I know... I even know its cause." Philip sighed. "Jason, why didn't you tell me the truth?"
"Your anima sickness," Philip replied trying not to sound if he was scolding his lover.
"I didn't want to worry you."
"But I've been worried. I've been worried for over six months."
"There is more to worry about than you know," Jason sighed, rolling over to face his husband.
"Then tell me then," Philip demanded, a hint of fear entering his voice.
"Melkior did not tell me. He knew I would find out on my own, after I consumed his anima that is. Long ago in the early days of the Empire the Field Marshals commissioned an experiment, an experiment involving anima. Picking their finest warriors they killed most of them, giving their anima to the handful that were their very best. They hoped you see to create the ultimate Centurion instead they caused their bravest warriors to turn into demons... anima addicts, unbeatable in the arena but mad with lust for their life giving elixir. One was especially monstrous... the Centurion Seth."
"I didn't know that was a Centurion name." Varrus said surprised.
"It was once, after he killed a Legatio Senator to consume his anima the name was declared forbidden. No Centurion in thousands of years has been given that name until only Melkior remembered its significance. Anyway after Seth was hunted down and killed his anima was giving to the four other Centurions who had been engorged with anima a strange thing happened... their flesh stained blue with anima returned back to normal, their addiction cured. Somehow Seth's potent anima cured them. That is why Melkior believe Alex can cure me."
"So we are to hunt and kill Alex?" Varrus said.
"No," Jason whispered. "I forbid it."
"Can my brother be cured?" Philip asked.
"Maybe, if I were to bond to him."
"Now that is something I forbid."
"Philip!" Jason protested. "He's your brother."
"And a Legatio killer and a monster," Philip listed. He has disgraced and dishonored my family. To be honest I am glad he rid himself of his family's name. I do not know if I could stand such shame."
"Oh come on Philip. All of us here know why you do not want Jason to bond to your brother. You have long known your brother desired Jason for himself. In this case you are wrong to fear Alex. If Jason can save him then you should not forbid him from trying." Varrus scolded.
"He does not deserve such a blessing," Philip grumbled.
"Still I must try," Jason whispered not wanting to increase Philip's anger. "He was my friend Philip... one of only two I've ever had. Gideon is lost to me though I try to hold on to some hope. You can't ask me to give up on Alex so easily."
"Be as that may Alex is in Domus, surrounded by legions of Centurions loyal to him and Xavier. Unless you were to free my Demon Spawn from your leash there is no power in all of Ares that can capture the Gate let alone break into the capital."
"I still want your permission to try." Jason said softly.
"Try if you must but don't do anything to put your own life at risk," Philip said half relenting.
"Thank you Philip," Jason said as he gave his lover a gentle kiss.
"Now to a more prevalent matter, at least among kings, when will Jason pick a queen?" Varrus said.
"He is already married," Philip insisted stubbornly.
"The Tosians, Legatio, even the Centurions would argue otherwise," Varrus replied. "Whether you like it or not Philip Jason was born a Legatio. He therefore has a duty to marry and have as many children as possible. It would stabilize his rule if the people knew there was an heir to the throne. Without one the nobles will continue to believe Jason's line will die with him and scheme to position them as his replacement."
"As you well know Jason is immortal," Philip laughed.
"Yes but that does not mean his people yet believe that fact. We have just put down one civil war. A marriage would help insure there won't be a second." Varrus insisted, shaking a finger at Philip.
"I don't mind marrying Philip. It is my duty after all." Jason said.
"But I mind. I will not share my bed with a woman."
"I don't think that will be a problem. As is the custom in the east members of the nobility and royalty usually have the resources to own large houses. In most cases highborn ladies have their own bedchambers separate from their husbands. When Eleanor was queen she turned an entire wing of the royal palace into its own little fortress."
"Good, Jason can keep his wives locked up in there." Philip growled as he jumped out of bed. "I'm going down to the baths... will you be joining me Jason?"
"In a short while. I must talk with Varrus more about this issue," Jason said.
"Fine," Philip said, not even attempting to hide his displeasure.
"Your husband is quite the jealous sort isn't he?" Varrus laughed after Philip was gone.
"He's just scared. I've never been with a woman before. I think he's afraid I might enjoy the experience too much."
"You might. You were born a Legatio after all and they can be as lecherous towards women as Philip is to men. Still I think Philip's fears are without merit. I have slept with other Legatio before you but I must say you were the first who openly pursued me." Varrus chuckled, nuzzling his nose against the back of Jason's neck.
"Oh Varrus what am I to do about Philip," Jason said rolling to face his mentor.
"You have always known his nature Jason," Varrus reminded him. "Do you doubt his love?"
"Of course not I just wish I was enough for him."
"Is he enough for you?"
"It would not make me unhappy."
"But what about us?" Varrus said, tickling Jason's stomach.
"I still love you Varrus. I cannot have you near me without feel desire for you."
"And that makes me glad for my passion for you have never lessened."
"I do not mind Philip having other lovers. I just wish they weren't strangers to me."
"That is a problem I do agree for his lovers are vast. It's all you can do to keep up."
"And I don't like that," Jason said, a ting of anger in his voice. "Why must I be forced to give my bond just so there are enough Saints to keep his legion of demon spawn in line?"
"Have you told him this?"
"No... I'm too afraid to."
"You could force him into fidelity."
"I would never do that. I love him. I do not want his resentment." Jason said resting his head on Varrus' chest his mentor wrapping his arms tightly around his shoulders.
"You are planning something aren't you," Varrus whispered rocking Jason gently.
"I must save Alex... not just for his sake but for all of you."
"I understand. Do not tell me your plans. May I guess correctly it was never your intention to? No matter, what I don't know I can't tell Philip. I will miss you my Angel."
"And I you my teacher."
"May I ask a boon of you in return for my silence?"
"Name it," Jason nodded, breathing in Varrus' pleasant scent.
"Give me this day with you. I do not think Philip will mind. He does have those two new twins of his after all."
"I would like that greatly," Jason replied, looking up into Varrus' violet eyes.
"Then come with me... and bring your staff. It has been long since the two of us have dueled." Varrus said leaving the bed.
At the idea of dueling Jason felt a burst of energy he had not felt in months fill him. Jumping from the bed he opened his wardrobe retrieving the sliver leafed steel staff.
"No clothes?" Varrus chuckled.
"No need," Jason insisted as he opened the doors leading to the bedroom balcony, spreading out his long white wings. "Catch me if you can," he laughed before soaring into the air.
"Now that is the Jason I know," Varrus said before giving chase.
Chapter Four: The Other Angel
Staring out a balcony window Duke James let out a deep sigh. Out there in the world beyond the borders of Aquanos was something or someone greater than him and it was in terrible pain.
"You're adrift again," Kyle whispered as he walked up to his lover, wrapping his long leathery tail around James' waist.
Wrapping an arm around Kyle, James pulled him around to face him. "So you have come to bring me back ashore?"
"Even if I had to swim a thousand miles to do it."
"Luckily you have wings," James chuckled as he caressed his Demon's face.
"What is it this time, the dreams again?"
"It is always the same dream, the face of the most beautiful man I've ever seen, an Angel like me. His eyes though are filled with such sorrow. What can it mean though?"
"It's simple enough. There must be another angel out there and he needs you."
Sensing a hint of loneliness in his Demon's voice James tightened his hold of Kyle. "He needs us my Demon. I will not go anywhere without you."
Kyle let out an evil laugh. "That's good to know. Of course there is only one man you could be dreaming of... the Holy King of Qul Tos himself."
"Is he believed to be so beautiful yet sad?"
"From what my spies have learned he is suffering from some sort of malady... a tiring sickness that no one has been able to cure."
"Do you know the cause of it?"
"No, there are limits to how close my people can get to the king. He is after all protected by a legion of Demon Spawn."
"Is that why King Aidan has not attacked Qul Tos yet? With the Domus Empire in chaotic decline only Qul Tos remains as a creditable threat to the Federation." James asked.
"As you well know Aidan won't move against Jason and his Demon without first killed us for our anima. Is Jason's Demon so strong?"
"He might be if the rumors are true," Kyle nodded
"Ah, the Valley of Bones, have your men seen it?" James asked.
"They have, they got themselves jobs building a new school of some sort. They're building it in the very same valley where 50,000 Huronite warriors fell if the stories be true."
"Then mayhaps we should seek an alliance with Qul Tos. A united front might give Aidan and Dorian second thought of attacking us."
"I'm sure an alliance would be best for both our nations but how do we approach King Jason without the knowledge of Aidan. He too must have spies in the palace."
"Of course... my men have killed at least a half dozen of them. Philip's men must have gotten the rest."
"Have any of our spies been given such treatment."
"Not that I know of."
"So they are letting ours live. That must mean they trust us to a certain extent."
"They have no reason to hate us. King Aidan on the other hand has made it quite clear he sees Qul Tos as his greatest foe. Not just because they have their own army of Centurions but because of the threat Jason poses to the Jadoorian Church." Kyle said.
"True... the Tosians are starting to see Jason as their god. Funny how the Famulus here aren't doing the same."
"But they are. They're just not worshiping either of us. I wonder why?"
"Maybe because we make our lives so public. Too many trips to the bathhouse I think."
"It's kind of like our second home. It's where we made love for the first time anyway."
"It's where we made love several times," James laughed. "You're the one who insisted we spend our honeymoon there."
Kyle defended himself. "Where else could we spend it?"
"True I guess. Too bad the Summer Festival is over or we would still be there."
"We don't need a festival to make love." Kyle insisted.
"I guess we don't." James said coyly as Kyle led him away from the balcony.
"What do you mean, guess?" Kyle snorted. "I'm offering my ass to you and you're acting like I just told you to scour the bottom of a ship."
"I never said that. I just... well, I think I'm falling in love again."
Kyle looked up at James with his lower lip trembling. "You mean you no longer love me?"
"I never said that, only that if Jason is the man in my dreams I must one day face him. It's not like I will suddenly stop loving you but..."
"You think Jason needs you?" Kyle whispered. Seeing the forlorn look on his lover's face he decided against scratching out his eyes.
"I think I need him to be honest. I love you Kyle and nothing in the world will ever change that. It's just, well; I need someone to talk to who understands what it means to be an Angel."
"I understand... I'm just a silly fool after all," Kyle pouted.
"No you're not. You're the only person I know for sure who's looking out for me. You've always told me to follow my dreams."
Kyle let out a laugh as his lover tickled his sides. "I didn't mean all the way into the bedroom."
"But I thought that was where we were going," James laughed as he lifted Kyle up and carried him over one shoulder.
"Please stop," Kyle begged as he was spun around the room.
"Not until you give in."
"Alright, I give, I give." Kyle submitted.
"There, now that wasn't so bad was it?"
"That depends," Kyle said as he opened a dresser drawer.
"What you think of this," Kyle said as he brought out a small tapestry. On it was a blue and white image of the city of Qul Tos a towering Angel flying over the city. "One of my spies brought this back saying it was as close an image of King Jason as he could find. I guess what I'm asking is this the man of your dreams?"
"What would you do if I said he was?" James asked nervously. The tapestry indeed showed the Angel he had been dreaming about.
Kyle gave his lover a wink. "I would say... do you think you would mind sharing him with me?"
"So, you've been having dreams as well," James chuckled as he wrapped his arms around Kyle's waist.
"Just a few," Kyle replied coyly.
James tickled his husband mercilessly for that one. "Just a few eh?"
"Yes, yes, yes, just a few." Kyle laughed. "Do you think he will like me?"
"I might as well ask me the same thing."
"Why... almost everyone I know is in love with you my husband."
"Strange that I don't see more people with their eyes scratched out then." James said jokingly.
"I only threaten to do that to you."
"But I'm not the lecherous one."
"True but I am jealous of keeping my Angles."
"So it's ‘Angels' now?"
"Alright, I'll admit it. I do kinda have a crush on Jason and his Demon."
"On both of them?"
"Can't I have both?" Kyle pouted.
"If it will make you happy," James laughed.
"That's all that really matters, right, that we're both happy?"
"With each other," James modified.
"And we are, right?"
"That we are my little imp, that we are," James said as he lifted Kyle up into his arms, carrying him to their bed where they made love to each other late into the night
Chapter Five: The Good and the Bad
"General Yates," Varrus said as the Ambassador of Tal Sith entered his study.
"I hope you have good news for me High Chancellor," General Yates grumbled.
"Both good and bad," Varrus said waving to a seat in front of his desk.
"Let's save the good news for last. At least give me some hope of leaving here in a happy mood."
"Very well," Varrus said his face going cold. "Are you aware of the crime your lover has committed?"
"Crime, no. Lord Brashear is a schemer but he would never break the law."
"But he has," Varrus said in a steely tone. "Is it not a crime to steal the anima of our Centurion dead?"
"That is an Imperial law, this is Qul Tos. But how do you know Lord Brashear committed such a crime."
"Given his relationship to you we have long suspected it. Now we have proof," Varrus said handing the Ambassador of Tal Sith a thick scroll.
"What is this?" Yates asked opening the scroll. "Why this looks like nothing but a trade agreement. In return for five hundred barrels of oil Brashear was to give the nomads of the desert an unnamed item"
"This was the unnamed item," Varrus said lifting a cask on top of his desk. Removing its lid he tipped its open mouth toward the general so he could see what lay inside.
"Anima..." Yates gasped. "I, I don't know what to say. I honestly can't believe it. Are you sure this is not some trick of Lord Brashear's enemies?"
"You know who the Captain of the Winged Guard is?"
"Aye I do, Geoff, Lord of Ingral."
"Yes, he is also the finest spy and assassin in the kingdom. In addition to being Jason's bodyguard he also directs the king's agents. As I said we long suspected Brashear had consumed anima during the siege. We were willing to overlook that matter until Geoff received word that other men close to your lover were also coming to know the ways of Centurion love. Still we decided to turn a blind eye to the matter for the sake of peace. Then we learned that Lord Brashear was becoming extremely wealthy during a time when your kingdom was still recovering from the war. When we learned of his trade with the desert nomads we arranged an ambush. We did not just find this cask of anima but in the bottoms of the barrels of oil Lord Brashear was to receive as payment we found thousands of these coins hidden inside," Varrus said dropping a heavy purse on his desk with a dramatic thud.
"I..." Yates said swallowing hard his eyes on the purse.
"Open it," Varrus commanded.
With a trembling hand Yates reached across the desk to pick up the purse. Opening it he found it filled with thick solid gold coins with no hole in the middle as was found on most gold coins in the east and the Domus Empire. Stamped around the edges of each coin was a wavy script that Yates unfortunately recognized all too well. "These, these are Lahorian coins."
"Yes, Lord Brashear did not only steal the anima of our dead but has committed the unforgivable crime of selling it for profit. By my count his has broken two Imperial laws that have been in place since the founding of the Empire. He has also broken the laws of the Confederacy by trading with your enemies of the Lahorians. If Isil were to learn of this..."
"They would send a countless stream of assassins at him until they succeed in killing him and his entire family. They won't stop until House Brashear is dead."
"Yes, this brings up the issue of my king's mercy. Jason is a Legatio, a man of the Empire. He is therefore as outraged by what Lord Brashear has done. He also knows that for the sake of peace this must be kept secret. If his Centurions were to find out they might decided to punish all of Tal Sith and not just Lord Brashear and his family. Yet justice must be done."
"Please I can't ask you to spare Lord Brashear but his family is large with many young children."
"We know more than you think Ambassador, Varrus spat. "Were you aware that Lord Brashear gave his king a dozen bottles of Huron wine?"
"He didn't," Yates gasped.
"He did. So you see, he has not only betrayed my king's friendship with him, but that of your King Samuel as well."
In defeat Yates slumped in his chair. "Name your price."
"This brings us to the good news. King Jason has finally deiced to marry. He wants to know if King's Samuel offer still stands."
Jumping with a start Yates gloomy face was suddenly filled with excitement. "It does indeed still stand."
"Then Jason accepts it, on certain conditions of course."
"Of course," Yates nodded. "Name them."
"First Lord Brashear's stockpile of anima is to be confiscated pack and sent upriver to Qul Tos."
"No it's not. We suspect Lord Brashear has consumed too much anima in the last year. For a Centurion or a Legatio this leads to anima sickness. In the case of Brashear it will result in death."
"Is there no cure?"
"There is but we chose not to give it to him. We will however give it to your king."
"King Samuel is also in danger?"
"We believe he is as you are as well general."
"What is the cure?"
"The bond of a Saint or Jason himself should save your life."
"I see," Yates said nervously.
"You do know what that means?"
"I and my king can either die or become your slaves?"
"No general. Jason is not so cruel. As part of the marriage contract King Samuel must agree to become Jason's oath brother. Only then will Jason give him his bond. Your king will then become a Saint, not a slave except in his love for Jason."
"What of me?"
"Jason has left for me to deal with you."
"You?" Yates said adjusting himself in his chair.
"Do not hide behind your military professionalism Yates. I know how you look at me when you think I'm not looking. I don't really mind you know. You are a handsome man in your own right."
"Damn Brashear for doing this to me." Yates said pounding on Varrus' desk with a hard fist.
"General, if you could, would you go back to your old life?" Varrus said leaving his chair to stand behind Yates.
"What do you mean?"
"This," Varrus said bending down to blow across the general's ear. The sudden surges of pleasure and lust men give you. Do you desire to give that up?"
Jumping from his chair Yates turned to face Varrus. "Damn me but no I don't."
"Then don't fight me," Varrus said cupping Yates tanned face with his long slender fingers.
"Do with me as you will," Yates croaked his face becoming flushed.
"All I wish to do is save your life General." Varrus said as he leaned down to kiss the shorter man.
"Is it done?" Jason asked when Varrus joined him in the palace gardens.
"Yes, General Yates has agreed to all your terms. As we speak a pair of Saints carry him to Tal Sith's capital of Valhan to inform his king." Varrus said joining Jason on the edge of a marble bench.
"So Samuel will become my Oath brother, his sister Amanda my Queen, while his brother Louis... well as I said he is a special case."
"Which I don't understand. Prince Louis is a very plain, homely man. The king himself is having trouble marrying him off."
"He is important to my own plans." Jason said looking down to where Jacob lay at his feet.
"As you say your majesty. I just hope one day you'll explain it all to me."
"By the way did you enjoy the general?"
"Once he accepted his fate he became a most eager participant."
"Good, I've always liked him."
"Do you want to like him more?" Varrus asked, giving Jason a friendly nudge.
"Varrus," Jason laughed. "All I need him to do is keep his king company until I arrive."
"There's no worry there." Varrus said before his voice turned serious. When will you be leaving?"
"In two days. I want to be sure that Amanda and Louis will be in Tal Tannith when I arrive."
"Does Philip suspect anything?"
"No, he is too consumed by his own amusements to notice what I'm doing." Jason sighed.
"You should scold him. He deserves it."
"Maybe, once all this is over."
"I will pray for your success then."
"So will I," Jason said resting his head on Varrus' shoulder.
Chapter Six: The Fear of Treachery
Geoff, Caleb, Volt and Koltus stood at attention wearing the silver armor of Jason's Winged Guard as they stood at the pier leading to the Qulos River. "This will all get us in a lot of trouble," Jason said as he looked at each man nervously after he had told them his purpose in leaving the city.
"You are the king, Jason. You have to explain yourself to no one," Caleb replied.
"I have to explain myself to my people and those who love me," Jason corrected.
"Why are you taking such a terrible risk then?" Geoff asked.
"Because those who care about me cannot do what needs to be done," Jason insisted patting Geoff's armored shoulder plate.
"Which is?" Caleb asked.
"To save a dear friend of mine from himself and save myself in the process," Jason replied.
"And who is this dear friend?" Koltus asked.
"He is Philip's brother, Alex. You know he better as Armageddon the Legatio killer."
"That monster," Volt spat. He had been a student at the Academy with Alex. "You should send us to kill, not save him."
"If killing him is the only way he can be saved then yes. If it comes to that it means I will have failed however and I do not want to fail, not on this."
"Understood, we will do all we can to see that you succeed," Caleb promised with a sharp salute. "Now how to you suggest we escape?"
"I have told Philip I wish to spend some time with Gideon to see how far he has progressed in rebuilding Qul Hoth. That will buy us a few weeks at least. We will travel to Qul Hoth but only stay a day. We will then board a ship and continue down the Qulos River until we reach the border cities of Qul Tannith and Tal Tannith. From there we will go on into Tal Sith."
"And from there?" Koltus asked.
"I will tell you more after we reach Vanhal." Jason promised.
"You make is sound so easy," Geoff grunted.
"If I wanted to take the easy rout I would just fly there." Jason said sternly. "But as I want to be able to rescue Alex I need to be on the ground so I can see for myself what is really happening in the Empire."
Caleb let out a whistle. "Philip will have our hides if anything were to happen to you."
"Has Qul Hoth really become a city of the dead?" Koltus asked.
"They are not dead but merely emotionally withdrawn. That is why they drink the blood of others to feel, if just for a short moment, the emotions of another person," Jason explained.
"I still don't know why you gave the second largest city in a Qul Tos to Gideon." Caleb said.
"I had no choice," Jason whispered in a cold tone. "The Famulus have already loaded the barge so we can leave at any time."
"You're going to catch hell when you come back home," Caleb warned just before Jason crossed onto the barge.
"Not if we succeed," Jason replied as he boarded the floating platform.
"Are you sure we will?" Geoff asked.
"I'm betting my life on it," Jason replied, stunning the other to silence.
Once on the barge floating down the Qulos River Caleb went over to Jason. "Why didn't you invite Kristen along?"
"Bringing a healer would have aroused too many suspicions." Jason replied.
"That makes sense since you are going to save the life of King Samuel but what is your real reason?"
"I love Kristen, Caleb, but I can't bring myself to trust him."
"Because he used to work for Erik and his Dominus masters? After all he's done for us I would think he would have proven himself." Caleb said with a frown.
"Yes but he did once worked for the Dominus. You might not see it Caleb but there is much he fears. I do not want to put him in a situation where his loyalty to me might be challenged. The Grau are still out there, playing their little mind tricks on us. Kristen knows this. He fears it. He fears the day the Grau come to claim him so he can be punished for betraying them. We both know it will not be quick or painless unless he gives the Grau something to cool their anger toward him," Jason said, failing not to sound angry himself.
"You really think he will betray you."
"Jacob thinks so." Jason said looking down at his wolf.
"That wolf of yours, you act like the two of you can talk."
"But we can," Jason insisted with a wide smile. "He understands every word I tell him. The tricky part is my understanding him based on his behavior. After three years I've become quite skilled at reading his body language."
"And he thinks Kristen will betray you?" Caleb demanded, triggering a growl from Jacob. "Oh, I see, all I have to do is mention Kristen's name and your wolf gets angry," He said heatedly, Kristen was after all his lover.
"No, Jacob is only responding to the anger you're giving off Caleb. Jacob is very sensitive to the emotions of the people around him."
"It is just hard to listen to you show such distrust of a man who deeply cares about you."
"I know he does. Imagine Caleb that a hot boiled egg has been placed in your hands. What do you think your gut reaction would be?"
"Drop the egg of course."
"Now imagine I am the egg and the heat I give off his Kirsten's fear of what the Grau will do to him. Can you see how his gut reaction will be to let me fall in order to save himself?"
"That's not fair," Caleb said adamantly.
"I'm not trying to be fair. After being king for two years I've come to see being fair is not always best. The people may believe we live in an ideal kingdom but I as their ruler need to be much more pragmatic. Please, Caleb, believe me when I say I am trying to protect Kristen, not punish him."
"But you believe he is a traitor."
"I believe he has the potential and a very good reason to betray me. Of course there is also a very good reason for him not to."
"His love for you?"
"No, Philip. If my husband were to ever suspect Kristen could be a traitor Saint or no, he would puck his wings clean."
"You're right of course." Caleb apologized with a deep bow. "Better if Kristen is never tempted."
"I would forgive him but I can't force Philip to. In his eyes Kristen and you are still Famulus. If a Famulus betrays his master his whole family might be killed as punishment. Those are the ways of the Centurions."
"Yet you love them."
"I do... more than their desire to kill is their need to protect. I have come to depend on that sense of security. The Centurions are also my cousins, my family. I would defend them with my life if need be."
"Most Centurions would feel embarrassed knowing that a Legatio is willing to die for them."
"And they love me all the more for it," Jason chuckled. "I am going back to Domus for their sake more than my own. Domus cannot remain under the rule of a tyrant."
"But can it really go back to the way things used to be. Only Field Marshal Marcus remains. The Senate was corrupt and is not shattered. Famulus feel betrayed. The Centurions were supposed to protect them not enslave them in force labor camps."
"Much will have to be changed once Xavier is removed," Jason nodded.
"You already have a plan, don't you?" Caleb chuckled.
"I do but I dread putting it into place. I never wanted to be king, Caleb."
"But you have become a great king in such a short while."
"That is because I was given no other choice. I would be much happier with a cabin in the mountains with Philip, Jacob, Varrus and a few of my closer friends."
"Would that include me?" Caleb asked, giving Jason a gentle nudge.
"Of course... have you ever tasted Philip's cooking?" Jason laughed.
"So that's why you brought me along on this adventure," the former palace cook laughed.
"No I needed you because you know more about the ways of the Eastern Kingdoms better than any of my other Saints'."
"I see." Caleb said scratching his chin. "Do you really think you can sneak into Domus?"
"I do." Jason nodded.
"This will take some planning."
"We have time."
"Time enough for a few more swimming lessons?" Caleb asked hopefully.
"That is something I've actually been looking forward to." Jason laughed.
"To imagine you are the young man who entered the Legatio Bathhouse three years ago."
"Imagine you still trying to kill me."
"I never wanted to kill you, only find out who the plotters were," Caleb chuckled. "It has been some time since I've been allowed to be intimate with you."
"We've both been very busy this past two years. Neither of us was lonely however. As chief steward you and Varrus spent many hours together."
"Varrus... he's almost too much for any man."
"I fell in love with him at first sight," Jason chuckled.
"It was different, my devotion more complete. Philip was and will always be the man who saved me from the nightmare of my childhood. He is dearer to me than any one person or thing."
"I am sure he feels the same about you."
"He does in his own way."
"My husband has an entire legion of Demon Spawn at his command. That is a lot of men."
"How many Saints do you have?"
"Less than a hundred. Most of them are like Volt, young Centurions just graduated from the Academy who were my friends back then."
"Why haven't you picked older Centurions?"
"I have enough older men in my life," Jason said giving Caleb a nudge.
"Yes... it is something I need to change if I am to act as king."
Elbowing Jason gently Caleb gave the king a wink. "We push you around too much?"
"Your advice is always welcome and useful but I have to feel free to make my own decisions. It seems whenever I disagree with you or Varrus you two start pouting."
"Wisdom only comes with age," Caleb insisted.
"It would help if my wise men will agree on saying the same thing then," Jason retorted.
"I guess that would help. Being surrounded by a bunch of stubborn old men must be frustrating."
"It can be but I love you all."
"Oktor and I have had our disagreements in the past but we still like each other."
"He had a fit when you ordered him to allow Tosians and Famulus into the new Academy."
"This is the Kingdom of Qul Tos. Why would I build a school that none of my people can attend. Anyway in about three years the school would have to close due to lack of Centurion students if I didn't allow Tosians to attend."
"Not to mention word of your new policy has reached Domus. Your love among the Famulus must be increasing with each passing moon."
"It is something I am counting on. I won't be able to get to Alex without their help." Jason replied.
"It is getting dark, shall we go ashore until dawn. Traveling down the Qulos River at night does have its risks."
"As I said we're in no hurry. You can order the captain to head ashore." Jason nodded.
"Good, then we'll have time for a nice long swim." Caleb chuckled as he left.
"That was an interesting conversation," Geoff chuckled from the stack of boxes he was sitting atop.
"I hope you will not use whatever was said against me," Jason winked.
"I live but to serve you your majesty," Geoff replied with a flourishing bow.
"Don't pretend with me Geoff. I know you too well. I am glad your heart has healed enough that you are willing to contemplate the idea of love once more," Jason replied.
"Am I wrong but won't Caleb one day need my friendship."
"Yes but Kirsten knows you were once a spy and an assassin."
"More the reason why I should try to keep an eye on him. If he thinks he only needs fear the Grau and Philip he is greatly mistaken."
"Leave him be Geoff. Better the enemy I know than one hiding in the reeds."
"I can prevent him from ever betraying you," Geoff offered.
"He might need to. Attempting to escape a painful punishment is one thing but what if the Grau convince Kristen that betraying me is in both our interests. I have learned that it is not always wise to ruin the plans of the Grau. They tend to react in an unexpected ways when they are thwarted. Do not worry I will know when they come for me," Jason said as he scratched Jacob behind his ears.
"May I join you in your swim at least?"
"Of course. I'm sure Caleb will be amused by your attempts at flirting as much as I am."
"Most women find me quite charming." Geoff boasted.
"Women, not men. Caleb has lived much of his life in the company of flirtatious Centurions more skilled than you can imagine."
"I am sure I have learned enough from you and Varrus to stand on my own."
"We'll see," Jason chuckled.
After setting up camp and having a long swim Caleb led Jason to a patch of grass where he had spread out a quilt. Having the king lay down Caleb opened up his leather case, taking out a bottle of scented oil which he warmed in his hands before massaging Jason's back.
"Mind if I help?" Geoff asked shaking the water out of his curly dirty blond hair
"Four hands are always better than two," Caleb grinned moving to give Geoff space.
"It's just not every day I get a chance to do this," Geoff said as he worked the kinks out of Jason's legs.
"A king is rarely given time to himself." Caleb said.
"Even then I don't get to spend it like I want," Jason agreed.
"Now that is unfair... A king should have at least one hour to spend as he likes. I will have to talk with Varrus about this," Caleb said sternly.
"We've just been so busy fighting a civil war and rebuilding the capital."
"Aye you have been busy these past two years but if you wish to reign for another two you need to learn how to enjoy life. You might earn the love of every one of your subjects but little good it will do you if you are too exhausted to take care of yourself," Geoff nodded as he massaged Jason's muscular rear.
"It's just that I've not been feeling very romantic lately," Jason sighed.
"I think you need to forget about romance and just try to have fun. You are still very young for a Legatio," Caleb said.
"I should still be a student at the Academy," Jason nodded.
"I think you've prove your well beyond needing to be a student anymore," Geoff said. "I know you miss your friends however."
"I was only a student there for a few months," Jason said in a pouting tone.
"So you feel cheated. How remarkable that you complain about not having to write essays anymore when you could point out to how your entire childhood was stolen by your mother," Geoff laughed.
Jason winced. "That does sound bad, doesn't it?"
"A little," Geoff replied as he straddled himself over Jason, his hands reaching under Jason's wings to massage his shoulders.
"Shall we have Koltus or Volt give you an anima kiss?" Caleb asked as he lay down next to Jason, their faces only inches apart.
"It will only put me to sleep," Jason sighed, his body beginning to relax.
"But when you wake up...." Caleb left hanging.
"I was often told by Oktor that anima makes me reckless," Jason chuckled softly.
"Trying to sneak into Domus does qualify as reckless," Geoff agreed as he kissed Jason's spine. From his lips his own purple anima left its mark on Jason's white skin."
"I can smell it Geoff," Jason moaned as the sweet scent of anime hit his nose.
"Will you deny it?" Caleb asked, his own purple stained tongue licking his lips.
"I can't," Jason whispered just before Caleb kissed him deeply on the lips.
"You truly are the embodiment of love," Geoff said before kissing Jason as well as he and Caleb spread out their black raven wings, wrapping them around all three of them as they made love to the object of their only desire.
"We will find Alex for you," Geoff swore after they had made love. "You will be restored."
"It's not for myself I go but for all of you." Jason replied in a soft, tired voice.
"We know," Caleb nodded as he and Geoff watched Jason fall asleep.
"I will stand watch over him," Geoff offered as the sun began its descent.
"When does he not need watching over," Caleb said as he stood up. "Well I better get supper ready but keep my spot warm for me. I guess I didn't know until now how much I missed moments like this with him."
"This will be a long journey. I don't think any of us will be coming back unchanged." Geoff said.
"How does Jason plan to capture Armageddon?"
"With love of course," Geoff said as he cradled Jason in his arms.
Chapter Seven: The City of the Dead
Qul Hoth with its torch lights fed by the gas from the nearby marshes looked almost the same it did at the height of its glory except for one fact... surrounding the city on two sides there was a thick stone wall, something Qul Hoth had never had in its entire history. With Gideon, Lord of the Death and Duke of Qul Hoth as the city's master many old traditions had been broken.
As Jason's barge docked in the city's harbor where the Tosian River met Lake Hotha they were met by a hundred guards in blue and silver livery, long steel pikes in their hands. Walking down the two columns of guards Jason and his escort reached the end of the pier to where a carriage waited. Inside was Gideon wearing a gray ruffled coat a few shades lighter than his skin.
"You honor me your majesty," Gideon bowed, offering Jason a hand into the carriage.
"Your people have been busy," Jason said as he slid inside, Geoff joining him.
"With no need for sleep it is amazing how much we can get done." Gideon said as the carriage stated to move down the cobblestone streets of the city.
"That is an impressive wall you have built," Geoff said.
"Ah, the wall. The traditionalists were all against it but as you will see it is quite effective preventing some of our more mindless members from wandering off into the neighboring countryside." Gideon replied.
"Is that common?" Jason asked nervously.
"It happens on occasion but don't worry no one has been harmed so far. Most of the nearby villages were destroyed in the war. After I settled myself here many of the villagers decided it was best not to return. That is unless they decided to work for me. If you will look to your left you will see our newly completed opera house. I know it is a Sithian custom but after someone explained the concept to me I decided I had to see it for myself. I have actually become quite a singer."
"I'm sure you have," Jason nodded, looking at the cheerless black stone building.
"I know... bleak looking but since you have the best stone carvers in the east working on rebuilding your city I've not been able to find enough artisans for my projects," Gideon said."
"Why are you using so much basalt?"
"Why do you use so much marble and limestone?" Gideon laughed, "I thought..."
"You thought you could get away with all this melodrama and build a city of such darkness that it would match your mood," Jason cut him off with a laugh.
"Maybe," Gideon said with a hint of embarrassment. "Do you want me to tear everything down and start over?"
"Of course not," Jason said embracing his old friend, ignoring the man's peculiar odor.
"I'm glad you're here Jason... makes me feel like what happened to me never occurred." Gideon whispered, kissing Jason's pale neck.
"You may if you want," Jason whispered back.
"I mustn't. I promised Philip I would never feed from you."
"That is not Philip's decision to make," Jason insisted.
"Still I will respect his wishes on this matter." Gideon said but not before giving Jason's neck a light lick.
Leaning forward Jason placed his mouth against Gideon's gray lips. "There is nothing to stop me from doing this now is there."
"No, of course not," Gideon said, a hint of giddiness in his voice. Even though it had been many months since Jason had last kissed him he noticed something a bit awkward. "What's wrong Jason?" Gideon asked when their lips parted.
"I'm sick." Jason sighed, sinking deeper into his seat.
"Not like me I hope."
"No... anima addiction."
"Anima addiction but you don't look like a mad lunatic," Gideon frowned.
"It seems to affect Legatio differently than Centurions," Jason replied.
"I guess so... you do look a little wear worn."
"Just a little tired." Jason replied, sitting back up.
"We are on our way to find a solution to my king's problem as a matter of fact." Geoff said.
"An adventure... now how am I going to get you to let me join in?" Gideon demanded.
"This is not your kind of adventure." Jason insisted.
"That's for me to judge."
For a long moment Jason silently debated the issue before answering. "We're on our way to rescue Alex."
"That lunatic is still alive. I thought he had been thrown into prison for killing my father?"
"He was but when they let him out he was no longer Alex but the demon Armageddon."
"Armageddon is really Alex... I should feel surprised but I'm not. Everyone was always saying he would become the youngest Field Marshal in history."
"Well I'm going to Domus to rescue him."
"Thanks, I need it."
"You'll need more than luck of course." Gideon said as the carriage came to a stop in front of a palatial building.
"Your home?" Jason asked.
"No, surprised a building that size hasn't started sinking. Qul Hoth was built over a drained marsh after all.
"When I had it built I took that into account. What was the first floor is now the cellar."
"Must leak awfully," Jason said as he stepped out of the carriage.
"Not really, the basement is surrounded by a five feet of concrete," Gideon boasted.
"And where did you come by it?"
"Taxes and tolls. You should really talk to Varrus about it. It is his tax collectors who collect the money for me. He also arranges the payment to the merchants who have so kindly provided me with supplies to rebuild Qul Hoth."
"He's never told me that," Jason said surprised as he was led into gilded dining room.
"He didn't want to worry you. After all he does charge me a hefty commission on every transaction."
"You still seem to be doing very well."
"Yes we have done well," Gideon said pointing to the glittering chandelier in the middle of the room. "Made right here in Qul Hoth. We've just started exporting glass and other trinkets last season."
"The blue stain glass in my throne room?" Jason asked.
"Yes... Varrus and I sort of made a deal on those. In return for the sliver we needed for the glass I gave him a discount. We've just received a large order from Tal Sith for a large red rose window so we'll soon need to buy gold from you."
"I am glad you are doing so well."
"We would be doing better if you let us have a few of your artisans. It seems almost all of them now work for you."
"There was a lot of damage done to the city over the last two decades." Jason said in his own defense."
"And now they say Qul Tos is more beautiful than the sapphires your kingdom is famous for."
"We try," Jason chuckled softly as a gray skinned servant offered a chair for him to sit in.
At the table Jason found the other guests were evenly divided between normal looking merchants and the half living nobles who had given all their wealth to Gideon in return for their immortal half-life.
"Tell us of the war," A merchant and minor noble, the Baronet of Astell of Eastern Qul Tos asked.
"The rebellion has been put down so we will soon be sending our legions north into Huron unless they accept our terms."
"Which they never will," Gideon laughed. "You've demanded the king end the practice of serfdom. Who will pick their famed grapes if not the serfs?"
"Free men can pick as well as serfs. They can even be more motivated if they have a stake in the harvest," Jason insisted.
"But what of the lands you've confiscated from the rebels. Can we expect new titles to be issued?" The Countess Myrtle, asked, fanning her gray face with a black lace fan.
"No... I am giving the land to the royal army."
"To the army... I don't understand," the Countess frowned.
"The land will be divided up and been given to my soldiers so they have lands to live off when they're not at war. To ensure efficiency a Legatio will be put in place as administrators."
"Won't that have the effect of creating a warrior caste? I mean in order to inherit his father's land won't the son have to join the army as well?"
"Yes, that will be the case."
"A very bold move, my King... to give so much land away will surely anger your nobles. It will also guaranty the loyalty of your armies." How many soldiers can you settle on the confiscated lands?"
"One hundred and fifty thousand plots are already being prepared." Jason replied.
"That is a lot of land... more land than a single family can hope to settle."
"The Famulus will be going with them. They need homes as well."
"I see what you're up to," Gideon laughed. "While the soldiers fight, the Famulus will tend their lands. While home your soldiers will also find a Famulus to tend their beds."
"Is that the case?" The Baronet asked. "You wish for your Tosian soldiers to be seduced by Imperial debauchery?"
"Since the Tosian army will be working hand in hand with my Centurion legions I believe they should be able to cooperate with each other as much as possible," Jason replied.
"Outlandish," the countess said snapping her fan closed.
"Oh countess why should you care... your husband doesn't seem to mind," Gideon said as a handsome man knelt next to him. "Jason I would like you to meet Count Julian. Your lordship, his majesty, the king."
"He is as beautiful as you have always told me," the man said in a distant voice. "I thank you for sparing my brothers."
"The twins," Julian replied his voice still sounding eerie
"Are you alright?" Jason asked concerned.
"Do not worry Jason; Julian here is one of my favorites. I fed from him just before you arrived. That usually leaves a man feeling fairly tipsy."
"I see," Jason said swallowing hard when he saw Julian gazing at him with a possessive stare with his bright green eyes.
"Ah... I see he likes you," Gideon said in an almost giggling tone. "I'm glad because there is a boon I wish from you."
"What is it you would like?" Jason asked.
"To make my dear Julian a Saint."
Taken a back Jason coughed on the wine he was drinking. "A Saint..."
"Yes, since I can't have you I would like to have him as a Saint immortal. Think of him as an ambassador between our two cultures."
"But if I make him a Saint... I dare not let you feed from him."
"You once fed off my blood," Gideon said darkly referring to the time Jason had been close to death with fever.
"And I've offered you mine in return but to have a Saint... one of my protectors fed off of as if he was cattle is something I will not stand for," Jason said leaving his chair to stress his point.
Standing up as we Gideon darted to the main door to prevent Jason from leaving. "All I want is a companion who will live nearly as long as I will."
Letting out a deep sigh Jason went and touched Gideon's dry face. "I understand my friend and I will make him a Saint if that is what you wish but I must have you solemn word you will not feed from him."
For a while Gideon stood still, debating the issue, his sharp teeth biting into his gray, parched lips. "Very well I agree to your terms on one condition however... you must spend this night with me."
"If that is what you wish," Jason nodded, his face turning back to where Julian was looking at him with adoration if not salvation as well.
Chapter Eight: Devotion
So tell me Julian how did you end up in the company of the rebels?" Jason asked the next morning as the two men stood in the bow of the river boat they were now aboard, sailing across Lake Hotha. Gideon stood at the stern with a satisfied expression on his face. After all Jason had let him join them.
"I am a Castilian," Julian chuckled, the young man was actually two months older than Jason but Jason looked much more mature. "We are as much nobles in Huron as we are in Qul Tos. The woman I was supposed to marry was a Huronite.
"Do you miss her?"
"Hard to miss a woman you've only seen once in your life. Anyway I'm not really like most men."
"You have Centurion tastes?"
"You could say that. I am ashamed to say it but I once allow one to seduce me. You had just returned to the throne when a patrol of your soldier sought refuge from a storm in my father's castle. When my father sent me to check on them I caught them while they were bathing."
"And," Jason pressed.
Blushing slightly Julian rested his head on Jason's arm. "I had never seen a full grown naked man before let alone a dozen of them. I must have looked like quite a sight with my mouth hanging open for the next thing I knew they had closed and locked the door behind me and formed as circle around me.
Wrapping an arm around Julian Jason pulled the man closer so he could kiss the top of the man's head. "I was most impressed when I first saw Philip naked. Did they circumcise you?"
Reaching with a hand Julian caressed his neck, letting his fingers drop down to the buttons of his shirt. Opening three of them he made enough room for his hand to slide inside where he continued caressing himself. "They did though I did not feel a thing. They kissed me first... a long hot sweet kiss that clouded my mind with the passions I had long tried to bury. The next thing I knew I was naked with a dozen pair of hands caressing my body. One of them had their mouth around my sex, which was dripping with a blue fluid that seemed to excite me even more."
"That is why you didn't feel yourself being circumcised. They used their anima on you."
"Whatever it was it filled me with a happiness I had never felt before. For the next three days I tried to spend every moment with the warriors but after the rains had stopped and the roads were dry they had no reason to remain. They offered to take me with them but my father had not been blind to my new enamor and accused the Centurions of turning me against my own family. In order to avoid bloodshed the Centurions left without me and I was soon sent away to live with my uncle in Huron. When Huron invaded your kingdom I of course was expected join the war on the side of the confederacy along with my entire family. As soon as I could I escaped my uncle to stay in the camp of my younger brothers, Tomas and Gabriel. They too had been seduced by our Centurion guests but they had been more circumspect than I. We soon learned our secrets however. My brothers however were proud and would not yield to your will. Since they were the only family I felt I could trust I followed them to the end." Julian said his shirt now completely unbuttoned revealing the coat of dark brown hair that covered his upper chest, narrowing into a thin trail down into his pants.
"Just thinking about it does this to you," Jason asked, wiping a few beads of sweat from Julian's forehead.
"You might say once the dam was broken I could not stop my feelings of desire from overwhelming me. While my brothers found comfort with each other I did not find any with them. I was almost relieved when we were finally captured. I halfway hoped the Centurions who had awakened my desires would find me instead I was imprisoned as a traitor. Then I saw you... looking over us from the top of the labyrinth keep and I thought I saw my salvation. That is why Gideon picked me, he can smell the emotions of other men and as he told me my aroma was very sweet. He made a bargain with me. I was to serve him willingly until the day you dared to visit him. He somehow knew you would come eventually and I was relieved that the day came only after a few weeks in Qul Hoth. I am yours now my king, in mind, body, and soul."
"I cannot accept all that," Jason whispered as he felt Julian wrap and arm around him. "You are your own man Julian. I free you from any oath you made to Gideon."
"I made no oath to Gideon. I made him promise me to give me to you if we ever met."
"But why?" Jason whispered.
"Because, because I love you my king." Julian said a pair of tears falling from his face.
Jason sighed, shaking his head. "I do not understand."
"A priest came and saw us while we were in your dungeons offering nothing more than his company. He spent a week in my cell with me telling me of all the wonders you had performed for your people."
"I am no god," Jason said in a pleading tone.
"The priest admitted that you believed that but he says what you believe doesn't matter. It is the people's faith in you, not your own admission that makes you our god."
"Please Julian believe me when I say I am not a god," Jason repeated.
"I can't for I know in my heart that you are," Julian insisted, wrapping a second arm around Jason looking like a man clinging to a tall rock in a stormy ocean.
"Please don't," Jason whispered.
"I am sorry your majesty but I must follow my heart. Will you deny that to me?"
"As I said you are a free man... even free to believe such foolishness." Jason said finally returning the man's embrace. Jason knew arguing even further would do no good. The man's faith was flawless. Even if he were to fail his people or even die Julian's belief in him would not falter his devotion was so complete. Taking in a deep breath Jason closed his eyes, replaying a dream he once had. The man he saw was dressed in rags and looked much older but Jason saw that the man was indeed Julian. In this dream Julian face still shown with devotion even though the dusty dry wasteland he was crossing would have challenged anyone's faith. Behind him where the multitudes of Ares following him with the same devotion as if Julian was leading them to salvation. It had been one of the few dreams that Jason had that had not fully filled him with a sense of doom. "So be it Julian. I accept you." Jason forced himself to say, knowing he had just taken another large step towards letting his dreams, and his nightmares, come true.
"He accepted you I see," Gideon said when Julian left Jason's side after Jason had kissed the top of the beaming man's head.
"You said he would." Julian said in a giddy tone.
"That I did," Gideon said his eyes looking to where Jacob was watching them. "Do you remember what I also told you?"
"Yes Lord Gideon but you must have faith. You do not know if that will come to pass."
"I was right that Jason would accept you?" Gideon sighed.
"You were but I never doubted it."
"You would if you knew how hard of a decision that was for Jason to make. He is not all powerful, not yet at least."
"I know he's not... it is not power or immortally that makes him a god but the people's faith in him."
"Jason will not reject you."
"I know but I've given my word. I have sworn to Lord Philip that I will not harm or lay with Jason."
"My own followers believe in me completely does that make me a god as well or a devil?" Gideon chuckled sadly. "We are all puppets in this world but Jason is not the one pulling our strings."
"I don't understand."
"We are all being used Julian, you, me Jason. There is a greater power out there manipulating us."
"And is that power your god?" Julian asked.
"No, it's the devil and I've made my devil's bargain with it. May Jason forgive me?"
"You mean I'm not supposed to be with Jason?" Julian said his disbelief feeding his anger.
"You are Julian. Jason needs you. He knows that all too well. Neither of you can escape your joined fates."
"Then why do you call it a devil's bargain?" Julian demanded.
"Because I have caused Jason great pain by forcing him to take you. Doing so only confirms Jason's fears."
"Do you know of the prophecies?"
"No I don't."
"I see... then let me give you a brief understanding of them. The coming of Philip and Jason into our world is something Centurions have longed hoped for, for it meant that after thousands of years one among the Legatio has come to love us as much as we have always loved them. The coming of our Angel is also a sign of the end of our world."
"You think Jason will destroy it?"
"Nay but nor can he save it. All he can do is save its people."
"So Jason is the key to salvation." Julian said excitedly.
"He is the only way we will avoid extinction. He is more concerned with our very lives, not our souls. You Julian will be one of the few who will help him in his great task."
"And you Lord Gideon?"
"I... I..." Gideon stammered. "I am a plague to this land, the force of death that will join with the force of hatred in destroying Ares."
"Does his majesty know this?"
"He knows the prophecies as well as I do."
"Tell me the prophecy then so I might understand my purpose more." Julian said eagerly.
"Very well," Gideon whispered.
"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 the two will force the fight
The force of hatred and death unite
Two worlds of man a war will make
Till Angel, Demon, Man must fly
From Ares red to blue star nigh"
"What is the blue star?"
"I believe it is the salvation Jason will offer... a world free of our puppet masters." Gideon replied.
"Is Jason the child of love and hate?"
"Almost every Centurion believes he is... loved by us but despised by his mother. The next two lines are as good of a description of Qul Tos as I know of, the city where Jason was first found by us. The claimed love is the love all Centurions desired from the Legatio but only Jason has given freely."
"But if you are the force of death what is the force of hatred?"
"I do not know. That part of the prophecy has let to reveal its truth to us."
"If Jason knows you are the force of death why does he let you live?"
Gideon shook his head. "Do you know what Jason intends to do on this journey?"
"He is trying to rescue his friend Alex."
"Yes Alex, otherwise known as the demon Field Marshal Armageddon. A man more monstrous than you can imagine. Jason is risking his life for the sake of an evil man Julian. Do you understand? He is willing to give up everything to save a corrupted soul."
"I see... he knows you are dangerous but can't bring him to hurt you."
"Or have anyone else harm me, but you will. That's why I picked you. Your faith in Jason is so great that you will do what he cannot no matter what it costs you."
Julian shook his head. "I don't know if I can."
"Not yet at least," Gideon agreed. "One day you will when your find your faith guiding you to do nothing else. I am giving you this so that on that day you will have the strength to fulfill your fate." Reaching into his gray coat Gideon retrieved a glowing blue vial of anima. "This is my anima, cleansed of taint. Everything that was ever good in me is in this bottle. I give it to you."
"How did you come by this?"
"I told you I made a devil's bargain. I kept my word so the Dominus kept theirs. Please accept it. Let me know that the best of me will still remain by Jason's side."
"If the Dominus can cleanse your anima why can't they cure you as well?"
"They claim they can't. If I am to believe them they say it is not just my anima that's taint but my core as well... the thing that producing my anima in the first place. If it is removed or broken I will die. Remember that."
"Can't you kill yourself?"
"I've tried," Gideon laughed sadly. "Believe me I've tried... swords, spears, fires and rocks. I even tried jumping off the edge of the highest mountain I could find and yet I still live. All I have achieved is more pain and the loss of a little more of my humanity."
"Then how am I to kill you?"
"I do not know. Maybe your faith will lead you to a way. Please, take the vial."
"No," Julian weakly whispered.
"For Jason's sake take it!" Gideon shouted, baring his sharp teeth, causing Julian to jump back, the vial in his hand. "Forgive me Julian I didn't mean to scare you. At least you have the vial now." Gideon then stood, walking to the ship's railing.
"What do you think you're doing?" Julian demanded.
"I must go now. I only insisted on coming so I could make sure Jason would accept you. Now I've said all I have to say to you so go." Gideon said gripping the railing tightly.
"Gideon," Julian said daring to take a step forward.
"Go," Gideon said with a warning growl. "Go to Jason and tell him I am gone but drink the anima first. It will help him understand."
"As you wish Lord Gideon," Julian said with a final bow.
For a long while Gideon stood at the side of the ship watching how the moon gave the river a sliver gleam. Then to his surprise he felt something wet lick his leg. Looking down he saw Jacob giving his a sad expression. "Come to see me off have you?" Gideon chuckled softly. "Well I guess I can use the company." Seeing no reason to delay any longer he jumped off the side of the ship, Jacob splashing in the river next to him. Together they swam to the riverbanks Jacob's shaking the fur dry on arriving. The two then walked together until they were a mile away from the shore. There several men in long black coats waited, short metallic rods in their hands.
"I've kept my end of the bargain." Gideon shouted.
"And we've kept ours." One of the men said, steeping out of the shadow of a tree to reveal his red hair.
"This is as far as you can go Jacob," Gideon said giving the wolf one final scratch behind his ears. Leaving Jacob behind Gideon approached the men in black.
"That's far enough Gideon," the red haired man said, pointing his rod at him.
"Just get it over with," Gideon sighed, going down to his knees.
"Stun him men," the man ordered as bolts of blue energy leapt from the end of their rods hitting Gideon directly in the chest. It took almost a hundred bolts before Gideon was brought to the ground Jacob letting out a long sad howl as Jason's friend was finally taken away.
Chapter Nine: An Empty Bed is No Man's Pleasure
"Lord Philip," Varrus said entering the Demon's study.
"What is it," Philip grumbled. As always, when Jason was not near his mood tended to suffer.
"I have just received word that Jason has left Qul Hoth."
"Good, going up river he should be back here in a week or so."
"That is what I'm afraid I have to tell you. Three days ago a great light was seen near Qul Hoth. When people went to investigate they found the entire city was gone."
"What do you mean gone?"
"I mean gone... where the city once stood is a blacken wasteland."
"Jason is not dead," Philip insisted as he started pacing the room.
"I know he's not. Nor are any of the Saints he took with him."
"Then what happened?" Philip said running a hand through his ghostly white hair as his head started to swim.
"We don't know Philip. There is not a clue as to what really happened."
"Jason might, wherever he is."
"Yes, this is why I've sent a dozen Saints to search for him."
"But where to look," Philip said in an agitated tone.
"I think I know where to start," Varrus said.
"Where," Philip demanded.
"Qul Tannith. Before leaving Jason sent word to Vanhal that he wished for Princess Amanda and Prince Louis to head to the city to be picked up by a Tosian ship for the capital."
"Why do you think Jason will be there?"
"Two days before Jason left for Qul Hoth the ship leaving to pick up the Sithians left here. It was also carrying supplies for Qul Hoth. I think it might be possible that Jason boarded that ship in Qul Hoth and plans to use it to reach Qul Tannith."
Philip crossed his arms over his chest, giving Varrus a suspicious glare. "And why do you believe that?"
"Because Jason might have a reason to visit Vanhal," Varrus said sheepishly.
"Varrus, if you and Jason have been keeping secrets from me again..." Philip warned.
In fact we are but because I am Jason's mentor I'm not about to break his trust. Anyway all I know was that he was planning to do something drastic. Since he knew you would question me he made sure not to give me the details."
"Very clever of him... that was your idea I take it?"
"I can't tell you what I don't know."
"Did you know Qul Hoth would disappear?"
"Of course not. That's why I sent the Winged Guard to go looking for Jason. If things were going to plan I wouldn't even be here talking to you."
"Now listen to me Varrus you are a clever man so I know you must have some idea what Jason is up to so unless you want to lose your precious pretty looks you better tell me what that is?"
"Threatening me?" Varrus said skeptically. "Jason's right, your just a big bully."
"When it comes to my lover's safety I don't mind being a little pushy. That's not an idle threat I gave you Varrus. I won't kill you but I will give you a good limp to remember me by."
"I believe he plans to go to Domus hoping to save your brother," Varrus grumbled giving Philip an angry look.
"Thank you Varrus. If you don't mind I have a trip to pack for." Philip said taking down his double-bladed sword off his study wall.
"You're not going to go chasing after him."
"No he has too big of a head start on me so I'm going to take a short cut."
"A short cut?" Varrus asked skeptically.
"Remember Rondus' secret tunnel in the Jasper Mountains. I believe I can use it and arrive in Domus a good month ahead of Jason. If Alex is so important to him I see no reason why I can't spare Jason the effort of getting him."
"Really, you're not going there to kill him?"
"Don't tempt me," Philip growled. "So long as Jason doesn't sense me following him I'll be free of his leash. By the time he reaches Domus I'll have Alex wrapped up with a tidy bow for him."
"Be careful Philip. Alex is not the same man you used to know."
"Nor am I," Philip said, snapping a breastplate in place over his chest.
"Jason is only doing what he thinks is best Philip."
"So am I. How you as his mentor could let him walk into such danger is disgraceful."
"I will not always be his mentor Philip. He's almost doesn't need me to guide him anymore." Varrus said causing Philip to stop at his door.
"He will always need you Varrus," Philip said not bothering to turn to face the High Chancellor before he ran out of the room.
Chapter Ten: Forced Departure _________________________________________________________________
"Gideon no!" Jason screamed sitting up with a start from another one of his nightmares.
"Jason," a strong baritone voice spoke from the open door way.
Recognizing the voice Jason rushed from his bed embracing the man tightly his face wet with tears. "Don't do it Gideon. Don't," he wept.
"Jason the voice said again, stepping back so both of them were now in the lantern lit passageway.
Opening his swollen eyes Jason saw a bewildering sight. The man he held was not Gideon but nor was his completely Julian either. Where Julian once had dark brown locks of curly hair there were now bands of blond hair mixed in the now the less wavy hair. Where Julian's eyes once had been brown were now blue ones. Julian's skin was also darker, his frame taller, his muscles more like those found on a Centurion youth. "What is this?"
I'm sorry Jason. I tried to stop him but he insisted there was no other way." Julian said hysterically falling down to his knees in front of his king and god.
"Gideon's gone?" Jason said collapsing against the wood paneled wall behind him.
"Yes but not before telling me horrible, terrible things, things I don't fully understand."
"He knew," Jason whispered before he looked back at Julian. "What happened to you?"
"Before he left he gave me a vial of anima. He told me it was his only that its taint had been removed. He insisted I take it."
"He didn't want to leave me?" Jason sighed.
"No he didn't but he didn't think he had any other choice. He had to make some sort of bargain. He called it a devil's bargain."
"I understand," Jason said as he stumbled back onto his feet. "He didn't want to leave me so he gave a part of himself to you."
"Yes," Julian nodded, standing up as well.
"Please come inside," Jason said as he slowly walked back into his cabin.
Sitting down on the edge of his bed Jason rested his head in both of his hands he felt Julian sit next to him. Taking in a deep breath he was hit by a sharp pain when he noticed Julian even smell like his old friend. "I am sorry Julian. I know you didn't ask for any of this."
"I am sorry for Gideon and your pain but after I took his anima I suddenly understood what was between you two. I feel I've been given an honor I don't really deserve."
"If Gideon insisted you take something so precious you must be worthy." Jason said patting Julian's leg. "He and I once dated. We used to get in such trouble for breaking all the rules." Jason said in hope of lifting his own mood.
"Yes... silly rules that were placed to make it hard for Centurions to get close to their Legatio cousins."
"Will we have to follow the rules?" Julian said in Gideon's rich voice.
"Who are you?" Jason said looking Julian directly into his eyes.
"I, I really don't know anymore. One moment I only knew you as my king but now I feel as if I know you so much better. Gideon is more than just a corner of me but the part of him he gave me is spreading out through my entire being. I guess I'm trying to say I'm not really Gideon but I'm not really Julian anymore either."
"He must not have given you normal anima."
"He said it contained all the best parts of him."
"I can see that," Jason said with a weak smile. "You must be tired. You should go get some sleep."
"Must I leave?" Julian asked. "Gideon wanted me to remain by your side."
"What do you want?"
"I want to be with you Jason." Julian said a desperate look on his face. "I don't understand what's really happening to me I just know I don't want to leave you."
"Then stay with me," Jason said as he crawled back into bed.
"Thank you Jason," Julian said lying down next to Jason, their eyes meeting.
"I don't know if I can fall asleep," Jason confessed after a long silence.
"I know I can't. I feel as if I was away from you for a long time. I am afraid of falling asleep least this turns into a dream."
"What are we going to do about that?"
"We can talk. I do have a lot of questions. It would help a lot if I could figure out what part of me is Gideon and what is still me."
"Then we'll talk," Jason replied fighting a deep urge to kiss Julian just to see if it reminded him more of Gideon.
"First of all why do I suddenly have this sudden urge to pick up a sword?" Julian first asked triggering a soft chuckle from Jason.
"Well you see Gideon was a Centurion..." Jason began as they talked all the way to dawn.
"Well Aidan what do you have to say for yourself," Amplexor demanded. Outside the palace pensioners were rioting.
"What do you want me to say? That you're right, that I should have invaded Qul Tos when I had the chance?"
"Every day you delay Qul Tos becomes stronger. Jason..."
"Is a mere boy, you've told me yourself."
"He might be a mere boy but his influence among his people is growing. Soon his people will become his devoted followers, a threat unlike any the church has ever faced."
"Maybe we should content ourselves with the invasion of Aquanos."
"Aquanos is a mere plum... Qul Tos however is the entire orchard. I must have Jason's anima and soon."
"Then why don't you harvest it yourself... oh I forgot Angel's Bane is useless in your hands."
"Do not mock me Aidan. That is if you have any love for Dorian that is."
"So you will threaten the life of my Demon? Beware Amplexor you gave us the Angel and Demon's Banes. We could always use them against you and your sleeping lover."
"Do you think I've not taken such precautions against such action?" Amplexor said as he took hold of the opal pendent around his neck. Rubbing the white stone he watched as Aidan bent over in pain, thrashing on the floor. "You see while you were in the tank I had something implanted inside you... something to ensure you could not turn against me. The same is true of your friend Dorian. Now will you listen to reason or am I just going to have to leave you like this?" Seeing Aidan nod in submission Amplexor let go of the pendent. "I hope you know I didn't enjoy doing that. I didn't enjoy it one bit but I will have your cooperation Aidan, one way or another. Do we understand?"
"Yes," Aidan moaned still curled up in a ball on the floor.
"Good, then this is what you'll do. You will unleash your lover and his Spawn onto the rioters and regain control of the city."
"That will involve killing thousands."
"You could always imprison them in the caves beneath the palace."
"So you could have them. What would you want them for?"
"You will need soldier for your war with Qul Tos... ones who can match the Centurions in battle."
"So you will train them?"
"In my own way. It might take me months or even years to give you the soldiers we'll need."
Aidan stumbled back onto his feet, glaring at Amplexor. "It will be as you ask... for now at least."
Chapter Eleven: Tal Tannith
"Hello your majesty," Julian smiled as he held out a bouquet of spring flowers in his arms.
"Hello Julian. Have we arrived?" Jason asked.
"Aye, we docked a little past midnight. Since I woke up early I thought I would visit the city's market. I hope you like flowers."
Sitting up in bed Jason took the bouquet and smelled its sweet blossoms. "To be honest I've never been given flowers, but thank you."
"Your welcome," Julian said his face beaming with pride. "Geoff has already crossed over into Tal Tannith. Princess Amanda and her brother Prince Louis are waiting at the citadel there."
"Then I guess we should be on our way to join them. From what I understand there is a complete Centurion garrison here with their own bathhouse. Would you care for a warm bath before we visit their highnesses? Jason said giving Julian a small kiss as he climb out of bed.
"I would enjoy that greatly." Julian grinned widely. "I know Gideon enjoyed a good bath."
Leaving the river boat Jason and Julian walked through the busy harbor as goods from Qul Tos were being transferred to Sithian ships and the other way around. Until Jason's alliance with Tal Sith was sealed with his marriage to Princess Amanda ships from each other's kingdoms were barred from their territories even though all that separated Qul Tannith from her sister city was a narrow brick wall.
The Centurion garrison, built up against the city's walls, was marked by its use of black basalt and twin clouds of steam and smoke rising from its bathhouse. It was still a mile's walk from the edge of the harbor to the fortress and all along the way the Tosian people fell to their knees in sight of the holy king.
"Is it always like this?" Julian asked
"I am afraid so. If I thought a simple decree would put an end to it I would." Jason said his stomach growling on the smell of food being cooked in nearby stalls. "Shall we eat?"
"Oh yes but how shall we pay?" Julian asked receiving a bemused look from Jason in return. "Oh I forgot.... You must have a king's ransom hidden within your robes."
"Not so much I'm afraid," Jason laughed as he pulled out a small leather pouch out of his dark blue robes. "Here... feel free to spend it as you wish."
Opening the pouch Julian was shocked to see at least two dozen copper coins, ten silver marks, and even three gold standards."
"This is more money than my father ever let me have at one time." Julian said amazed.
"In Domus people string their coins on metal chains on their belts where everyone can see their wealth."
"And nobody gets robbed?"
"With Centurions patrolling the streets?" Jason laughed.
"I guess not." Julian sighed, feeling like an illiterate lout next to Jason.
"I'm sorry I shouldn't have laughed. The rulers in the East do their utmost best to keep their people ignorant of how life in the Empire is truly like... or I should say was like before the Usurper took control."
"Yes," Jason nodded as he went to a stand where an elderly woman was selling grilled catfish with fired potatoes. After he was able to get the woman to stand up and stop her nervous bowing he handed her five copper coins for a large paper cone filled with fish and potato wedges. "Now what are you going to have to eat?" He asked Julian.
"What do you recommend?" Julian asked.
"See for yourself you can have almost anything you can desire here."
"Anything would be better than what I have in Qul Hoth. I don't' think I could stomach another rare piece of meat."
"Funny I feel the same way. I do not know why but after I became an Angel I lost whatever tolerance I ever had for the sight of blood. Philip on the other hand has no problem devouring an entire cow with his bare hands."
"Are you two really that different?"
"We are," Jason chuckled before eating a little. "Some of those differences can be difficult but we do our best to try to understand each other."
"Does he know about this little adventure of yours?"
"Of course not... at least not originally. By now he must know I am much further down river than I told him I would go. I hope he forgives me."
"But why didn't you tell him. Could he have stopped you?"
"No, he couldn't if I was determined enough. The stories you have most likely heard are true I do have a certain power over him. I do my best however to limit my use of it. It gives me no joy to have to leash my lover. I could have leashed him to the palace if I wanted but it is unnecessary. All I needed was a head start which I now have. "
"But what if he catches up with you."
"I'm sure he will," Jason laughed. "But only at the right time."
"So everything that's happened is according to some grand plan?"
"I didn't plan on you Julian," Jason winked.
"What... what do you mean by that?" Julian coughed in surprise.
"You've seen the people who accompany me... all of them are several years older than me. Geoff is already in his late thirties. In that sense they all see me as sort of a child."
"I don't see how," Julian laughed. In his eyes Jason was very much a man, wise and soft tempered.
"I am much younger than I look," Jason replied. "Much of my childhood was spent imprisoned in the Labyrinth Tower where my mother tried to emasculate me."
"And she did a terrible job," Julian laughed.
"She was more successful than you think. I am king but without Philip and Varrus at my side I doubt I would have the courage to face the demands of the royal court alone. As Varrus says I try to please everyone all the time even when it is not the wisest thing to do. He has had no problem trying to mold me into a kind but pragmatic ruler. I just hope I don't disappoint him too often."
"You see him like a father?"
"Yes and that is the problem... all my Centurions wish to be both father and lover. I am fairly unusual for a Legatio after all. In me they see the child they wish they could have. As king I should not feel intimidated by my advisors but I do. That is why I am glad I have met you."
"Because we are the same age?"
"Yes... with you we can be just friends... equals, just like Gideon and I were."
"But I am no way your equal," Julian insisted.
"As king can I order you to treat me as such?" Jason said half jokingly.
"It is the fact you are king that I can't treat you as an equal."
"I know but that is exactly what I am seeking."
"I do not know if I could ever treat you as an equal. I mean I do not think I have the courage."
"I know Julian, I know. Having you with me at this time will help me immensely in what I plan to do."
"More secret plans?" Julian asked his nose picking up the smell of a delicious crawfish stew."
"I plan to accomplish more than just rescue Alex. After all by the time we return home I doubt Philip will ever let me out of his sight again."
"What is it you're planning?" Julian asked as he fished out three of the coppers Jason had given him, receiving a bowl filled with stew in return.
"Hey where do you think you're going?" the food seller demanded as Jason and Julian began to leave his stand.
"It seems you can't keep the bowl," Jason laughed.
"Are we in any hurry?" Julian asked.
"Not at all," Jason said as the two returned to the stand.
"I beg your pardon your majesty but not even bowls are free."
"I understand," Jason replied, handing the man another copper. "Have you heard any rumors lately?"
"Aye I have... it seems you're not the only member of royalty about these parts these days. Prince Louis and Princess Amanda of Tal Sith are just beyond the city's walls."
"So I've heard," Jason chuckled. "Anything more?"
"Yes... rumor is that Tal Sith is preparing for war. They have moved several armies north to their border with Huron. It seems that your majesty isn't alone in coveting that kingdom's rich lands."
"I do not covet their lands as much as I desire to free their people. Huron is infamous for the way they treat their peasants."
"Aye and many have starved due to the famine that has gripped most of the East. Only we and Tal Sith seemed untouched by it."
"Oh, we have felt its touch," Jason felt the need to correct. "Thousands of refugees and fled into both our kingdoms seeking food and safety from their king's conscriptions."
"We will of course defeat Huron, won't we my lord. I mean to say it is the largest of the Eastern Kingdoms not to mention the most populous." The food seller asked.
"We will liberate Huron, do not fear."
"It is good to hear you say that your majesty. One of my sons ran off to join your army when the Confederacy invaded last year. At first I thought him nothing but a fool but now I hear he is married and has ten acres of land of his very own. Mighty generous of you your majesty."
"If Qul Tos is to lead a new alliance it will need men like your son." Jason said patting the old man on the back.
"Makes me feel very proud for you to say that your majesty," the old man said, a tear appear in the left corner of his right eye.
"Well I'm finished," Julian said, dropping the last crayfish shell into his otherwise empty bowl. "Sorry for the misunderstanding."
"Do not mention it young lord. It gave me a chance very few men get and talk with his holy majesty for a bit."
"It was nice talking to you as well," Jason said. As they turned to leave he saw a fair size crowd had gathered around them. "It seems you might have several new customers," Jason chuckled to the food seller.
"And all because of you your majesty," the food seller laughed as men and women handed over their coppers just to learn from the old man what the king had told him.
Leaving the market Jason and Julian made their way to the black Centurion fortress near the wall that separated the two cities. On seeing King Jason four Centurion guards straightened up their backs to attention, crossing an arm over their chest as they passed inside.
"Are all Centurions so big?" Julian asked.
"You should see Varrus," Jason laughed. "Tallest Centurion I know. He's over seven feet tall."
"And you like tall men?"
"You might say that is one of my fetishes," Jason replied. "I find it very comforting to be in the arms of a large man."
"Funny, I was going to say the same about you."
"I know... that's why I like you," Jason winked.
"But you just said..."
"Julian just because I find comfort in the arms of Centurions does not mean I do not enjoy giving comfort to others." Jason said as he stroked Julian's dirty blond hair. "I am not so blind as to not be able to notice what I look like in a mirror. I enjoy having my arms around you."
Feeling his knees shake Julian grabbed hold of Jason so as not to fall, causing the nearby Centurions to laugh.
Wrapping an arm around the man's waist, Jason helped Julian straighten up. "Come a hot bath will help relax you."
"My heart feels like it's about to jump out of my chest," Julian whispered.
Going into a changing room Jason and Julian were both quickly met by a pair of excited black robed Famulus.
"You greatly honor us your majesty," One of the Famulus said. "I'm afraid we don't have any red towels. Will white do?"
"White is fine," Jason said as he took one.
"Why is mine black." Julian asked an unhappy look on his face.
"Do you have any blue towels?" Jason asked the Famulus.
"No your majesty. Very few Tosians are accustomed to bathing."
"I don't like black," Julian frowned.
"Can my friend have a white towel?"
"Your majesty?" The Famulus said looking shocked.
"Please... for my sake," Jason said. He knew all too well why Julian disliked black. The Gideon in him must feel offended he was given a towel the color reserved for the Famulus.
"Of course your majesty," the other Famulus said elbowing his companion hard.
As Jason undressed Julian stood looking nervously as the two Famulus stared at them. "Aren't they going to go away?"
"Most likely not," Jason chuckled. "It's my fault. Famulus are an inquisitive lot. They most likely want to see what I look like naked."
"And that doesn't bother you."
"You get used to it after a while." Jason said as he wrapped his towel around his waist. "Come on Julian."
"Just give me a minute." Julian said as he started kicking off his boots.
"Can I help you?" One of the Famulus asked him.
"No!" Julian shouted in panic. "I mean I think I know how to undress myself."
"Tell that to the Legatio," Jason said causing the pair of Famulus to laugh.
"They don't know how to dress?"
"Oh I'm sure they could if they were willing to put forth the effort. The fact is most of them are used to having Famulus do it for them so they never try."
"Lazy bastards," Julian said as his pants were yanked away from him one of the Famulus.
"Shall I have fresh clothes prepared my king?" One of the Famulus asked as the other continued to steal Julian's clothes from him.
"Please," Jason nodded.
"And for your friend?"
"You have my purse. I think you can find something suitable for him."
"Something white," Julian insisted just as his loin cloth was pulled away.
"Something suitable," Jason repeated.
"Yes your majesty," the Famulus said as he took their clothes away.
Together Jason and Julian walked into the main bathing chamber where another pair of Famulus, this time wearing only black loin clothes met them. Once both of them were in the water the Famulus joined them soap and sponges in their hands.
"Oh this brings back memories," Julian moaned as the hot water relaxed him.
"It should," Jason chuckled as a Famulus began scrubbing his back.
"Hey," Julian protested when the other Famulus began touching him.
"Relax Julian. Though I know Gideon remembers how to bathe I doubt you have much personal experience with it," Jason said before dunking his head under water.
"Bathing is unhealthy," Julian sighed, no conviction behind his words.
"I beg to differ," Jason said as the Famulus began washing the front of his body.
"Your companion is most handsome your majesty." The Famulus washing Julian's body said.
"Yes he is," Jason said giving Julian a wink.
"His majesty is even more handsome," the other Famulus said wrapping his arms around the back of Jason's neck. "May I have the pleasure of pleasuring you my king?
"No, I'm fine," Jason said seeing Julian give him a worried glance.
"May I have the pleasure of pleasuring you sir," Julian's Famulus said reaching between Julian's legs to let the tips of his fingers brush against Julian's sex.
"Jason?" Julian said panic filling his voice.
"Do you?" Jason replied.
"That's not what it looks like," Jason smirked.
Covering his groin with both hands he took a step back from the Famulus. "Jason," Julian pleaded.
"Let me handle this," Jason said dismissing the Famulus. Moving toward Julian Jason wrapped his wings around them. "There, now no one can see."
"Are all Famulus like that?"
"You should know," Jason chuckled. He then looked down between Julian's legs. "Then again maybe not."
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is that Gideon wasn't circumcised until my return to Qul Tos. The old Gideon never had the chance to go into a Centurion bathhouse after becoming an adult."
"You mean because I'm circumcised every Centurion and Famulus I might meet will want to have sex with me?"
"Not all of them but many will. One of the things the circumcision does is mark you for your desire to have sex with other men."
"But I only want to sleep with you." Julian insisted.
"For now at least," Jason nodded. "So shall we?"
"Shall we what?"
"No one can see past my wings," Jason insisted as he grabbed hold of Julian's half swollen manhood.
Swooning Julian nodded his head. "If you say so," he moaned before Jason kissed him.
Chapter Twelve: The Meeting of the Bride
"Your highnesses," Caleb bowed on entering the audience hall of the Tal Tannith's citadel.
"We welcome you Prince Calebos." Louis, the older of the two, nodded. He was but twenty four yet already his hair had greatly receded leaving him with thin wavy puffs of light brown hair. While over six feet in height he was as skinny as a man half his height could carry his weight and not look too fat. "We also hope your king is well. Will he be joining us soon?"
"He will be," Caleb nodded, not wishing to discuss Jason's health with their would-be-allies.
"Good...Our people are looking forward to this alliance with great anticipation," Princess Amada Sith said.
"His majesty believes that only united do we stand a chance in restoring order to the Confederacy."
"But will there even be a Confederacy when your king is done conquering it?" Louis asked.
"The Confederacy was a weak alliance designed purposely to be weak and divided. My king aspires for some much greater in our united future."
"Guards," Amanda said, causing two of her men, looking like a pair of dangerous wasps dressed in Sithian yellow and black and carrying a pair of long narrow spears, approach the dais she and her brother were sitting on to unroll the giant map at their feet. She then stood up and walked over to an area in the western corner of the map that was stripped yellow and blue. "This is the Grand Duchy of Evermount. It boarders the Jasper Mountains and the Inner sea. It is the land my brother the king has instructed me to offer to your king."
"Tell me about it," Caleb replied digging into his memory for what few facts he knew of the place.
"It is a large duchy... the third largest in the kingdom. It has our fifth largest city, Everton, three mid-sized towns and over a dozen villages. In taxes it brings in nearly eighteen thousand gold standards a year. Its population is mostly Sithian with a small merchant community from Forstine. In goods its mines provide stone and iron from the mountains, rice along its southern coast, with cows and sheep in the interior. Everton is a port city with docks with space for over sixty ships. Most of its trade is with the Qopo in the Southern Continent exchanging cattle and herds of sheep for fruits and spices. Compared to the rest of Tal Sith it is fairly isolated. For the past two hundred years the duchy has been a property of the crown left in the hands of the local magistrate to govern."
"And how do they feel about Jason being their ruler?" Caleb asked.
"It will be me who they well see as their ruler," Amanda said. "Of course when Jason is my husband his wishes will become my own."
"Really?" Caleb said skeptically.
"I see my aunt's reputation precedes me," the princess sighed. "Know that in my kingdom the people look down on her as a traitor and a disgrace to the Sithian royal family."
"Yet you do look so much like Eleanor."
"Given her famed beauty I do not know how to take that comment," Amanda said her blue eyes turning cold.
"Yes, the eyes," Caleb chuckled. Jason's mother Eleanor had been known for her cold blue eyes.
"Prince Calebos I think you misunderstand. In our people's eyes Lady Eleanor represented the worse example of Sithian traditions. When a Sithian woman marries she is supposed to completely surrender herself to her husband's ambitions. Nothing else is supposed to matter."
"While Eleanor could think of nothing but her personal ambitions."
"Yes, which is why my father did not come to her aid when the Centurions besieged her in Qul Tos," Louis explained.
"Now that is a lie... your father was mainly scared of being crush along with his sister-in-law."
"That might be the true reason but it was not the public one."
"So Eleanor's poor behavior as a wife was the old king's scapegoat," Caleb chuckled.
"It did provide an effective excuse. Our father did not want to appear weak after all," Louis said.
"So you have no ambition but to be a good wife?" Caleb asked Amanda.
"To be a good wife and help my husband prosper is how a proper Sithian lady brings honor to herself after all his majesty's honor will become my own."
"But how do you intend to be a good wife?" Caleb asked.
"I am a skilled book keeper. For the last five years I have managed the king's accounts as well as negotiated several profitable trade deals. I am well versed in the classics, can recite poetry, and respected for having a good singing voice. I am also a fairly wealthy woman. In addition to the Duchy of Evermore I own eight trading vessels, one of the three main banks in Vanhal, and am a silent partner is a dozen other business ventures. On an average year my personal income is somewhere around twenty-eight thousand gold standards. In Sithian banks I have over one hundred thousand gold standards in savings and two hundred thousand in credit."
"A drop in the bucket compared to Qul Tos' royal treasury," Caleb said not impressed.
"But that's the problem isn't it. It just sits in a vault making no interest and producing no profits. There are no systems of banks in Qul Tos, no way for you to loan or borrow money." Amanda said. "That is what I'm offering... a way to increase royal revenue without raising taxes. I think King Jason would see the benefit in that."
"He might," Caleb agreed.
"What of the Gray Robes?" Louis asked, changing the subject.
"Those fanatics, nothing more than a nuisance," Caleb insisted.
"A growing nuisance if we have been finding them in Tal Sith," Amanda said. "If I might be honest I believe your king has made a mistake in ignoring their significance."
"My king has limited their influence and the problem they represent by ignoring them."
"But they are still growing in numbers... these people who believe Jason to be their god."
"Yes, that is true," Caleb forced himself to admit.
"They're also quite factionist... getting into fights with each other over what they believe to be their god's will." Amanda added.
"Those who break the king's peace are being dealt with," Caleb said sternly
"But wouldn't it be so much better if these Grey Robes were to be taught the true teachings of their king."
"Jason is not a god." Caleb chuckled.
"Does that really matter... the people believe he is. Even those who do not wear gray robes refer to him as their holy king," Amanda said tapping her pale white cheek.
"Jason does not teach but acts."
"Of course... a king like Jason is too busy ruling to actually teach his words for others. That is why he needs someone close to him to bring his wisdom to his people for him."
Caleb looked at the princess with a skeptical look. "And that person would be you?"
"That person would be both me and my brother," Amanda said waving an arm to where Louis sat uncomfortably. "His high priest and high priestess if you will."
"And why would you think Jason would give the two of you such titles."
"To keep us busy and out of his way, not to mention to remove a thorn from his side. Most importantly however because my brother the king demands it."
"Why does he demand such nonsense?"
"Your Gray Robes might be a mere nuisance to you but they have caused much hardship in Tal Sith. Those who believe your king is a god are challenging my brother's right to rule. They want him to abdicate in your king's favor. It is only because we desire peace with Qul Tos and your king that we haven't strung up every person in gray as a traitor," Amanda replied.
"So much like Eleanor..." Caleb chuckled. "So let me guess, you two becoming the heads of Jason's church and instruct the Gray Robes to leave your brother alone."
"Yes," Louis replied, looking slightly embarrassed.
"I see, my king knew the Gray Robes were a problem, but not to that extent. Know that he has already come up with a solution that I believe will benefit both our peoples. As for granted the two of you the titles of High Priest and Priestess, I do not have the authority to negotiate such a matter. You must discuss it with Jason."
"We understand," Louis said quickly as there was a knock on the door.
"His royal majesty King Jason IX," a steward said, pounding a bronze staff on the stone floor.
Seeing Louis stand from his chair, his sister returning to his side Caleb turned around to watch as Jason walked in, dressed in his ceremonial silver armor, his brilliant white wings outstretched, an aura of light glowing from his white skin. Behind him, looking thunderstruck Julian came in dressed in a blue and silver doublet.
"Your majesty," Amanda gasped, grabbing her brother's arm for support.
"Your holy majesty," Louis whispered going down to one knee, bring his sister down with him.
"You may rise," Jason said in a commanding tone, looking unabashed. "How go the negotiations Lord Caleb?"
"We've seem to have reached a stumbling point. It seems the infiltration of the Gray Robes here in Tal Sith was greater than we guessed. His majesty, King Samuel, feels they now present a threat to his rule. To gain some control over the matter he asked that you name his brother and sister High Priest and Priestess of a new church meant to bring the Gray Robes into line."
"They do," Jason chuckled as if amused before he began chiding the royal pair. "In truth I do not care for the Gray Robes... many of them would strip a man of his free will and have them follow me blindly. I have no use for such people nor do I chose to enslave my people with their faith. Have you considered what might happen if they felt I ever failed them as a god? It would make your own worries seem pointless."
"That does not change the fact that they do believe in you." Amanda said, rising to her feet but keeping her head aimed at the floor.
"For all the wrong reasons," Jason said, folding up his wings with a snap. "For these Grey Robes nothing happens in their lives that I did not directly cause. If the rains come it is because of me. If a harvest fails it is because I wish to punish them. If anything, good or bad, happens it is because of me! I do not wish such responsibility thrust on me," he shouted in frustration.
"We humbly beg your apology," Amanda and Louis both whispered taken aback by Jason's anger.
"Why... because you are right?" Jason said his expression softening. "I did wrongly hope I could ignore those who see me as their god wishing they would come to see me as the man I really am but if this trouble is now spreading into the other kingdoms I see I made a mistake," Jason sighed.
"Your majesty?" Caleb whispered nervously.
"What kind of king or god would I be if I persist in making the same mistake," Jason chuckled softly. "If it is titles you want I will give them to you. Just swear you will do a better job in leading the people then I have by ignoring them."
"Your majesty," Louis whispered, daring to look up.
"Amanda, if you agree to become my queen I will name you Arch-Priestess of Tal Sith."
"You are most gracious your majesty." Amanda bowed going down to both knees this time.
"As for you Prince Louis... become my oath brother in the Centurion tradition and I will name you Arch-Priest of Qul Tos."
"Arch-Priest of Qul Tos?" Louis whispered, staggering back a few feet until the back of his legs were pressed against his throne like chair.
"Aye." Jason nodded before he turned around and looked and Julian. "You my friend... it seems I have no other choice but to make you my High Priest, above all others."
"High Priest," Julian stammered.
"But you wished I not worship you."
"But you still do. I see that in your eyes." Jason said patiently. "You have much yet to learn Julian, especially about yourself. One thing I don't think will ever change is your faith in me."
"I, I love you Jason," Julian stammered both as Gideon and as himself.
"I know you do," Jason said in a very soft voice reaching to touch Julian's face with the tips of his fingers. He then turned to face Louis and Amanda. "One day I will expect the same devotion from you both. Until that time we must learn to trust one another."
Chapter Thirteen: Complications
"I don't understand," Amada said as she watched her servants finish with the packing.
"What do you not understand," Jason said now wearing a blue tunic.
"I am to be your wife but you wish for me to remain here in Tal Sith."
"All will be made clear to you soon," Jason promised. "What I do I do to protect you?"
"Protect me from what?" Amanda demanded, staring at Jason with her cold blue eyes.
"Who do you think?" Jason said looking at Amanda with his own hard expression.
"The prince consort... your demon?" Amanda whispered before taking a few deep breaths to calm herself.
"He is as real as I am," Jason replied. "I was born a Legatio your highness. My love belongs to Philip but I cannot lie and say I don't find you beautiful however."
"Have you ever slept with a woman?"
"No I have not. You will be my first."
"You mean there will be others?" Amanda said a hint of steel creeping into her voice.
"A Legatio is expected to have many wives but you will be my only queen. Still there are things I dare not risk... Philip's jealously being the main one."
Clapping her hands Amanda dismissed her servants. "So, you find me attractive, she asked, her voice now very soft."
"Yes I do."
"Then why do you sleep with men?"
"Because I love them," Jason replied with a laugh. "That does not mean that I can't love women."
"Now you sound like my brother." Amanda sighed.
"I know I do. General Yates and I have talked long about your brother and his unusual tastes."
"Not unusual if he had been born in the Empire. I am surprised that the general would speak of it. If it were ever to be publicly known about his tastes..."
"I trust you to change all that... as Arch-Priestess of course."
Amanda's expression soured. "I am to guide the people into Domus' hedonism?"
"Not necessarily that. If it wasn't the custom of the Empire I do not believe most of your people would look down upon love between men."
"And what of women?" Amanda asked.
"I have no problem with it... the woman who raised me, Melissa, was a lover of women."
"Given who she was that is no surprise." Amanda laughed.
"What do you mean?"
"She was Melissa Arkridge of course, only child of King Fredrick of Isil. It was during her wedding ceremony to some boring, middle-aged, Islian general that she met my Aunt, your mother Eleanor. She would have been Queen of Isil if she had not run off."
"Melissa was a princess." Jason said shocked. He had never imagined such.
"Yes... you mean she never told you?"
"I only knew her as Captain of the Tower Guard."
"But you do know about the Isilians and their sleeping customs at least?"
"Aye, the men live in the mountains protecting the kingdom from Lahorian raiders while the women live in communes west of the mountains growing the crops and cattle needed to feed their vast army. From what I understand husband and wife only meet three months out of the year during the rainy season when travel over the Desert of Flames is impossible."
"Yes but do you think the women let their beds go cold when their husbands are gone."
"You mean they sleep with each other?"
"Like a pair of Centurion legionnaires," Amanda laughed. "Of course their men don't have to resort to sleeping with each other, not with the desert nomads offering their women to them in return for supplies. It's believed there are entire tribes made up of their bastards."
"I didn't know," Jason said chuckling to himself.
"As king you should know. Just think of the embarrassment it would have caused of you decide to take an Isilian woman as one of your other wives."
"If Melissa was King Fredrick's only child, who is the mother of Princess Celia?"
"Princess Melissa of course. As is the custom among the Isilians, the first man whose seed takes in a woman becomes her husband a year and a day after their first child was born. Though Melissa ran off with Lady Eleanor she was already married in the eyes of her people. The general she married, the man who would become King Orson III never did remarry, preferring winching among the nomads."
"Oh dear..." Jason sighed, sitting on an end of one of Amanda's large trunks.
"What is wrong?" Amanda asked, daring to sit next to Jason.
"For six months I've been receiving letters from Princess Celia seeking an alliance with me."
"But you turned her down."
"For political reasons. Tal Sith lies on my kingdom's boarders and is already a close ally. Isil is far away and would be of little use to me due to its commitment to protecting the west from Lahore."
"I can understand that. I already knew our marriages would be mostly political. I am a princess after all. What is the problem however?"
"I told Princess Celia I would be visiting Vanhal soon. Even though I told her not to come I fear she might be waiting there for me when we arrive."
"You don't have to see her."
"How can I not, knowing she is the daughter of the woman I count as my mother."
"You won't marry her will you?"
"You will be my queen," Jason replied obstinately.
"But you might take her as consort?"
"Not if she won't be honest with me. She must have known my relationship with her mother and guess that I didn't know hers with Melissa."
"Isilian women are known for their trickery," Amanda warned. "They are more loyal to their lovers than their husbands."
"Is that not the case with us?" Jason asked.
"This is a royal marriage. I know its limitations. Know however that a true Sithian woman would lay down her life for her husband. I will not become another Eleanor."
"I hope it never comes to that."
"You ‘pray' it doesn't. You are a religious icon after all. It's about time you started talking like one."
"You think," Jason chuckled, wrapping am arm around Amanda's narrow waist.
"There is another Sithian custom... once betrothed a man gains full rights to his future wife."
"What of his wife to her future husband?" Jason asked.
"That is not the custom," Amanda said in a playful but chiding tone.
"So I will have to make the first move," Jason asked leaning in closer to Amanda's red painted lips.
"Yes you will," Amanda whispered just before Jason kissed her.
Chapter Fourteen: Of Warnings and Disasters
"If you keep on blushing, your face is going to be stuck that color," Caleb laughed as he joined Jason on the deck of the Sithian ship taking them away from Tal Tannith.
"Someone should have warned me," Jason said, looking completely flustered.
"Aye... but if you're going to blame anyone it should be your mentor Varrus. Wasn't he supposed to instruct you on such matters?"
"Well he didn't," Jason said, bitterness in his voice.
"I am sure her highness will forgive you... eventually," Caleb laughed. "Next time however ask before approaching a woman from the rear."
"After the way she yelled at me I will never approach a woman from the rear again," Jason sighed.
"See, you already learned an important lesson. Men and woman are not completely the same," Caleb laughed.
"Be careful Caleb and not a word to Philip about this," Jason warned.
"Oh come on... he deserves a good laugh."
"I made a fool of myself, god indeed." Jason slumped against the ship's railing.
"Enough of that... there are two young men waiting for you in the cargo hold and I am sure at least one of them won't mind you approaching him from the rear."
"You sure Prince Louis won't want to challenge me for dishonoring his sister?"
"Actually he already knows and probably still laughing about it. He is though completely confused on why you asked for him let alone what it will mean for him to become your oath brother."
"Now that is something I do know how to do," Jason said standing up. Going down into the cargo hold of the ship Jason found Louis' face beet red from laughter.
"Don't worry your majesty... it might take some more poking and prodding but I'm sure my sister will turn around eventually," Louis laughed hysterically.
"And what of you Louis, how much poking and prodding will you need from me?" Jason retorted watching Louis' face go pale. "Don't give me that look. You don't think I have spies in Vanhal."
"Must be very good spies." Louis whispered, covering his mouth in embarrassment.
"The Elixir of Life I believe your people call it."
"That is only something to be known by the male members of the royal family."
"As is the sport of Centurion hunting?" Jason replied. "Where is it?"
"Where is what?" Louis asked trying to sound innocent.
"The anima. I certain your brother gave you at least one vial." Jason replied, holding out his hand.
"How... how did you know?"
"General Yates told me."
"Then he is a traitor."
"No, he was trying to save his and your family's lives. Once he was told what a crime it is to steal the anima of a Centurion he felt the need to come clean. Do not worry however your brother has already been warned. I just do not wish for you to make the same mistake."
"Are we to be punished?"
"Brashear is to be. He was the one who dared to harvest the anima of our dead in the first place... giving it first to you and then his king."
"How is he to be punished?"
"By the time we reach Vanhal the king's men should have destroyed the vials he snuck out of Qul Tos during the war. He will never taste anima again. Given the amount we think he has consumed he will die within a year from anima sickness."
"Lord Brashear is a loyal servant of my king... our best tax collector." Louis replied nervously.
"I know but how do you expect my Centurions to ally with your armies with this crime between us. Someone must be punished and that person is to be Lord Brashear."
"What of my brother. Since he too has consumed anima will he also become sick?"
"Your brother and I have our own agreement." Jason said, not going into details. "You are part of that agreement."
Nodding his head Louis went over to where a small cask was stacked among the crates. Using his dagger he popped off the top revealing it was empty inside except for the three small glowing vials of anima.
"These will go back to the legions they were stolen from," Jason said, handing the cask to Caleb who then left with it. Suffering from anima sickness himself he did not want to be tempted by them. "Now you are free Louis."
"What do you mean by free?"
"You do not have to become what your brother orders you to be."
"He only wished to make me strong," Louis said looking down at his lanky frame.
"Anima can give you muscle and sinew but it can also make you foolhardy and strip you of any wisdom. The question is what do you want to guide you... your mind or your heart?"
"The heart is always stronger than the mind," Louis replied.
"That is what a romantic would say," Jason said sternly. "As king I must allow myself to be guided by both. Now what is it you want Louis."
"I don't want to be rejected. I am tired of being the ugly prince. I want to be able to love someone without that love being laughed at." Louis said bitterly.
"You are not ugly your highness but only you can make yourself believe that." Jason said patting Louis' face affectionately. "I can give you what you want but do you realize what it is you will be sacrificing in return."
"My free will," Louis replied.
"So you do know," Jason said impressed. "Now be honest... which to do feel more... awe or jealousy towards me?"
"Jealousy," Louis whispered.
"Because of your brother?" Jason guessed.
"Yes... he like you is handsome and popular while I am anything but. You two will make a good match."
"So you've guessed that part of it?"
"How could I not. My brother sent his best painter to Qul Tos so he might have a portrait of you in his study. He is enamored with you."
"While all you've ever wanted is your brother's respect," Jason replied.
"My brother used to say he would have to marry me off to some common blood merchant's daughter because I am so plain."
"Have you ever had the desire to marry?" Jason asked.
"Not to a specific woman. How can I ever fall in love when all the pretty ladies in court look at me with scorn?"
"So you are ambitious," Jason chuckled.
"Mayhaps I am too ambitious if love is too much to ask for." Louis replied. "But even a woman of common blood cannot love me. They would do it for my wealth and prestige but not for love."
"What about your sister and me?"
"You are a kind king. At least that is what everyone says. It might not be love but it's more than she originally hoped for. I count her lucky."
"Now you pity yourself."
"And why shouldn't I. In the royal court I am treated more as a jester than a prince."
Seeing the pain on Louis' face Jason let out a sigh. "I see, I am sorry you have been treated so."
"Let me take the anima. I don't care if it turns me gay or kills me in the end. At least I will have one year... one perfect sweet year where I will be the one others find desirable."
"I cannot let you have the anima of our Centurion dead. That is a crime in my people's eyes." Jason replied sympathetically.
"Then I am doomed to a life void of love." Louis moaned.
"If that is to be your fate it will be a result of your own choices." Jason said getting tired of all the melodrama.
"Then tell me what I should do?"
"I can't you must make your own choices but if its love you seek, a blinding love you will have no control over, a love that will forever trap you, I can give that to you."
"It's in your power to give that to me?" Louis asked hopefully.
"I see it more as taking away," Jason replied.
"I don't care... just the chance to feel love and be loved in return is one I cannot give up on."
"You would become a prisoner of love?"
"I have only dreamed of such an entrapment."
"What of you Julian?" Jason whispered.
"I need nothing for I have found the love I desire." Julian said resting his head on Jason's back.
"And that is the right answer." Jason chuckled softly as he turned around to wrap his arms around Julian's waist. "Julian might have the memories of one of my former lovers inside him but his own love for me is of his own choosing. He doesn't need me to bind him to me further for his love is complete."
"It is?" Julian said surprised.
"It is," Jason laughed before looking at Louis' perplexed face. "True love cannot be compelled. If I were to give you my bond it would not give you what you want for it can't make you love yourself."
"How can I?" Louis said spreading out his arms in defeat.
"I wish you could see how special you really are Louis. I did not ask for you so you might amuse me with your melodramatic antics. I asked for you because I need you."
"Why?" Louis asked in a pleading tone.
"I don't know. I do think you do but you are not yet willing to tell me what your secret is." Seeing panic grow on Louis face Jason let out a knowing sigh. "We have a long journey ahead of us Louis. Maybe before it's over we will learn how to trust each other. Until then please accept my friendship," he said offering his hand to the prince.
"I do not know what you see in me your majesty. I am as plain as plain can be."
"Maybe on the outside but appearances only are skin deep. There is more about you than you are willing to admit to yourself." Jason said backing towards the stairs, Julian following him.
"What is it you see in him?" Julian asked as they left the cargo hold.
"Unrealized potential," Jason replied sadly.
Chapter Fifteen: The Plot Begins
"Eat..." Armageddon ordered in a low voice to the skinny half starve Legatio in the corner of his bedroom.
"Is it poisoned?" The Legatio whispered in a horse voice.
"No, now eat," Armageddon said in a more insistent tone causing the frightened young man to pick up his bowl and start feeding himself with his dirty bare hands.
"Why have you brought me here Lord Armageddon," the man asked his eyes watching as the blue skinned giant began to undress.
"Would you rather be back in the Legatio Quarter?"
"No," the young man said shaking his head violently going back to eating.
"I didn't think so. I would not have let you go anyway considering the trouble I went to find you Felix son of Gorr. Seeing you now I find it hard to believe you were once the son of a Field Marshal and raised by the great Senator Perils."
"Please I didn't know Perils plan to assassinate my father."
"You didn't know Perils bought and sold the sacred skulls of our Centurion dead?" Seeing the look of fear grow even greater on Felix's face, Armageddon let out a deep chuckle. "So you did know. I'm sure you reminded yourself often of that fact as you and your cronies patrolled the halls of the Academy."
"Please... please don't hurt me," Felix cried curling up into a tight ball.
"Why would I hurt you Felix when I loved you? I was even willing to kill for you once."
"I... I don't understand," Felix whimpered.
"You should have stayed at the Academy Felix. If you had you would have escaped with the rest of the students to Qul Tos. Then again I can't picture you ever willing to bow down to Jason. Am I wrong?"
"Jason," Felix spat, his fear quickly replaced with anger. "This is his entire fault."
"Maybe but he's now King of Qul Tos, a mighty king I hear while you are nothing but a bit of cattle unless I say otherwise."
"I will do anything you wish of me Lord Armageddon."
"Good then you shall start by calling me by my old name. It's not as grand as Armageddon but I'm sure you will find it just as terrifying."
"What name is that my lord?" Felix whispered clenching his eyes shut.
"Alex," Armageddon replied, now standing above Felix completely naked.
"No... that can't be," Felix insisted shaking his head.
"But it is Felix... I am Alex, the young man you once scorned and tricked into fighting your former lover Gideon. You said he raped you. Me being the fool, believe you."
"Please, don't kill me," Felix wept.
"I won't kill you Felix. Not if you do exactly what I say."
"Name it and it's yours."
"Stand up Felix... such an important oath should be said on your own two feet not cowering on the floor." Alex said lifting Felix up. "Now say your oath," he demanded.
"Name it and it's yours." Felix said his eyes aimed downward.
"Look at me Felix. How can I be expected to believe you if you can't even look up at my face?"
"Forcing his head up Felix looked at the man's purple glowing eyes, saturated with anima of both Legatio and Centurions.
"Name it and it's yours," Felix said for the third time.
"Good, I knew you could do it. Now go to my bed and lay down."
"But..." Felix protested.
"Remember your oath," Alex replied as he walked away. By the time he went to the bed Felix was curled up on it. "Now face me," Alex demanded after he lay next to the Legatio.
Slowly rolling over Felix saw Alex holding up a pair of vials of blue anima. "Drink Felix and become stronger," Alex said offering one of the vials to him.
Eagerly taking one of the vials he drained its sweet contents down his throat and watched as it mixed with his own red anima, causing his body to glow with a purple aura. As the anima took effect he found his gasping for air as his body grew and thickened out until he didn't look so half starved as before.
"Good," Alex chuckled. "You're looking better already. Tomorrow I will give you more anima and see how much further we can go." He then rolled over and closed his eyes to sleep.
Almost thanking Alex for not raping him Felix quickly fell asleep himself, the effects of the anima having worn him out. That night he dreamed he carried a sword in his hand, slaying his tormentors while Alex stood behind encouraging him.
"Trouble," Caleb said on bursting into Jason's cabin.
"What is it?" Jason asked leaving his desk.
"You should see for yourself," Caleb replied.
Heading for the main deck Jason saw almost a dozen winged Saint flying above him, their leader, Lieutenant Dovin in a heated argument with Geoff. "Dovin what are you doing here?" Jason demanded.
"I should be asking his majesty the same thing." Dovin replied sternly. "What are you thinking of trying to sneak into Domus?"
"Because I have to," Jason replied.
"Lord Philip disagrees."
"Which is why he's not here with me," Jason said crossing his arms over his chest in an act of defiance.
"I have orders to take you back to Qul Tos your majesty, orders I plan to follow to the letter."
"What did you call me?"
"Good, so you do recognize me as your king."
"You are the king but this is different, Philip..."
"Philip is not king nor are you Captain of the Winged Guard." Jason said eyeing Geoff.
"Captain will you talk some sense into his majesty?" Dovin pleaded.
"His majesty knows what he is doing lieutenant. You are to stand down and obey his orders." Geoff replied, Jason letting out a sigh of relief.
"This is madness your majesty," Dovin insisted.
"I understand why you might feel that way but it doesn't change what I must do. You can either help me or fly back to Qul Tos."
"If I can't persuaded you otherwise I have no choice but to aid you in whatever way I may," Dovin said his shoulders dropping in defeat.
"Then order your men to come aboard," Jason replied.
"As you wish your majesty," Dovin bowed.
"You handled that very well," Geoff chuckled.
"To be honest I thought they would have come a lot sooner. Varrus' spies must be inattentive. I will have to have a talk with him when we return."
"If we return. I still am not convinced your plan will work."
"You do agree it is the only plan that stands a chance of working?" Jason replied.
"I do. That doesn't mean I don't wish that we had a few more options. This is a dangerous game you're playing at."
"I know but it must be done. The Centurions were willing to risk their own lives to save me. I owe it to them to take the same risk in return for their sake."
"I still don't like you going into this much danger."
"I know but there is no real danger to me."
"So you say," Geoff said unconvinced.
"The Grau and Dominus will not let me die when they're so close to their goal."
"They might think you're too reckless to remain here anymore."
"No, it's too soon. They will want to see my full potential first."
"What is it you're hiding Jason. There is something you're not telling me. Do you know what Dovin told me before you arrived? Qul Hoth is gone, completely obliterated. It seems to have happened the same night Gideon vanished. If there is something that dangerous out there I have the right to know."
"It was the Dominus, Geoff. They took Gideon and destroyed his city."
"And how long were you going to hide that from me?" Geoff demanded angrily.
"I didn't. Yes I didn't tell you what happened to Gideon. To be honest I was too upset to. As for Qul Hoth I didn't know it was destroyed until you just told me but I do not doubt it was the Dominus' doing?"
"Jason if they can destroy the second largest city in Qul Tos in a single night what chance do we have against them?"
"None at all," Jason said sternly stressing each word. "Yet I still have hope Geoff. There is still a chance that I can save almost everyone if you will just help me."
"I, I wasn't suggesting I wouldn't. I just wish you would trust me enough to tell me the truth. All of it."
"I can't. It is something that I don't fully believe or understand myself. When I do I promise I will tell you."
"Something tells me that won't happen until the very last minute." Geoff grumbled even as his face softened
"Is that not the way of things?" Jason chuckled.
"Now you're talking like Julian." Geoff said as Jason stated heading back inside the ship. "Where are you off to now?"
"To make my apologies to Amanda again."
"Has she run out of stuff to throw at you yet?"
"No... if I didn't know better I would think she's started hand crafting them just for my head." Jason laughed. Going to Amanda's cabin he knocked on the door. "Hello?"
"Jason, don't you dare come in here."
"I've just come to say I'm sorry."
"Do you know how humiliated I am?" Amanda demanded.
"I know but as I said I didn't know better."
"How can you not know better... sheep know better?"
"Not all sheep." Jason insisted.
"Just go away." Amanda replied not able to hold back a laugh.
"Please let me in Amanda... you can throw whatever you want at me."
"I don't know why you are asking. There's no lock to my door."
"But it's impolite to barge in on a lady."
"But it's not impolite to fuck her up the ass."
"Now Amanda, I said I was sorry. Anyway I won't have my future queen talking in such a manner."
"If you want my forgiveness you have to do something for me."
"Name it," Jason said leaning his head against the door a smile growing on his face. At least they were now negotiating, that was some progress."
"I want you to go fuck my brother."
"I want you to go sleep with my brother and I want to watch."
"What?" Jason said taken aback.
"Louis won't leave me alone about it and I want to see the look on his face when he gets to see what it really feels like," Amanda insisted.
"And your brother would agree to this?" Jason frowned.
"He will agree to anything if you will just talk to him again."
"Your brother is desperate, you know that?" Jason replied.
"He's been desperate most of his life. The first woman he slept with was a prostitute Samuel paid for. That's why he agreed to send Louis to you. He hoped you could fix him."
"Louis is more than capable of fixing himself."
"Do you agree to my terms or no?" Amanda said.
"On one condition," Jason replied.
"For you to be in the bed with us."
"To be in the same bed you're having sex with my brother in?"
"Actually I was thinking of having sex with both of you."
"You have the morals of a Centurion, you know that?"
"When it came to matters of love they were my best teachers," Jason chuckled.
"Not at the same time but afterwards. While you're having sex with my brother I will give you a few pointers on how to make proper love to a woman."
"Agreed," Jason laughed. "Since I have the larger bed shall we meet in my cabin at the next ring of the bell?"
"Agreed," Amanda shouted back.
Chapter Sixteen: Bedding
Going back to the main deck Jason found Louis playing with Jacob. "You two seem to be getting along."
"He's the strangest wolf I've ever seen but he seems to like me," Louis laughed as Jacob licked his face.
"Really," Jason said, scratching Jacob behind his ears. Lower his forelegs Jacob raised his tail, wagging it playfully.
"His coat is also incredibly soft as if he's still a puppy."
"Sometimes I think Jacob wants to remain a puppy all his life," Jason chuckled.
"It's strange but sometimes I think he can read my mind."
"He's the same way with me," Jason said as Jacob ran off down the deck. Realizing what he was about to do Jason and Louis both jumped up after him but not before Jacob pushed Geoff over the railing and into the river.
"Damn that wolf of yours." Geoff shouted as he jumped out of the river and into the sky, his wings flapping madly.
"Sorry," Jason shouted back before looking back at Louis. "You knew that was going to happen, didn't you."
"I guess I did. It's strange but I would swear your wolf talks to me. I though he asked me if I like Geoff and I said I found him a little stiff. When Jacob then ran down the ship to the captain I knew Jacob was up to no good."
"So he talks to you as well. Other than me you're the only other person he does that with." Jason said his brow furrowing.
"Is there something wrong with that?"
"No," Jason said giving Jacob a hard look. He then leaned down and whispered something into the wolf's ear. Jacob then jumped off the ship and paddled his way to shore.
"Shouldn't we stop him?" Louis asked.
"No, I sent him off to look for something, that's all." Jason replied. He was not about to explain what to Louis, not until he knew more. Deciding to change the subject Jason gave Louis a frown. "I talked with your sister earlier today."
"And she's agreed to forgive me... once I've met certain conditions, that is."
"What are they?" Louis asked.
"She wants me to approach you from the rear," Jason whispered.
"What?" Louis half shouted.
"I believe she thinks the experience will get you to stop infatuating with me."
"It won't," Louis replied determinedly. "The more time I spend with Julian..."
"The more you love me?"
"No, the more I can't stand him," Louis laughed. "I mean you're perfect but not that perfect."
"What do you mean by that?"
"It means I think I love you." Louis said in a calm voice that surprised Jason. It had none of the tones of desperation he had before.
"And since you said you will have more than one consort, I though why can't one of those other consorts not be me? At least I would like to court you."
"Since I outrank you, shouldn't I be the one doing the courting?" Jason chuckled.
"I wouldn't mind that at all," Louis winked.
"I wish I could figure you out," Jason sighed.
"Am I really that complex?"
"More than I think either of us know," Jason replied, leading Louis toward his cabin. Inside he found Amanda already waiting for them, sitting in a chair, her feet propped up on Jason's desk.
"This better hurt," She said shaking a finger at Jason.
"Why should it hurt?" Jason replied.
"Because it sure hurt me," Amanda said.
"Don't worry I'll be gentle," Jason whispered to Louis.
"To be honest I don't care at this point." Louis grinned as he started taking off his yellow and black military uniform. Once naked he flopped himself down in the middle of the bed, his long gangly legs almost stretching out over the foot of the bed where Jason stood.
Looking at Louis with an gentle expression Jason undid the belt to his blue robe, letting it all fall off his muscular shoulders until he was naked, both Amanda and Louis letting in sharp breaths.
"We should have never made love in the dark," Amanda whispered.
"That might have avoided a few mistakes." Louis grinned evilly as he squirmed with eagerness. As Jason climbed up the bed towards him every touch the Angel made to his skin electrified him. When Jason was finally on top of him it took all the courage he had to wrap his arms around Jason's board back pressing the man tightly against his body.
"What secret are you keeping from me Louis," Jason whispered between kisses not understand the sense of familiarity he was experiencing.
"I..." Louis began but quickly silenced himself.
"It is alright Louis, I think I know." Jason said comfortingly as he began kissing his way down Louis' body.
With his legs over Jason's shoulders he let out a gasp at the moment of penetration. Slowly as Jason continued to make love to him he felt his body relax a sense of giddiness taking over until he was laughing hysterically.
"Stop it," Amanda shouted, disturbed by the silly grin on her brother's face.
"Shall we?" Jason asked.
"No," Louis replied wrapping his arms around the back of Jason's neck to pull him down into a deep kiss as Jason wrapped his wings around them to block Amanda's view. When Jason's wings finally pulled back Louis was nestled in Jason's arms, nuzzled up against the man's chest.
"Was it what you expected?" Jason whispered.
"No," Louis said without moving his lips. "I feel, I feel whole now."
"So, you can talk with your mind," Jason replied with his own thoughts.
"Yes, but only with my family and never as easy as I now can with you," Louis sent back.
"I see," Jason said sending out his own thoughts to locate Jacob. Finding him with his mission accomplished Jason sat up. "Come, there is someone I would like you to meet."
"You're leaving..." Amanda said surprised and disappointed. It was supposed to be her turn after all.
"I will be back before dawn," Jason replied as he picked up his robe.
"You're leaving the ship?" Amanda said even more surprised.
"I have wings. I can always fly back," Jason said confidently.
"But why are you taking Louis with you."
"There are questions I need answered. I think Louis should hear these answers as well."
"What questions?" Amanda asked, now curious.
"Only Louis can answer that," Jason said staring at the man as he hurried to dress.
"I don't know what you mean," Louis replied as he pulled his pants up.
"You might not at that. You might not know how much I know or for that matter you might not believe what you know to be the truth."
"Now I am confused," Louis replied.
"Come with me then so we might both find the answers we seek." Jason replied. Leading Louis to the ship he wrapped his arms tightly around the thin man before spreading out his wings and flying north away from the river. "Don't follow me," he sent to his Saints as he left with Louis.
Chapter Seventeen: The Devil's Bargain
Just as the sun was about to set Jason landed and let go of Louis in a small glen surrounded by old oaks. In the middle of the field Jacob sat, sat on top of someone in fact.
"Okay you got me Jason. Now call off your pet," The red haired man under Jacob pleaded.
"He's not my pet as you well know Thomas," Jason said coldly.
"You two know each other?" Louis asked a hint of nervousness in his voice.
"Yes. The question I have for you, Louis, is do you know who this man is or at least what he is."
"No... no..." Louis stammered.
"Oh come on Louis of course you do," Thomas chuckled as Jacob jumped off him.
"I'm not supposed to talk about it," Louis insisted.
"Well since I'm here you have my permission to," Thomas replied as he stood up, patting the dry grass off himself.
"Louis, explain yourself," Jason demanded.
"I'm, I'm not of House Sith." Louis said looking down at the grass ashamed. "I shouldn't even be a prince. But that is the way it's always been for the younger sons of Sith. Isn't that correct Grau?" Louis asked.
"So you do know what he is?" Jason sighed with relief. Things were starting to make sense.
"Yes but I don't know how you know anything about it," Louis replied. "It was supposed to be a secret."
"Explain," Jason asked.
"For as long as my family has ruled the Kingdom we have kept our agreement with the Grau. They were the ones who placed us on the throne in the first place, replacing the Tanniths. After the first male child is born the queen must agree to carry a child for the Grau. He's always a son and always as gangly as me."
"But you have other talents Louis," Thomas said encouragingly. "You are the one who ferrets out the traitors in your brother's court."
"Yes," Louis said ashamedly. "In many ways I am as big of an assassin as Geoff. I guess that's why I don't like him. I don't kill with my own hands but on my word dozens have died."
"You are also wrong Louis, you are of House Sith," Jason said glaring at the Grau.
"I don't understand," Louis replied, baffled.
"Show him," Jason demanded.
Pulling down his trousers Thomas revealed his groin to the two of them."
"What is that?" Louis said almost staggering off his feet as he retreated from the sight."
"The Grau are hermaphrodites, both male and female. Your father was your father Louis but your mother wasn't your mother."
"They said she died giving birth to me," Louis said looking at Thomas accusingly.
"Not my doing. I'm not even your mother. Another Grau was. When you were being born I was in Mordel," Thomas said defensively, pulling his pants back up.
"The woman you believe to be your mother was most likely killed. If you look back at your family history I suspect many of your queens met the same fate," Jason said looking at Louis compassionately. "My question for you Thomas is why?"
"It is simple really, our mistresses the Dominus wish for us Grau to breed with the people of Ares. As you can tell by Louis' appearance the resulting child is nearly always inferior to the parent. In the case of the male members of House Sith at least the children live though most tend to complain about being miserable. He shouldn't though, he's quite gifted."
Why? Jason pressed.
"We Grau are able to communicate with our minds. In Mordel it is the main way we communicate. Our children, though not as gifted as us still have that desire to use their minds in the same way. In fact it is the reason why so many of them feel lonely and misunderstood. There are very few who truly understand them. You Jason happen to be one of those few."
"Did you set up Louis to meet me?"
"No Jason," Thomas chuckled bemusedly. "This is completely your doing. Just more proof that you are the one we seek. Subconsciously you must have sensed Louis and therefore arranged on your own to meet him. I must say the Dominus will be most pleased with my next report. You are turning out to be quite a fascinating subject."
"How do I help Louis?" Jason then asked.
"Just being near you is helping him. He's connected to you now. Of course if you were to bond to him that connection will grow even stronger."
"Will he be a Saint?"
"I honestly don't know Jason. He is half Grau after all. You might trigger more in him than the two of you can imagine."
"These experiments on House Sith end tonight," Jason ordered after a long silence, his eyes darting between the two.
"Of course, they already are. Once we figured out your intentions to King Samuel we all agreed that would be more interesting than breeding inferior half breeds. We are also most interested to see what kind of child you have your majesty."
"Do not even think of harming any child I might have," Jason threatened.
"Like you can stop us," Thomas said smugly. "You know what we might do to your friends if you resist us too much. You should have heard by now what we did to Qul Hoth."
"You have used that threat on me too many times."
"But I doubt it's lost any of its potency."
"You know what I am planning to do?"
"Yes and rest assured that if it looks like you'll fail we will come to your rescue."
"How about we bargain then?"
"That depends on what you are offering."
"I will bond to Louis here in front of you to satisfy your curiosity if you will do something for me in return."
"And what do you want in return?"
"Alex... I want your word you will save him if I fail."
"Are you sure you want to ask for that?" Thomas asked. "You might doom him to a fate worse than dying."
"I expect you to see that he doesn't."
"Fair enough but how will you know I will keep my word?"
"If you don't I will fight you and your masters to the bitter end knowing your word is worthless."
"Ah true... we do sort of depend on you having some trust in us. What is the use in threatening you if you don't believe us?" Thomas said clicking his tongue on the top of his mouth. "Very well we will save Alex if you should fail to but we won't promise you will ever see him again."
"Gives me another reason not to fail," Jason said determinedly.
"Try as hard as you want... your end of the bargain will have been met," Thomas said pointing to where Louis was sitting in the grass looking dazed. "I thought it best not to have him take part in our discussion. You can explain things to him later if you wish."
"I will not bond to him in such a state," Jason insisted.
"Very well I will release him. Remember Jason we are always watching you. Keep on impressing us as you have and you might buy yourself more time. It gives you something to hope for at least," Thomas said as he walked away, disappearing in the darkness.
"Louis," Jason said once he saw the man take in a sharp breath.
"What happened...? I saw that things and I sort of blacked out." Louis said still looking dazed.
"It was the Grau playing a trick with your mind."
"That thing was really my mother?"
"Not Thomas but one like him. In fact they almost all look alike. They all have red hair to say the least."
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you when you wanted me to, but our bargain with the Grau is our family's secret shame."
"Well it's over. The Grau won't claim your brother as they did your father."
"You did that for me?"
"Sort of," Jason replied. "In truth they are more curious about me than any other person in all of Ares."
"They are dangerous Jason," Louis warned.
"I know they are... that is why I have to bond to you. I don't think you're ready for it but it might help you in the end."
"I don't understand."
"I made a bargain with them. The Grau are very curious to see what will happen to a person like you if you were to receive my anima. If I give it to you they promise to save a friend of mine if I fail to."
"Will I become a Saint?"
"I don't know Louis. You are part Grau and I cannot say I understand what they truly are."
"Do it. If it is to save someone that close to you it is worth the risk."
"But you don't know what will happen to you."
"I'm sure I'll be fine, I have a sense about these things." Louis chuckled to hide his nervousness.
"If you are sure,"
"I am sure," Louis replied grabbing Jason's left upper arm tightly. "The Grau was right I do not feel so lonely when I am with you."
"I always knew you were special Louis," Jason chuckled as he lay down on top of Louis. "You will most likely fall asleep as the change takes over."
"I hope I get a nice pair of wings," Louis chuckled softly.
"We will just have to wait and see," Jason replied before giving him the important kiss.
Chapter Eighteen: Family Matters
When dawn rose and Jason had not yet returned, Amanda went to the main deck, looking north in hopes of catching first sight of him. She was worried, very worried in fact. Jason was not one to miss much and she knew Louis had talked to the king with his mind. Even though Tal Sith had been without a formal religion for centuries Mordel and anything associated with it was believed to be tainted if not evil. If her family's secret were to become known it could bring down House Sith. That did not mean she had any idea where Jason took Louis. She could only guess the king had wanted to question her brother in private where she couldn't stop him or others hear. If Jason did know the truth he could blackmail her family into submission. Not that she believed Jason was that kind of man.
"He's returning," Geoff said wrapping his cloak around Amanda's shoulders.
"Where is he, can you see him?"
"He is still many miles away but he is coming. We Saints can sense these sorts of things."
"With your minds?"
"Yes I suppose so?"
"Can you talk to each other with your minds?"
"Yes we can... we can even hear your brother," Geoff chuckled.
"What do you mean?" Amanda said suddenly defensive.
"Your brother is now one of us. At least I think he is. There is something different about him. Then again I have always felt there was something strange about Louis." Geoff chuckled.
"My brother is indeed strange," Amanda said with a hint of relief in her voice.
Eating her breakfast outside on the deck for once she was there when Jason returned, a man in tattered clothes in his arms.
"Please take Louis to his quarters," Jason said as he handed the man to Geoff.
"Louis?" Amanda said; standing up to look at the man Geoff was carrying. Instead of seeing her brother she saw a tall very muscular man, completely hairless from head to toe. "What did you do to my brother?" she demanded looking at Jason.
"I made him well," Jason replied giving her a sympathetic look. "He's now more whole than he's ever been."
"What happened to his hair...? I knew he was going bald but even his eyebrows are gone."
"Your brother is special as you well know. My anima is changing him in a unique way. It's awakening new parts of his heritage in him." Jason said giving Amanda such a look that it left her with no hope that he didn't know the truth of her family.
"Jason, may I talk with you in private," Amanda said in a pleading tone.
"Yes I think we should talk," Jason nodded following her to her cabin.
"I know you know the truth," she whispered once the door to her cabin was closed.
"Yes I know about your family's arrangement with the Grau."
"Please don't let that word ever pass your lips again. It could destroy my family." Amanda said clenching her long yellow dress
"I understand Amanda. I will keep your family's secret." Jason said calmly to Amanda's surprised. She had been ready to negotiate his silence for the rest of the day if need be.
"You're not going to blackmail us?" she whispered.
"No Amanda. Your family has suffered enough. Whatever crimes your ancestors committed are not your fault. You are as much of a victim as poor Louis was."
"What did you really do to him?"
"I gave him my bond. Since he is half Grau he didn't become a Saint like the others so I can't honestly say what I did do to your brother. Only time will tell."
"You gave him your bond knowing he was half Grau?" Amanda asked accusingly.
"Yes," Jason replied honestly.
"Do you know the risk you were taking?"
"No but neither do you or Louis. All I can say is it had to be done. Your brother is better now."
"What about his hair?"
"I am sure it will grow back... a different color mind you but he won't be so bald."
"A different color?"
"Red," Jason replied. "As you know he's part Grau but most of that part of him has been lying dormant. My bond has awakened it. Believe me you will be surprised by how improved your brother is."
"But his hair will be red. That is a bad omen among my people."
"That seems appropriate given that only Grau seem to have that colored hair."
"He will just have to keep his body shaven then. We can't let it be known that a prince of Tal Sith now has red hair."
"I can't ask him to do that."
"You don't have to. I will," Amanda insisted moving for the door.
Darting for the exit Jason stopped her. "Amanda you saw your brother... if you hadn't been told it was him would you even had recognize him."
"No," Amanda admitted.
"Nor will anyone else. Your brother has been given a new life... let him live it."
"As your sex slave?"
"Is that how you see me... as a man who treats the rest of the world as if it were beneath him? Your brother was in pain. He thought he was alone in the world. That is no longer the case. Though I am not quite certain what he is yet he is no longer in pain or alone. If you must know however Louis is now bonded not just to me but all my Saints. You will find his infatuation for me will settle down quite quickly."
"And my brother, Samuel?"
"He's the one I always intended to come for. I need his help and I am almost willing to pay any price to get it."
"I will warn him of you."
"Do as you see you must Amanda but your brother is dying by taking something he shouldn't have. There are those who follow me who would wish to do him great harm for what he's done. I am coming for your brother not to steal him but save him."
"Like you did with Louis?"
"Go talk to him Amanda. He should be awake by now." Jason said stepping out of her way.
"I will," Amanda said as she stormed out of the cabin.
Going to her brother's room Amanda didn't even bother to knock on the door before busting in finding her brother with his now large arms wrapped around Julian the two making cute smiles at each other. "Leave us," she demanded.
"You better go," Louis said seeing the angry expression on his sister's face.
Once Julian was gone she began berating her brother. "You couldn't keep a simple secret."
"I couldn't hide it from him Amanda. He too knows how to see into other people's minds. He has agreed to keep our secret however."
"Maybe but do you know what he intends for our brother?"
"Our brother consumed stolen anima, a deadly crime in the eyes of his Centurions. Worse he consumed a large amount of it, enough to make him addicted. Our brother will suffer for what he did do not doubt that sister but Jason is the only one who's anima is strong enough to save his life. That is unless you wish our brother to become one of Lord Philip's Demon Spawn."
"How do you know that is true?"
"Because I've seen the truth in him," Louis said calmly.
Pacing about the room, Amanda searched desperately to continue the argument. Fighting with her brother usually helped her feel better about herself. "This is all General Yates fault. He told Jason about the stolen anima," she said pointed her fan at her brother accusingly.
"And lucky for us that he did. Lord Brashear did not have an endless supply after all. Eventually he would have run out and our brother would have suffered for it."
Feeling no joy Amanda sat herself down on the edge of the bed with a huff. "What is to become of House Sith... are we all to become enamored with the King of Qul Tos?"
"Jason has a plan, the only plan that matters as it is the only one that stands a chance of us surviving the storm that he has foreseen."
"What is this storm?"
"He won't tell me. I think he's afraid I would start worrying too much. I know all I need to know anyway and that is he is our only real hope."
"You are putting too much faith in him," Amanda replied.
"Maybe I am sister but I now find it is better to but too much faith in a man like Jason than too little."
"You have a beautiful city," Jason said as Amanda joined him by his side, both of them in their royal robes as the ship moved into the harbor of Vanhal.
"From what the bards sing no city can rival what you've done with Qul Tos," Amanda replied.
"I try," Jason chuckled.
"Enough of this modesty. In Vanhal one is judge by one's pride."
"You mean by how pompous they can be?" Louis chuckled join them from behind. In the week since he had received Jason's bond all remaining signs of his self pity had evaporated. Amanda too eventually forgave Jason and too her great joy he turned out to be a quick study in bed. The brother and sister still fought over how much to trust Jason but neither had a doubt about becoming a part of his life.
"We are a proud people Louis, try to remember that." Amanda said with a hint of coldness in her voice.
"Be nice," Jason chided.
"I am trying Jason but my brother's constant cheerfulness has put a gloom over my life."
"Must mean I'm not trying hard enough in the bedroom," Jason chuckled enjoying watching his fiancée blush.
"You have improved much since your first attempt." Amanda said coyly.
"How about we agree not to bring that matter up when we see your brother," Jason said in a pleading tone.
"And embarrass myself in front of all of my friends. I would rather die," Amanda said snapping open her black lace fan as sailors jumped from the ship to tie her down as trumpets announced their arrival.
Walking down the pier the three of them and Caleb were met by the royal carriage painted in the royal colors with black and yellow plumes. Inside the carriage an elderly man waited for them, a weary expression on his face.
"I apologize for the king not meeting you here but he's been ill of late." Drake, High Chancellor of Tal Sith apologized.
"He's sick?" Amanda said shocked, looking up at Jason.
"Aye and Lord Brashear is dead. He fell ill three days after you left for Tal Tannith. He suffered greatly before the end. Some whisper that the same malady now affects the king," Drake added.
"Then we should go see my brother at once," Amanda ordered giving Jason a worried look.
"That is what I've been instructed to do," the chancellor nodded. "The king seems to believe that your majesty might have a cure for his sickness."
"Not a cure but something that will ease his pain and ensure his illness doesn't become fatal," Jason replied. "But her highness is correct we should head for the palace at once."
Lifting up his ivory handled cane Drake hit the top of the carriage with it urging the driver forward. "And who are you young man?" Drake asked Louis, not recognizing him.
"This is Lord Labatt," Jason replied. "One of my personal advisors."
"I see... intimidating isn't he," he chuckled to Amanda.
"He's harmless," Amanda said trying hard not to laugh.
"I don't know about that." Louis said with a playful growl.
"Trust me he's harmless." Amanda said elbowing her brother.
"Where is your brother by the way?"
"He's gone on to Qul Tos to prepare for my arrival." Amanda replied with ease have practiced the lie several times in the mirror that morning.
"How dutiful of him," Drake nodded as they rode the rest of the way in silence.
Taken to a side gate instead of the main entrance in order to avoid the crowds of nobility the chancellor led them straight to King Samuel's royal chambers and to the man's bed where the sick king lay, his skin carrying an ugly grayish blue tint.
"If we might be alone with my brother," Amanda said dismissing the chancellor, the healers and other gathered servants. "Well this is your chance Jason," she said once they were alone with the king.
"I must talk with him first. It is only fair he understand what it is he is getting involved in."
"What is there to talk about," Samuel whispered in a weak voice. "Either I agree or die."
"There is a great deal we need to talk about," Jason insisted. "Once you are bonded to me there can be no turning back. I am afraid many people will be dead before all is said and done."
"What is this?" Amanda demanded.
"Silence sister. King Jason has come a long way to talk to me. You must not interrupt," Samuel ordered with as much authority he could muster. Stepping back Amanda left the side of the bed. "Go on King Jason... what devil's bargain must I agree to?"
"Once you are well I need to send your southern armies aboard ship and set sail for Aquanos."
"So they might join in a war with the Empire."
"Insanity... they would be slaughtered."
"I do not believe so. Horrible crimes are being committed in the name of the false Emperor Xavier. The loyalty of the old legions is questionable at best. If can persuade some of them to turn against Xavier we would stand a fighting chance."
"Are you so persuasive?" Samuel asked skeptically.
"Have you heard the ballad of the Legatio Bread Thrower?"
"Yes, a very amusing tale."
"I am the bread thrower the song is about," Jason replied. "If the Centurions won't follow me the Famulus will and they outnumber the Centurions ten to one."
"Tens of thousands would be slaughtered." Samuel refused.
"To be free of the nightmare Xavier has created it would be worth it," Jason insisted.
"For the Centurions maybe but it has nothing to do with my people. Anyway what of his demon... the one they call Armageddon? They say he is unbeatable."
"He is the Centurion I must convince to join me."
"And can you?"
"He was once a friend if not a lover," Jason replied honestly.
"Do such bonds still hold true?"
"I believe that they just might."
"This is a major risk you are asking me to take. I do not know if my life is worth that much."
"Know then that if I succeed in Domus the crown of Qul Tos will go to your bother Louis."
"What?" Louis shouted in surprise causing his sister to return to the bed.
"You would give up your throne to free your people from a tyrant?" Samuel asked skeptically.
"I am... but I will not be crownless. There is only one person who can lead Domus after all it's been through and I am unfortunately that person."
"How boastful you are." Samuel said with a dry cough.
"As I said it is unfortunately the truth. If I succeed I will have no choice but to replace Xavier on the Imperial throne. I will also be Overking of Qul Tos and Tal Sith and any other kingdom of the east which seeks an alliance with us."
"So you say you are offering my brother the crown of Qul Tos but in truth it will be you who steals my own throne."
"Your fears are pointless. I will be too busy repairing the damage Xavier has caused to interfere with your rule."
"Mayhaps," Samuel sighed. "Mayhaps your bond will enslave me to your will no matter what happens."
"That is the risk you must decide if you're willing to take," Jason replied.
"As I said in the beginning it is not as if I have a real choice. Bind me to you your majesty. If it saves my life I will bend knee to you."
"That is something I will never ask of you."
"But it is something that must be done. My people will not follow you otherwise."
"So be it," Jason said, going down to his knees to kiss Samuels dried cracked lips. "It is done, he said a minute later. His majesty will sleep for the rest of the day but come nightfall he should be able to rise."
"He will live?" Amanda asked.
"He will but the addiction is still in him. Some days he will feel fine but once in a while a weakness will take him and he will have to rest."
"You look tried Jason." Louis said worriedly.
"I am very tired." Jason said seeing the fear growing on both brother and sister's faces. "Have you not guess that I too suffer from the same sickness," he said with a weak chuckle.
"We didn't know," Amanda whispered feeling ashamed.
"It is unimportant," Jason said as he struggled to rise.
"Did you mean what you said? Do you really intend for me to replace you as King of Qul Tos?"
"I do," Jason nodded.
"What of our children." Amanda said.
"They are not even born yet. Even if we had such a child I fear he would not live long enough to do the post justice."
"I don't understand," Amanda said.
"I was born a Legatio Amanda. My children should therefore be born Centurion. A Centurion may only live forty years."
"But you can bond to them and extend their lives." Louis replied.
"That is something I will never do and forbid Philip from doing himself. My children will be my children and I will love them as such. The idea that I would bond one of my sons to me is not one I can stand. I will not have my children turn into my lovers." Jason said as he collapsed against Louis.
Chapter Nineteen: The Understanding of Lovers
Waking up the next day Jason knew he wasn't alone. Resting at his feet his toes could feel Jacob's furry coat. To his left he saw Julian's curly brown hair while to his right Louis was nestled against him, his shaven scalp shinning from the steams of daylight coming through the crack opened window. "Good morning you three," Jason chuckled softly.
"Good morning your majesty," Louis said in a low laugh. It is good you're feeling better."
"I just needed some rest," Jason replied as he sat up, Jacob climbing up his legs to him so he could like Jason's face.
"And how are you Jacob?" Jason asked.
"He is fine. We had a long chat." Louis said. "Why didn't you tell me he is your son?"
"Would you believed me if I did."
"Mayhaps... it would have made a curious story to say the least." Louis replied rubbed Jason's bare back. "We both agreed however that we enjoy watching you sleep."
"I knew Jacob did but I would think you would like me more active."
"I do but watching you sleep has its own pleasure. It is good to watch the weight of the world leave your face."
"I must have been very tired," Jason sighed.
"You did collapse into my arms," Louis pointed out.
"I'm sure you loved playing the role of my catcher." Jason smiled softly.
"I love having you with me any way I can," Louis whispered nuzzling the tip of his nose against the arch of Jason's neck.
"And you Julian?" Jason asked, turning his head to look at his High Priest.
"I know I have been a nuisance of late and I would like to apologize. Sometimes I preach when what I should do is listen."
"You were only telling people what you believe to be the truth."
"But I know you don't even believe it."
"Yes but that doesn't make either of us right or wrong."
"So you wish me to continue to preach my beliefs to the people of Ares."
"If you remain earnest about it, yes. As I told Louis I might have to leave my people in Qul Tos for a long time so I might settle things in Domus. I would not want the Tosians to believe I have forgotten about them. That is why I need you my High Priest to care and shepherd them while I am away."
"How long will you be gone?" Julian asked worriedly.
"Many years... though Xavier has been Emperor for only a short time he has done great damage to the Empire. It will take a long time for me to heal both the physical and emotional wounds the people have suffered."
"I will do my best to keep your memory alive in your people so when you return they will consider themselves twice blessed," Julian promised.
"I have no doubt you have that ability in you," Jason smiled.
"And I will do my best to be the king you think I can become." Louis said, turning Jason head back to facing him.
"I do not doubt you either Louis," Jason nodded.
"I never knew love could go this deep," Louis whispered as he wrapped his arms tighter around Jason.
"You did not believe anyone could love you," Jason replied now you don't just have me but all my Saints as well.
"Which is why you still remain a mystery to me. You are a fountain of love. Will your spring never run dry?"
"Not if my nature runs true," Jason whispered, resting his forehead against Louis. "I am an Angel and need love as much as I do food and water. When I see the love people have for me it is my nature to nurture and strengthen it so we both might benefit."
"That is a nice way for saying you're a slut," Louis said jokingly.
"The first men I met were Centurions. You can say they have greatly influence my views on sex. I'm not as bad as you might think. Where they act out of lust my motivation is that of a benefactor. My reward is seeing the pain removed from the faces of those I call friends."
"Then why don't you have entire armies of Saints?"
"Because, unlike a true Centurion, I can spread myself thin. Where a single sexual encounter can bind two Centurions together my Saints need constant tending. I am like a gardener who must look out for weeds and pests so that his plants may grow to their full potential. The numbers of my Saints are fewer than many would like but it is all I can to handle and properly tend the ones I do have. So yes I might be a slut by Sithian standards but I am not a Centurion slut," Jason chuckled softly.
"I was only joking."
"I know you were," Jason said as he rolled on top of Louis, pinning the man to the bed.
Letting out a deep moan Louis ran his hands down Jason's pale back. "Just to feel your skin is almost enough to overwhelm me."
"We are touching more than with our bodies," Jason whispered into Louis' mind. "You are part Grau and they are almost uniquely gifted in this manner of love."
Rolling Jason back onto his side, the front of their bodies still pressed together Louis waved Julian to join them, Jason's High Priest pressing himself again his king's back. "Do you feel strong enough for this?" He asked; his warm open mouth breathing against Jason's lips.
"I do," Jason said, letting his own mouth close the remaining two inches so their lips could meet. Sandwiched between the two Jason let his newest Saint make love to him each one exploring his and each other's bodies with great curiosity.
"I still wished I had a pair of wings," Louis sighed after their lovemaking as the three of them rested.
"You have other gifts Louis that none of my Saints have." Jason replied, resting his head on the man's chest.
"I hope you can put them to good use one day."
"I will," Jason promised as he closed his eyes to sleep again. When next he awoke it was to the motion of the litter he was being carried in. "Where am I going?" Jason asked Geoff who was by his side.
"I am sorry for you being disturbed but King Samuel says we should leave at once. He has already sent word to his armies. By the time we reach the Inner Sea they should be amassing in the port city of Tal Quarren. Anyway word has just reached us that civil war has broken out in Forstine so things might become more chaotic as we head down river.
"I understand but why the rush. King Samuel can't yet be strong enough for such a journey."
"His spies tell us that Xavier's legions are massing near the Duchy of Aquanos. Since you plan to launch your own invasion from there he feels we should reach there sooner rather than later."
"I hope he's not putting his health at risk."
"I saw him before coming to get you. He looks fit enough to travel. He greatly wishes to see you again my king," Geoff chuckled.
"If only I was strong enough but I am exhausted. This adventure is not even halfway over and I am already worn out."
"You can rest Jason. We still have two weeks on the river ahead of us." Geoff replied.
"I can trust you can keep his majesty entertained?" Jason asked.
"Jason?" Geoff said surprised.
"Keep him occupied for me Geoff, that's an order."
"As you wish your majesty," Geoff chuckled.
Once he had reached the carriage Jason saw a familiar sight. The insides had been turned into a large bed just as the carriage that took him away from Qul Tos over two years ago had been. Helped inside by Geoff, Jason quickly covered himself with three of the stuffed quilts inside as autumn had already arrived. He then slept once more dreaming of Philip and the warmth of the man's body.
Chapter Twenty: The World Will Not Wait for Its Hero
"Lord Philip, everything is ready. We can go through the cave anytime you wish." Captain Dorsa, one of his Spawn reported.
"Then we will leave tonight. Get some rest in the mean time. I do not know when we will be free to sleep again," Philip ordered as a winged Saint appeared. Seeing it was Varrus he stood up to greet him. "Varrus, any word of Jason?"
"He reached and has already left Vanhal with King Samuel. It seems they are making for the port city of Tal Quarren... so it seems are Tal Sith's southern armies."
"So he has seduced a king and stolen his soldiers," Philip laughed.
"Yes. My spied also report that Xavier is moving his legions south toward Aquanos.
"Does he know Jason is coming?"
"No, we believe he is acting out of his desire to recapture Aquanos for the Empire.
"That puts Jason on a clock. Will he get there in time?"
"Yes, my spies believe that Xavier is only moving his pieces in place hoping to scare Duke James into capitulation. We do not believe he will invade until the coming spring."
"By that time Jason and the Sithian Army will be at his doorstep," Philip grinned, revealing his sharp teeth.
"So Jason hopes I am sure. Marcus for his part has ordered half his legions westward toward to the Gate at the very least to divide Xavier's forces and if Jason's luck holds out to invade Domus from the north.
"If Jason can convince the Gate Guards to change sides."
"It is believed the men holding the Gate are loyal to Armageddon. If Jason can convince your brother to join him then he might just be able to do that."
"So you left the capital to deliver this news yourself?"
"No Philip, I came to take care of you," Varrus chuckled, knowing the eyes of Philip's Spawn were on him as he disrobed. "With Jason gone it is the duty of us Saints to sate your needs least your madness consume you."
"And you wish to fulfill that duty yourself," Philip chuckled standing up from his camp fire.
"It is what Jason would have wanted me to do," Varrus said as he walked naked to Philip.
"As I've said before you are too beautiful to be a true Centurion."
"My commanders would also add the term troublesome for all the hearts I broke," Varrus said as he wrapped his bare limbs against Philip's ebony body, lighting dancing across the Demon's skin.
Once he was indeed sated Philip walked naked into the cave and dove into its secret pool, swimming through the underwater tunnel until he was on the other side of the Jasper Mountains within the boarder of the Domus Empire once more. There he found several of his men had already made camp, drying off their weapons so they would not rust. Seeing a duck shaped rock Philip went to it clawing at the earth in front of it until his fingers found the gold staff hidden underneath. Taking the staff Jason had buried there almost two years ago he washed the remaining dirt off in the nearby pool. He then examined its intricate carvings and perfect balance. It had cost Jason 90 gold standards for the weapon smith Logan to build this perfect weapon for him. Philip was sure it would be the perfect gift to give his love when they met. Though he was perturbed by the way Jason and snuck off he was also very proud of him. Long had he and Marcus debated on how to save the Empire from Xavier but only Jason had the courage to actually do something about it. Philip knew such courage did not come free and that there would be a price to pay... most likely a terrible price. He only hoped he reached Jason in time to accept the burden himself. He could not fathom the idea of letting Jason endure any more pain than he already had in his short life.
"So this is the Kingdom of Forstine..." Julian said all the way down the river black smoke rose from towns and villages that had been ransacked and burned.
"How did the war start?" Jason asked Samuel as they stood on the deck of a Sithian warship.
"The king lost most of his army at the Battle of Qul Tos. That left him weak and dependent on his nobles to maintain order. A few of the stronger ones felt they could take advantage of his weakness and revolt. When the king's castle fell it is believed he and his entire family was put to the sword."
"Not all his family," Jason corrected.
"Well there are rumors that Prince Benjamin, a mere infant, escaped with his wet nurse before the castle was besieged but we have no proof that it's true."
"It's true," Jason nodded.
"Care to tell me how you know that?" Samuel asked. Seeing the look Jason then gave him he shook his head in defeat. "Never mind when you wear that expression on your face I should know better than to asked."
"It's just that if I were to tell you, I know you wouldn't believe me," Jason tried to explain.
"You might try. I could surprise you."
"So, if I were to tell you I dreamed everything that's happened and going to happen, you will feel comfortable with that?" Jason asked.
"You're right, better I not know." Samuel said looking at Jason as if he were half mad. "If you're so sure Ben's alive do you also know where he is?"
"Further down river." Jason answered pointing downstream. "In the town of Laddis."
"That's not far from the king's castle." Samuel nodded. "I take it your interest in him is not simple curiosity."
"Yes... I mean to rescue him."
"Not to bond I hope," Samuel said in jest only to take a step back from Jason when he saw the man glaring at him. "Just joking. You do know however that if you rescue the prince almost every noble in Forstine is going to be hunting us."
"Then we better make sure they don't find out," Jason replied, leaving the king's side to go where Louis was receiving sword lessons from Geoff. "Well," he asked his bodyguard.
"Right now the only thing he'll kill is a lot of time," Geoff smirked as Louis dropped his sword not for the first time.
"Not all of us can be warriors," Jason replied, patting Geoff on his shoulder.
"I could give him the best armor and weapons we have and a peasant with a pitch fork will still get the better of him. What I'm trying to say is it would be more useful it you and Louis worked on his better talents."
"Very well," Jason said before walking to Louis. "Enough sword practice today," he told Louis. "Come with me."
"Good," Louis said dropping his sword where he stood to follow Jason. "I try Jason but I just can't get the hang of it."
"Do not worry. I'm not disappointed. It would be nice if you were able to protect yourself a little."
"I know but even Amanda can best me," Louis said following Jason into his cabin. Going to the bed he stretched out his long body. "What are we going to do this time?"
"You and I are going to practice our mental exercises," Jason said lying down next to Louis.
"That all," Louis asked wiggling the eyebrows he didn't have.
"Yes Louis," Jason said calmly, taking Louis' nearest hand in his. Now close your eyes and relax. Let your mind wander." Jason said as he did the same. Less than a minute passed before he was suddenly hit with the image of his and Louis entwined in the passion of love. "Not that," he said sternly as he forced Louis out of his mind.
"Sorry," Louis apologized with a mischievous chuckle. The next time Louis entered Jason's mind it was with a gentle and much less graphic touch. "Is that better?" he asked.
"Much better," Jason replied as he felt his mind and body relax. He didn't catch the moment but at some point Louis managed to lull him to sleep. Soon he was dreaming and this time he wasn't alone.
Standing in a field filled with countless dead Louis say the smoking ruins of Qul Tos with dozens of vultures circling its once great towers. "Is this what you see for our future?" Louis asked Jason, surprising him just enough to wake him.
Popping open his eyes Jason turned to face Louis then man looking down on him his head propped up in his right hand, a grim expression on his face. "Well Jason, is it," Louis asked sternly.
"You shouldn't have seen that," Jason said. He tried to roll away to escape Louis' accusing eyes but was pulled back.
"Is it?" Louis asked again.
Closing his eyes Jason nodded his head. "It is."
"So there is no hope."
"No there is," Jason said opening his eyes again. "Not for my kingdom however."
"How can you say there is hope of you kingdom is destroyed?" Louis demanded, staring hard into Jason's eyes.
"The land and cities are not important... the people are." Jason explained.
"True, but the people must live somewhere."
"That is one of the reasons I go to Domus."
"You mean to conquer it?"
"I mean to save it, not just for the Centurions, Legatio, and Famulus but all the people of Ares."
"That is a lot of people. The Empire might be vast but it's not that large," Louis pointed out.
"Not everyone is going to survive Louis," Jason said forcing himself to say the dreaded words.
"Who?" Louis whispered.
"As many as I can," Jason replied.
"But not enough," Louis guessed.
"If I could save everyone but a single soul I will still feel as if I'd failed."
"I believe that," Louis agreed. "But we're not talking about one person we're talking about thousands, tens of thousands..."
"Millions," Jason replied. "Millions will die."
"How will you choose?"
"I don't know. Right now I'm acting as if I can save everyone but I know I can't. If I keep on grasping at every straw that passes through my fingers more people will die than need be."
"So, you're eventually going to have to decide who is worth saving."
"But I don't want to," Jason said grief filling his words.
"But who else can make such a choice. My guess is that when the time comes you won't just have to make the choice you will also be the only one who can. If that is the case I count all of Ares blessed."
"Then why do I not feel so."
"How long have you had these dreams?" Louis asked.
"They started after my twenty-second birthday," Jason replied.
"How long ago was that?"
"Eight months ago."
"So for eight months you been living with this, telling no one I guess."
"Yes," Jason croaked.
"Why Jason? Why carry such a burden alone?"
"Because there's nothing anyone can do to change it."
"I understand that. I also know what loneliness feels like. At least I did before now. Doesn't Philip wonder why you wake up screaming in the middle of the night?"
"He's never there," Jason cried in a painful tone, letting Louis roll him on top of his long body.
"What do you mean he's never there?" Louis demanded his temper rising. "He's your lover isn't he?"
"He, he usually leaves our bed after I fall asleep."
"To be with his Spawn. He's a Centurion. He needs to be with his men."
"No excuse. If I ever get my hands on him, well, I'll at least give him a pretty bad headache." Louis threatened weakly.
"He's my responsibility Louis, no one else's."
"Why do you remain with him? No one should be treated so."
"Because I love him and he doesn't realize what he's doing."
"You should tell him. You should go up to him, slap him in the face and tell him what he's doing is wrong."
"I can't," Jason replied. "It would destroy him."
"To tell him he is hurting you?" Louis asked confused.
"Yes," Jason whispered. "It is something he swore he would never do."
"But he broke that promise."
"He's a Centurion," Jason repeated.
"So I dare not call him an oath breaker."
"Does anyone know of your troubles with Philip other than me?
"Varrus, my High Chancellor."
Raising his arms Louis began stroking Jason's back. "And what does he think?"
"He thinks I should tell Philip the truth."
"And I agree with him so why don't you? Is your demon so weak as to be unable to face his shame?"
"He is very weak in the matters of the heart," Jason replied.
"Yet he managed to break the heart of an Angel." Louis sighed. "I'm sorry Jason. You try so hard to be strong for everyone but inside your dying. It doesn't have to be that way."
"I can't leave Philip. The consequences for both of us would be devastating."
"You can't leave him but that doesn't mean you should stop looking for happiness. There are over a dozen Saints on this very boat who adore you. Surely you can find some joy in one of their arms. Julian is not bonded to you but loves you more than his own life. I know I love you." Louis added almost as an afterthought. Not getting a reply Louis continued to rub Jason's back as he tried to find a solution for Jason. Eventually Jason, emotionally exhausted fell back asleep. It was then that Louis found an answer. There was no solution, not for Jason at least. There was one however for Louis. Closing his eyes he once again eased himself into Jason's mind searching for the pain and fear inside him. While the emotions ran too deep for him to remove he was able to wall them up with thoughts as thin as spider silk, not succeeding in hiding them but covering them enough as to make them appear hazy. Once he was done with that he decided to give Jason one pleasant memory... the vision of the two of them resting on one of Tal Sith's famous beaches, not making love but just being near each other with the sea's waves lapping their bodies and Ares' red sun warming their skin.
When he sense Jason was about to wake Louis ended the dream with a single kiss before withdrawing from Jason's mind. When Louis opened his own eyes he saw Jason was looking at him with his deep opal eyes.
"Thank you," Jason whispered before resting his head on Louis' chest.
"You know what I did?" Louis asked softly somewhat surprised.
"Yes," Jason replied, wrapping his arms under Louis' body to embrace him.
"I hope it helped."
"Can I ask for something in return?"
"Yes," Jason nodded.
"It doesn't have to be me but from now on no more sleeping alone, alright?"
"As you wish," Jason sighed.
"Good," Louis said as he returned Jason's embrace.
Chapter Twenty-One: The Rescue
After a week of nervous sailing through Forstine, Samuel reported to Jason in his cabin. "You told me to tell you when we were near Laddis, Jason."
"And we are?" Jason asked, turning away from where Louis and Julian were talking to him on the bed.
"Less than a half a day by foot," Samuel nodded.
"Then it's time," Jason said hopping off the bed. Seeing the worried expressions on his friends' faces he gave them an encouraging smile. "Don't worry; I know what I'm doing. See them smile back at him weakly he went out to the main deck of the ship where Geoff was waiting for him.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" His body guard asked.
"This is something I have to do," Jason said as he wrapped a heavy cloak over his back, covering his wings. After Geoff had done the same the two of them were carried ashore in a long boat.
"We will meet you down river of Laddis as planned." Samuel said before his men began rowing back to the warship.
"We better get going. We need to reach Laddis by nightfall." Jason said as he headed towards the nearby road.
"What's going to happen by nightfall?" Geoff asked worriedly.
"Nothing, I just thought with so much chaos that the roads would be more dangerous at night. Jason said as he started walking down the dirt road, his silver staff leading the way.
"Oh." Geoff said somewhat relieved.
As it turned out the two of them reached Laddis two hours before sunset, passing the town's burned down gates to find the streets flooded by people left homeless by the civil war.
"How cheerful," Geoff said glumly.
"I know but there's nothing we can do for them. All we can do is what we came for and that is to save an innocent baby." Jason said as he led Geoff to a seedy looking tavern.
"Are you sure we want to stay here."
"Look at the town. Over half of it is already been burned down," Jason replied his eyes looking over the destruction. "Trust me we need to be here."
"I was afraid you'd say that." Geoff said reaching under his cloak to grab the handles of his two assassin blades.
"If the outside looked bad the inside was worse. The smoke filled tavern reek of urine and of the moldy straw that barely covered its dirt floor. The barman who greeted them was an ornery looking fellow with scars on his arms and an unkempt bushy brown and gray mustache taking up half his soot covered face. Taking out a cudgel the man slammed it on the bar. If you want to come in here it'll be five coppers from each of you for the warmth of my fire."
"You call that a fire?" Geoff said, stopping Jason from reaching for his pouch. In the fireplace was nothing but a pile of smoldering ashes.
"It's warm, isn't it?" The bar keeper replied.
"Nothing a little piss wouldn't change," Geoff retorted opening his cloak to reveal the two short blades and half dozen daggers on his belt. "From the smell in here I'd say someone has already tried. I say you let us in for free and throw in the first round of drinks."
"A mercenary aye," The barkeeper grunted as he tried to measure Geoff's skill. "Fine you can come in but don't expect any free handouts. There are enough beggars clogging the streets scaring away good honest paying customers."
"Fine," Geoff said flipping a silver mark toward the barkeeper. "Something not watered down for my friend and me."
The barkeeper caught the coin midair bringing it quickly to his mouth to bit it. Once he was satisfied the coin quickly disappeared from sight. "Very well, I think we have a bottle of wine in the cellar. I'm not promising Huronite Gold but it's the best we have."
"That will do," Geoff said as he led Jason to the back of the tavern.
"I could have paid him." Jason said after we sat down.
"And that would have been a mistake. Flash too much money in a place like this and people will try to rob you if not kill you. If that man is a real barkeeper then I'm really a canary. My guess is a band of ruffians came through here, burned half the town down but when it came time to move on our so called barkeeper decided to set up business for himself here."
"What happened to the real barkeeper?" Jason asked.
"What do you think? A real barkeeper knows exactly is in his cellar or at least he should." Geoff replied. When the barkeeper came around with the bottle of wine and a pair of wooden cups that looked like they were starting to rot Geoff took the bottle away from the barman but didn't take the cups.
"Want a drink?" Geoff asked Jason as he popped the cork off.
"No thanks." Jason replied.
"Good, cause neither do I," Geoff said the acrid smell of strong vinegar hitting his nose. "So now what?"
"So now you cause a distraction while I try to make my way upstairs."
"Shouldn't be too much of a problem so long as you don't mind a few dead bodies." Geoff replied glancing over the rowdy crowd
"Geoff," Jason said in a scolding tone as he stood up.
"Accidents happen. It's not my fault how a man falls on my blades," Geoff said defensively.
"No killing," Jason insisted.
"Very well," Geoff sighed as he picked up the rancid bottle of wine. Going to the barkeeper he proceeded to slam it down on the man's head. "You call this wine?" He shouted as an all out brawl began."
Quickly climbing up the tavern's rickety stairs Jason made for the last door on the right and braced himself before slamming against the half rotten door. Inside he found a frightened woman holding a small two year old child who let out a scream just before a chair came crashing down on Jason's head. Not even fazed by the blow, Jason made a sweep of the floor with his staff knocking down a ragged looking unshaven man to the floor.
"It's alright, I've come to save the child," Jason said calmly while the man groaned on the floor clenching his legs.
"Most rescuers usually knock," the woman said sharply.
"Oh I'm sure that would have worked," Jason said eyeing the open window. "Please you must believe me the prince can't stay here."
"Prince? How, how do you know that?" The woman demanded putting herself between Jason and the toddler.
"Does this help?" Jason said ripping off his cloak to reveal his wings.
"The King of Qul Tos," the nurse maid said before fainting to the floor.
"Well I guess that makes things easier," Jason sighed putting his cloak back on before picking up the child in his arms, hiding him under his cloak. "Now be very quiet Ben," Jason whispered to the toddler as he left the room. Looking down to the main room of the tavern he found the place littered with bodies, Geoff the only one left standing.
"I thought I said no killing," Jason said as he bounded down the stairs.
"None of them are dead," Geoff insisted. "They might have a bad limp and have to learn how to wield a sword with their other hand but they'll live."
"You're enjoying this too much," Jason said when he reached Geoff.
"I have to stay in practice somehow. We should do this again." Geoff laughed as the two exited the tavern.
"Now for the hard part," Jason grunted as he walked back towards the town gate.
"The hard part... you mean what I did in there wasn't it?"
"You haven't even broken a sweat," Jason said accusingly.
"Thanks for noticing but tell me more about this hard part," Geoff asked as they hurried along.
"That hard part," Jason said pointing to the Forstine warship that had docked while they had been in the tavern.
"Oh," Geoff said suddenly noticing the armored soldiers now in the streets, many of them carrying crossbows. "I wondered why you didn't just fly in here to rescue the prince."
"That would have attracted a little too much attention for my taste," Jason nodded. "We wouldn't be in danger but..." Jason said holding Ben closer to him.
"I understand. We also don't want a bunch of warships attacking our single boat."
"Yes," Jason said.
"How are we going to get past the guards at the gate? It looks like their searching everyone." Geoff asked.
"I was hoping you would have a good idea," Jason replied honestly.
"We could always run for it," Geoff said.
"Risky," Jason said.
"Just leave it to me but if you could can you fold your wings around your little passenger."
"Yes," Jason said, now appearing almost pear shaped.
"Good, when I give the word run and don't stop for me. When you think you're safe fly. It's almost dark now so they won't be able to track you back to the ship."
"What about you."
"Relax as you said I'm enjoying this." Geoff chuckled. "You just better be back at the ship when I get there."
"I will," Jason promised.
"You better... I also hope you won't be too worn out." Geoff added.
"Because I can't think of a better way to top this than with a good ravishing." Geoff said giving Jason an evil grin. "Are you ready?" He asked when they were within ten feet of the gate.
"Yes," Jason replied.
"Good, now run," Geoff said as he drew out his pair of blades.
Running as fast as he could Jason pushed his way through the people waiting to be searched. Hearing shouts he felt a hand attempt to grab him but he easily shrugged it off. With the sound of clashing steel behind him Jason forced himself not to look back as he and a stampede of others ran out of the town. Only when he was at least five hundred yards past its walls did Jason risk looking back to see if he was being followed, seeing he wasn't he jumped, spreading out his wings wide, flying to safety. Looking down at Ben he saw the toddler's eyes were opened wide a wide smile on the prince's face as he flapped his arms about wildly. "Why am I the only one not enjoying this," Jason grunted bemusedly.
On reaching the ship he found Amanda waiting for him with a soft blanket in her hands. "Now give me the boy," she said eagerly.
"He's fine," Jason said the prince laughing in his arms.
"Give me to me Jason," Amanda demanded, shaking her blanket at him.
"You better do what she says," Louis chuckled as he approached them. "Sithian woman have a bad habit of not being able to let a baby pass them by without making a fuss.
"Hush you," Amanda said glaring at her brother.
"Would you like to go with this nice lady?" Jason asked holding Ben up so their eyes were even with each other.
"Taking a look at the overly sweet face Amanda was giving him Ben looked back at Jason stuck his tongue out and gave him a raspberry. He then reached out with his small arms to hug Jason's face. "Bird," he said happily.
"That's right," Jason laughed bringing the toddler closer to him, resting the boy's head on his shoulder.
"Fly?" the child asked hopefully.
"Not right now," Jason said bouncing Ben in his arms.
"Jason," Amanda said a hurt expression on her face as she clutched the blanket.
"Oh very well," Jason said passing Ben over to her.
"Bird," Ben protested reaching out back to Jason as Amanda wrapped him in her blanket.
"No, Angel," Amanda said pointing a finger at Jason.
"Bird," Ben insisted, pointing one of his own tiny fingers at his rescuer.
"It's okay Amanda; I probably do look like a bird to him." Jason laughed.
"You shouldn't be afraid to correct the child," Amanda replied still giving Ben a goofy smile. "Can you say Angel, AN-GEL." She stressed to Ben.
"BIRD," Ben said pointing up to the sky. Looking to where they pointed they saw Geoff flying toward them.
"I better wash up," Jason said. He didn't escape the tavern without picking up some soot and a few dirty smudges.
"I put fresh water in your room for you," Amanda said as she turned back toward her own cabin, Ben still in her arms.
"Why thank you," Jason said slightly surprised.
"Geoff told her too," Louis explained with a laugh. "It seems he planned ahead for his reward.
"I have some idea what he wants. My ‘impaler' wishes to be impaled." Jason chuckled.
"I wouldn't have guessed that," Louis smirked.
"He is a little strange about that but it is something he has always insisted on." Jason nodded.
"If you need me you know how to summon me," Louis said tapping his bald head.
"I know," Jason said going inside the ship to wash up.
After Geoff had been well and truly impaled he held Jason protectively close to him. "I really had fun today," he whispered. "We should do something like this regularly."
"I'm glad you enjoyed yourself but aren't you the one always telling me not to put my life at risk."
"That's what I realized today, you're not as defenseless and I assumed."
"I'm happy you know that now," Jason said kissing Geoff's left ear.
"I also realized today what a fool I've been," Geoff said rolling on top of his king. "How could I've been so blind Jason? Can you forgive me?"
"I don't understand?"
"I knew you've been sick of late but I didn't think you were so unhappy."
"Louis talked with you."
"Yes, and before you go screaming at him don't you think I have the right to know when you're in pain. I am your bodyguard after all."
"Does that mean you also guard my soul," Jason asked touching a lock of Geoff's blond hair.
"It is the most important part of you," Geoff said. "Remember what we promised each other, one day I would take you back to my home in Ingral and we would plant trees together?"
"Yes and I did make you its lord."
"You did, but it seems neither of us have had the time for planting trees. Maybe it would be better if we did."
"What are you suggesting?"
"I could take you away from all this, if that is what you truly want."
Running his fingers down Geoff's spine Jason smiled at his bodyguard. "I thank you for your offer my Captain and a part of me even wishes I could accept it but you know I must say no. I have too many responsibilities to my people, to all the people of Ares for that matter, to set them all aside. If all happens as I pray it will, we will have time to do the things we promised to each other, maybe not in Ingral, but somewhere where we can find some peace."
"Then I will look forward for that day with great anticipation."
"I will ask that you do not tell anyone of my problems with Philip."
"They already know Jason." Gideon sighed.
"Who does," Jason said worriedly.
"All your Saints and many of the Demon Spawn. Louis and I are not as skilled as you in hiding our thoughts from each other."
"I see, what is done is done," Jason sighed.
"We are here for you Jason no matter what," Geoff said embracing Jason tightly.
"And I do need you all," Jason whispered as he felt every one of his Saints reach out in an attempt to ease his pain.
"That's better," Geoff said as he saw Jason's expression relax as both of them began to fall asleep. Soon the ship left the banks of the Qulos River, sailing into the blue waters of the Inner Sea.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Meeting of Agents
"The Inner Sea... I never knew it was so big." Jason said as the ship joined the rest of the Tal Sithian fleet.
"You should see the great Barrier Ocean, those waters are truly endless." Samuel said dressed in a yellow and black officer's uniform. "Our people are said to have almost as much salt in our blood as the Jadoorians."
"You have almost as large of a fleet," Caleb said looking at the hundreds of other ships that now surrounded them.
"Nowhere near as many warships but we do compete with them on the southern trade routes. We even support privateers against each other's fleets."
"And Jadoor has not sought to declare a holy war against you?" Caleb laughed.
"No, they wouldn't dare. While the Confederacy has no love for the Empire it has always hated the Federation more."
"Why?" Jason asked. "Together the two could have joined forces and defeated the Empire long ago."
"You would assume we could but given our love for our independence most Easterners have always been very suspicious of Jadoor and its church." Samuel explained.
"But isn't that what your sister and brother are doing for me, creating a religion based on me?"
"That's different. Even I want to worship you at your feet if you would just let me."
"Does Geoff not make you happy?"
Wrapping an arm around Jason's waist, Samuel pulled the man closer to him. "Oh he does but I must say my heart still yearns for you my Angel."
Letting out a soft chuckled Jason turned his head to plant a soft kiss on the Sithian's cheek. "I know you do your majesty."
"Then why do you make me suffer so?" Samuel laughed, facing Jason.
"Do you suffer?" Jason chuckled.
"Every moment I do not have you in my arms causes me more suffering than I can bear."
"You will endure," Jason chuckled.
"I could endure much better if you would only let me become your Ser."
"My Ser?" Jason asked confused.
"Yes. It is an ancient custom dating back to when my kingdom was rules by the Talos Family. It is from that family that the other half of our kingdom's name comes from for their people were known as the Tals just as my people are Sithian."
"So your kingdom is known as Tal Sith?"
"Yes... after my people defeated House Talos we declared ourselves kings. Of course we could never have won our crown without the help of the Grau."
"What did they do for you?"
"They arranged an alliance between us and your Tosians. Back in those days your people lived only around the Tosian Mountains. They were not as rich as they are now but once they were the only source of iron for hundreds of miles. While the Tals were what you might consider more civilized than us. Your people's iron swords were more than a match for the bronze weapons used by Tals."
"And what did my people gain from allying with you in defeating the Tals?"
"Why Qul Hoth and control of the Upper Qulos River."
"Yes, I remember now... our two kingdoms fought for control of that city for centuries. Now it is no more." Jason sighed.
"But it can be rebuilt," Samuel insisted. "The Hothians may be no more but their desire for peace between our two kingdoms still lives on as it should."
"I know that tone. What is it you're thinking?"
"That we build a new city, a city of Tosians and Sithians, a united capital for both our people."
"Such a city cannot rise from nothing?"
"Qul Tos is the wealthiest kingdom in the east."
"But our wealth is not endless."
"It would almost be if you let my sister have her way with it. She can be very shrewd when gold is involved."
"So she has told me. What kind of city do you imagine us building?"
"There is a large island in the middle of Lake Hotha. With miles of water surrounding it I would imagine it would be easy to defend not to mention make a very beautiful spot for our new capital."
"Sounds a lot like the Federation Capital of Sol?"
"I thought so too," Samuel chuckled. It is about time the East had a single city to lead it."
"Sol does not rule the Federation, Samuel. Meltor in Jadoor is where all the real decisions are made." Jason pointed out.
"And I expect the same will be true of our alliance. I do take it you will be spending some considerable amount of time in Domus cleaning up their mess."
"Years," Jason sighed.
"Then give Louis and me a project. Let us build this new city for you, a holy city were all the East might unite behind you."
"A holy city?" Jason asked skeptically.
"Your legend is spreading Jason. Whether you like it or not the people will come to worship you. You know that. Why else have you named my brother and sister your Arch-Priests?
"If I don't take control of the Gray Robes they will become a danger to themselves and others."
"And I don't disagree with you Jason if I seem arrogant for wanting more than just the union between you and my sister I beg your pardon. My only desire is for the union between you and me to be everything it can be." Samuel said, desire in his voice as he resting his head on Jason's arm.
"And what do you think we can be?" Jason asked a hint of concern in his voice.
"We are both kings and know the true weight of our crowns. I know yours weighs more than my own. You know I've been king for the last seven years compared to your two. If my knowledge and skills can be of some use to you I give them to you willingly."
"And in return."
"I demand nothing; only... only beg you grant me a single boon."
"That you don't ask me to leave your side."
"Your people will need you." Jason whispered while Samuel nuzzled against him. "You were asking to be my Ser but you never told me what that actually is."
"As I said it is an old Sithian custom. Where Qul Tos is famous for its sapphires it is our women that are the gems of Tal Sith. Their virtue must be protected at all costs. We Sithian men however can be almost as notorious as your Centurions."
"So you find comfort in each other's arms?"
"Aye, until the day we wed we do. It's all very formal. Every spring in every farming community in Tal Sith unmarried men meet in the center of the village stark naked where the women come out with their brooms chasing the men away into the woods or if on the coast the dunes of the beaches. Nobles themselves also take part. Riding naked on horseback they are chased by those who dare until one man remains. That person becomes the nobleman's Ser for the year and if the nobleman wishes for many years on, until he marries that is."
"Do you have a Ser?" Jason asked.
"I do. I chose him on my second hunt. He is now my spy master."
"Then he and Geoff should meet," Jason replied.
"They will. Lance is on one of those ships out there."
"Then I should send one of my Saints to fetch him." Jason offered. "Maybe Geoff would like that task."
"There is no need." Samuel insisted.
"But he is your Ser. Do you not miss him?"
"He's a mother hen," Samuel grunted.
"So you love him," Jason chuckled.
"He never lets me have any fun," Samuel insisted.
"And he loves you," Jason said, laughing louder.
"Where is Geoff going?" Samuel asked when he saw the Saint fly away from the ship.
"Gone searching for your spy master no doubt," Jason said.
"Jason," Samuel said his brow furrowing.
"Yes your majesty."
"Lance will be most unhappy I asked you to be my Ser without asking him permission."
"You've also forgotten something." Jason said stepping back from Samuel.
"What's that?" Samuel asked.
"You have to catch me first," Jason said as he jumped up into the air, spreading out his white wings.
"No fair, you're a much better flyer than me," Samuel shouted before racing after Jason.
It was not until he reached the sandy shores of Tal Siths long coastline that Jason landed and waited for Samuel catch up with him. Already there were Geoff and a tall thin man with very short black hair, his lanky arms crossed over his chest. "I see you found the king's spy master." Jason winked at Geoff.
"He didn't come without a fight." Geoff chuckled throwing two long daggers into the white sand.
"I hope you didn't hurt the king's Ser," Jason said giving Lance an examining look.
"To think I would be kidnapped by the infamous Geoff Weston," Lance grumbled keeping a wary eye on the Saint.
"It is all for the best," Jason insisted with a small smile as Samuel landed next to him.
"That was a merry chase," Samuel laughed as he clung to Jason.
"We are not alone Samuel," Jason chuckled softly his eyes on Lance's dimpled face.
"Oh, well hello Lord Caldor," Samuel said nervously, sliding off Jason's back.
"Your majesty," Lance bowed.
"Two kings and their master spies... what mischief are you up to Jason?"
"Very simple... Lord Caldor you do recognize Geoff for his superior skill?"
"There is no finer assassin in all of Ares." Lance said giving Geoff a respectful nod of his head.
"And what of your king... is Samuel Sith the finest king your people have ever known?" Geoff asked.
"He tries." Lance said with a smirk.
"So why were you not at the palace when we arrived?" Jason asked.
"The king had need of me elsewhere."
"Where," Geoff demanded, giving the spymaster a hard nudge.
"You can tell them Lance. It doesn't really matter anymore." Samuel said as he sat himself down on the sand.
"I was on a mission... to Lady Cirrus."
"As in Count Sirrus' of Huron wife?" Jason asked.
"The very one. Since he was Supreme Commander of the Confederacy army that tried to destroy your kingdom my king felt having a spy hidden within his household was the prudent course of action." Lance said.
"Don't blame me for this. It was your idea." Samuel insisted. "Anyway I did us no good. It turned out that Lord Sirrus loves no one but himself. We learned nothing of his plans from his wife or son."
"I was just on my way back from Huron when I learned that my king had decided to send the army to Aquanos. I of course immediately became concern for his sanity. When I learned Lord Weston was here, my concern only deepened."
"But now you see how sweet a man Geoff is," Jason said going to his bodyguard to squeeze his hand.
"Sweet isn't the word I would use," Geoff insisted.
"Why was I brought here?" Lance asked.
"Your king made me an offer without asking you, his Ser, advice. I brought you here so he could."
"And what is it my king desires?" Lance asked Samuel.
"He wishes to become my Ser." Jason said.
"A king becomes a Ser to another... what foolishness is this, your majesty. Have you no honor."
"I... well, I... Well look at Jason. Just being near him fills my mind with thoughts I can't control."
"Your king is indeed beautiful Lord Weston," Lance told Geoff. "Has his looks addled my king's brains? Is he a threat to my people I wonder?" Before Lance could close his mouth he was flat on the ground with one of Geoff's blades against his throat.
"As you said, the best in Ares," Geoff said his face wearing a glower.
"That's enough Geoff. I want us all to be friends here." Jason said as he led Samuel to his spymaster.
"Then may I?" Geoff asked; keeping Lance pinned under him.
"Of course," Jason nodded. With his king's permission Geoff let his expression soften, his hands removing Lance's black uniform. Beneath him the spy master whimpered his growing desire as if he had fallen under a spell."
"What has Geoff done to him?" Samuel asked, wide eyed.
"Only giving what your spy master desires."
"To be in the arms of a man he knows to be his better, someone he admires even if only begrudgingly."
"You planned this didn't you?"
"Yes. Don't you feel the same towards me?"
"I wouldn't go as far as call you my better." Samuel said as Jason pulled him closer to him.
"Of course not... I didn't pick you to be one of my guards or another one of my teachers."
"Then what use do you have for me?" Samuel asked becoming giddy as he felt Jason wrap his arms around him.
"I wish for you to be you and keep your honor as a king even if that means to disagree or even challenge me."
"To challenge you would take some daring."
"Can you Samuel? As a king have you not had to stare down your own lords? Have you not stood your own debating the war with the other kings?"
"I have but you, you are different."
"No I'm not. I'm only another king no different from you. Some days Lord Varrus has to do a lot of convincing to make me believe even that."
"I do not know if I dare challenge you Jason." Samuel whispered.
"But you will try, won't you?" Jason asked hopefully.
"That depends on how well you take my advice." Samuel chuckled burying his face against Jason's towering body.
"And what is it you wish to advise me."
"I would advise you show me what kind of lover you really are."
"I cannot promise anything?"
"I know you have other commitments... other men in your life. If I become nothing more than just another one of them I will not count myself unlucky."
"You all deserve better than me," Jason said feeling Samuel's wet lips caressing his chest.
"That is the tragedy isn't it. There is only one exactly like you. I've never seen your demon but I know I would not want to have to challenge him for you. " Samuel said in a moaning voice.
"I'm glad you don't have to." Jason chuckled.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Across the Plains of Domus and To the Inner Sea
Approaching Philip holding a thick stick as a cane the Famulus elder went down to his knees before the demon. "We thank you Lord Philip. If the Centurions had been allowed to steal our harvest we would have all died before the end of winter."
"Do not honor the Oath Breakers with the name of the Centurions," Philip said looking at the pile of bodies around him.
"It was us who were at fault." The elder bowed. "We should not have resisted."
"Nonsense," Philip grumbled. "You are Famulus, mere children in our eyes. It is the duty of us Centurions to protect you. To do otherwise would name us Oath Breakers as well."
"Once again you have our thanks Lord Philip but my people cannot stay here. We must flee south to Aquanos. Emperor Xavier will not let our defiance go unpunished as you can quite well imagine. As you asked five of our men will remain here to serve you in any way you desire," the elder said looking back at the row of men standing nervously behind him.
"Do not fear Elder they will serve me well and take their just revenge on the Oath Breakers."
"Revenge... is that what you think what we Famulus desire. It is peace we want Lord Philip. The peace you Centurions once gave us. Give us that and your name will be long remembered among my people."
"I will give them both then," Philip said as he walked over to where the five men were standing.
"So is your right Lord Philip. By your leave I must see to the packing of the wagons. This night will be a long one I'm afraid."
"Do not worry about being followed. My men will remain here until Xavier sends his counterblow. I will then march south behind you. It is time I made my way to Aquanos myself." Philip said as the elder hobbled away.
"Well Famulus, what should I do with you?" Philip chuckled, knowing full well what he wanted.
"There is much blood on your clothes and body Lord Philip. Shall we prepare a bath for you?"
"A bath would be greatly enjoyed but I see no sight of a bathhouse."
Going down to his knees a dark haired man lowered his head as if ashamed. "I beg your pardon Lord Philip but we let the baths go cold months ago so the Centurions would have less of a reason to come here."
"I see..." Philip sighed. "There is the nearby stream."
"It is winter Lord Philip. You will find the waters quite cold," another of the Famulus replied.
"Do you think I fear the cold?" Philip roared with laughter.
"But how will we bathe you Lord Philip?"
"You do not think I can keep you all warm?" Philip asked, caressing each man's face with his black tail.
"Lord Philip..." One of them said fearfully.
"Do not be scared." Philip cooed. "When I have bonded to all of you none of you will know fear again."
Hearing the bells of Aquanos ring out in alarm, Duke James left his cushioned throne for the balcony of his palace, peering toward the harbor. Past the sea wall and just within sight was a fleet of ship, each one waving a yellow and black banner. "Tal Sith... what by the Mother is they doing here," James cursed as if he didn't have enough problems with legions of Xavier's Centurions massing on his northern border. "Kyle," he shouted.
"Yes beloved?" The short skinny demon asked, waving his tail in a whimsical manner.
"Fly out and see what the Sithians want and why they've brought a fleet to my doorstep."
"What if they were to capture me...? I am not as strong as you my duke," Kyle grinned as he wrapped his tail around James' muscular frame.
"Then that will give me an excuse to rescue you. From what I remember you like being rescued."
"I like what happens after I am rescued." Kyle laughed. "Just promise me you won't keep me waiting too long. He said before he jumped on the balcony's railing before spreading out his black leather wings to fly south to the approaching ship. He made it only as far as the sea wall that protected the city's harbor when he saw a dozen flying shapes rapidly approaching him. "This looks like trouble," he mumbled to himself as he hovered in the sky. When he saw the one who led them Kyle could not help but let out a deep breath. "By the Mother... it can't be."
"Are you Kyle... the one known as the Imp?" One of the black winged Saints demanded, holding a javelin in his hands.
"I am he though I don't like being called an imp," Kyle replied, wishing not for the first time that his transformation into a demon had left him more formidable looking.
"Then Kyle of Aquanos may I present the Holy King of Qul Tos, Jason the IX." The man said as the Angel flew forward.
"Hello Kyle," Jason smiled
"Why, hello," Kyle said his mouth agape. James had his own aura about him but compared to the King of Qul Tos it was like a candle compared to the sun.
"We understand that Emperor Xavier is threatening your lands and have come to help."
"Help?" Kyle said surprised feeling weak all over. "Oh I see. I better take you to James then. Anchor your ships here while you follow me," He said in a stunned voice.
"We will follow you," Jason nodded.
"Hopefully to the bedroom," Kyle chuckled to himself.
"Maybe even there," Jason replied hearing Kyle soft comment. He watched amused with the demon began to blush, something he could never remember Philip ever doing.
"Well?" James demanded when Kyle and a dozen winged men in silver armor entered his audience chamber.
"James may I present his majesty the King of Qul Tos," Kyle bowed with a flourish.
"King Jason," James said arching an eyebrow as the king stepped forward past the protection of his winged guards. "Long have we wanted to meet with you."
"So have I your grace," Jason said politely.
"Now that I see you I can now understand Amplexor's interest in you. You are in grave danger holy king."
"There hasn't been a time in my life where I've not been in danger."
"This danger is more serious than those you faced in the past," James said stressing the seriousness in his voice. "Please we need to talk but not here. Follow me."
"About my ships first," Jason said.
"You have not come to invade us?"
"No but to help remove the threat the Empire presents to both our people."
"Then they are most welcome and are free to enter my harbor. I suggest though they remain on their ships until we can both agree on where to house them."
"Agreed," Jason said, waving one of his Saints off to deliver the message to the waiting ships.
"I must say you have surprised me Jason. I didn't know Qul Tos had such a fleet." James said as he led Jason out of his audience hall and toward his private quarters.
"As their banners show they are Sithian ships."
"Yes, another surprise. I didn't know you and Tal Sith were such close allies either."
"Our alliance is new and we hope still secret." Jason replied.
"I see," James chuckled as he left his throne for his personal chambers. "Was the king of Tal Sith so easy to seduce?"
"Very," a Saint with platinum blond hair said, removing his silver helmet.
"Ah, King Samuel you should have told us you were with the king." James chuckled.
"In this matter I have given my full trust to Jason," Samuel said proudly.
"I am not surprised. Seeing Jason I don't know if I could ever muster the will to say no to him," James replied, Kyle giving him a slap on the rear with his tail.
"I saw him first," Kyle said in a pouting tone.
"You must forgive my demon. He is as the rumors say very much an imp but I love him none the less. I take it is the same with you and your demon. Is he with you by the way?"
"No, Philip is on a different road than me even though our paths will reach the same place," Jason replied.
"Is that wise? I know Kyle. He would never let me out of his sight for long."
"Nor would Philip."
"So you are king of Qul Tos but find the need to sneak out of your very own palace?" James laughed.
"I asked Philip to come with me but he refused when I told him it was to save his brother, the man you know as Armageddon."
"Save that mad man? Better to have him killed," Kyle snorted.
"I will save him, one way or another," Jason said in a pained voice that left no doubt of his commitment. "What I do I do for the good of all of Ares?"
"And what I am about to show you is for the good of us all," James said as they entered his private chambers. Going to his study he retrieved two lacquered boxes, taking them back to the sitting room where Jason waited. Placing the boxes on the table he removed the lid of each, revealing the daggers inside. One with a handle of white ivory, the other as black as obsidian. "May I present the Banes... the only known weapons that can kill our kind," James said.
"How did you come by such weapons?" Jason said swallowing hard.
"They were given to me by the man who made what I am today. Have you never heard of the one called Amplexor?"
"No I have not."
"So it is true, you and your Philip are a true pair, an Angel and Demon created through love and not science. All the more reason you both are in danger."
"Why?" Jason asked, perplexed.
"Because Amplexor wants you, your anima core that is. He believes it is the key to reviving his own Demon, the one called Gladuis."
"What happened to him?"
"Old age," James replied.
"I don't understand," Jason said the words choking in his throat.
"A demon lives many years but is not immortal unlike us and Amplexor. After three hundred years they begin to become tired spending more and more time asleep than they do awake. Eventually they never wake up but remain asleep forever."
"That was not what I was told," Jason said stammering as tears ran down his face. "I can't lose him... not ever."
"It is his fate your majesty. A fate my Kyle shares with him," James said as he wrapped an arm around his lover's slender waist.
"He lied to me," Jason said bitterly as his tears continued to fall.
"Who?" Samuel asked.
"Kristen, the man from Mordel. He told me I had saved Philip from his Centurion fate."
"And you have Jason. Your Philip will live centuries beyond that of a normal man and nearly ten times that of a Centurion. You should cherish the years you have Jason for they are all you will ever be given," James said with deep sympathy.
"Why did Amplexor give you those daggers?" Jason whispered after he had recovered somewhat.
"As I said he covets your anima core so he might revive his lover. He cannot wield Angel's Bane himself for only a Demon can kill an Angel. He is also afraid of your lover for Philip is the strongest of his kind I have no doubt. By giving us the knives he hoped to let us do his dirty work. Do not fear though, Kyle and I have no intention of committing such a foul deed." James said as he covered the boxes with their lids.
"Then why do you keep the knives. Why not throw them into the bottom of the sea?" Jason asked.
"Because these are not the only pair. The King of Jadoor, my former lord and his demon Dorian have a pair of similar knives. Given the bad blood that is now between us we dare not give these daggers up least we come to need them to defend ourselves."
"I understand better than you think," Jason sighed, recalling the memories Melkior's anima had passed on to him. "I am grateful for your warning and your promise."
"I might have been a soldier but I have no desire for needless bloodshed. Something needs to be done about Xavier, no doubt about that however. Every day hundred of Famulus attempt to flee into my lands. I dare not count how many have been killed by Centurion patrols."
"Hopefully together we can end this nightmare," Jason replied.
"And what will you want in return?" Kyle, ever the son of a merchant, asked.
"Peace and stability for both Aquanos and Domus," Jason replied.
"Reunification," James chuckled knowingly.
"Aquanos as an independent duchy is a sharp thorn in Domus' side. The Empire will never be safe so long as your lands can be easily invaded by sea."
"What is it you are suggesting then?"
"That you give Aquanos back to the Empire after all is said and done. You will then be given it back as its governor."
"You can promise such?" James asked skeptically.
"If I succeed I can," Jason replied.
"So you would replace one emperor for one of your choosing?" Kyle asked.
"Don't be a fool, he plans to become emperor himself," James laughed.
"Only because there is no one else who can be," Jason replied. "Ask your Famulus about me, they all know who I am. After what the Legatio have gone through, they will trust only one of their own kind to lead them. The Centurions know me and know that I have done what no Legatio has ever dared do, give my one and true bond to one of their brothers. Those who are not fervent followers of Xavier I believe will respect if not follow me."
"What of Field Marshal Marcus, by all rights he should be next in line for the throne?"
"Though they know Marcus is no Xavier I do not believe the Famulus will ever trust a Centurion as their leader until their wounds have had a chance to heal. That will not happen for many years."
"Kyle, bring the Famulus Elders here. I must see if their faith in Jason is so great," James ordered.
Once Kyle was gone James tossed his gold circlet off his head. "I am bewildered by you your majesty. I've never met someone so young who could make me feel so weak. I am sure Kyle feels the same."
"He does," Jason nodded.
"You could command me to do what you want and I would most likely find myself obeying but you haven't. Why?"
"I want you to make this choice of your own free will considering the lives at stake."
"Lives are at stake no matter what I choose. Either I go to war with you or I wait here for Armageddon to tear through my lands like a juggernaut."
"Leave Armageddon to me," Jason said.
"That is courageous of you." James chuckled. "He scares even me."
"You know better than anyone else I know what it means to be what we are." Jason whispered.
"That I might," James nodded licking his lips. "Yet next to you I feel less divine."
"That is why I spend most of my time isolated in the Labyrinth Keep. I know all too well the effect I have on my own people. It is a power that's been growing stronger with the passing of time."
"You seem unhappy?" James said concerned, tossing off his robe as he approached Jason wearing only a white tunic.
"Tell me about your dreams?" Jason replied.
"Do you want to know what I am dreaming about right now?" James asked, inches away from Jason, the two almost equal in height.
"No I already know that your grace. Tell me have you ever dreamed of the future."
"I do not know for sure. I have dreamed of the future but those events have yet to pass so I do not know if they are true visions or not."
"What do you dream?"
"I dream of Aquanos afire, Jadoorian troops killing woman and children in its streets. I've seen King Aidan standing in my audience hall where my followers are in chains. I've seen Amplexor guiding the king into madness."
"I am sorry James, but I am afraid that is a true vision. Is that why you have kept the Banes?"
"Yes, if my city is to be destroyed I will at least have my revenge. Have you had the same dream?"
"No, a worse one with only one way to avoid it from coming to pass," Jason said, pain growing on his face. "I have never desired power James but nor can I stand aside and let people suffer senselessly. If I am to make the people my responsibility I must have the power to succeed in protecting them."
"Is that why you looks so unhappy... you feel yourself forced to do things you do not want," James said brushing Jason's face with the tips of his fingers.
"If I could have it my way I would take Philip and our friends away from all this to a land of eternal peace where only our love for each other exists."
"If only there was such a land and you could cast aside your heavy burden so easily. We are both creatures of love my king. I cannot lie and say I have not dreamt of you as well."
"I have dreamt of you too," Jason whispered.
"And what have you seen?"
"That I need you and Kyle almost as much as I do Philip and Varrus."
"Who is Varrus?"
"He is my mentor and the first man I have ever fallen in love with."
"It was not Philip?"
"No, I've loved Philip from the moment I saw his face but it was a different sort of love. He was my rescuer, my savior, my protector. He was the father I never had. Before I could bond with him I had to give that all up to accept him as my lover. It was not easy to say the least. It is still not easy. There are times Philip still sees me as a child and I am too afraid to challenge him."
"But you picked him."
"Yes, though my love for him was not the romantic love I had for Varrus it went much deeper... deep enough for me to give him my true bond regardless of knowing that our love was doomed to tragedy."
"Then I give you these so you might have the chance to be with your Philip a little longer. Give Angel's Bane to your Demon and should he succeed in killing King Aidan he can consume the Angel's core. If he does that he will remain with you for another three hundred years."
"I cannot ask Philip to kill one of my own kind... what of his demon. Won't he go mad?"
"Dorian is a tragic figure I am afraid. He loves Aidan with all his heart but that does not mean he has not been hurt by the king's actions. He knows his lover has been corrupted by Amplexor but he feels powerless to do anything about it. If Aidan dies I believe Dorian would welcome death before madness can claim him."
"What went wrong with them?"
"A Centurion is born knowing when he will die and can accept that burden. Aidan however can't. He is so afraid of losing Dorian that he is willing to do Amplexors bidding just to extend his lover's life a little longer."
"And yet you want me to kill him?" Jason whispered.
"Before he tries to kill us," James insisted. "You must know Jadoor now sees Qul Tos as the only rival preventing it from dominating all of Ares."
"I have heard such rumors," Jason nodded.
"Whether you like it or not Aidan means to war with you and kill you if he can. After all it is said that only the anima core of a true angel can grant a demon immortal life."
"I did not know that. I didn't even know I could lose Philip," Jason said large gray tears falling from his black opal eyes.
"Not for many years to come," James said pulling Jason closer to him with his arms. "Please Jason give me your burdens. I cannot stand seeing one of you so sad. An Angel should be a beacon of joy and hope not tragedy."
"The elders are here," Kyle said just as James was about to kiss Jason.
"Please show them in," James said as he guided Jason to the middle of a large sofa where he and Kyle could both sit with him.
"So it is true," one of the elders whispered on seeing Jason. The Legatio bread thrower has returned to save us all."
"You know Jason?"
"There is not a Famulus who doesn't know of his kindness," the elder replied, going down on his knees to bow in front of the King of Qul Tos.
"Or how he dared the anger of a field marshal for what he tried to do for us," the second elder said going down to his knees as well.
"Or how he found true love in the arms of a Centurion fulfilling the prophecy," An old woman said joining the two men on her knees.
"Have you come to save us?" the first Famulus asked with hope in his voice, looking up while his head remained aimed at the floor.
"I have come to save Domus," Jason nodded.
"Bless you master," the woman said, tears running down her face.
"Tell me elders if I succeed in removing Xavier what would you have me do with the Empire?" Jason asked for James' benefit.
You are the only one left we still trust."
"What of Field Marshal Marcus?" Jason asked.
"He is not a popular man among the Famulus. Though we understand his reasons for not coming to our aid we still feel he could have done more to fight the false Emperor."
"Is that how all the Famulus feel?" James asked. "You would have Xavier cast down only to raise Jason in his place."
"It is the most we can ever dream of," the woman said. "Before Xavier life for us Famulus was not easy. If one of us committed a crime and entire family would be punished. Jason was there when Field Marshal Gorr was assassinated and knows many of us were slaughtered as punishment. The Legatio Senate was just as bad for its corruption. Jason as a tyrant would be better than how things have been for us for a long time."
"I see you were telling me the truth," James apologized to Jason. "The elders speak with the voice of their people. If they believe you should become emperor I do not doubt it is also the desire of most Famulus as well."
"Elders I will do all I can to see an end to Xavier's rule but I need your help."
"Name it your majesty," the man in the middle said.
"I want word of my arrival here to spread to Domus. I want every Famulus in the Empire to know what it is I intend to do."
"It will be the first joyous song we have sung in a long time," the first man said as all three bowed deeper. They then stood and left."
"Was that wise?" James asked. "I thought you wanted to come here in secret."
"My alliance with Tal Sith, yes, now that I'm here however there is no need to hide my presence. In fact if I'm to succeed I must prepare the people to rise up against their false emperor."
"I see... you want to spur Xavier into a fight before he is ready," Kyle chuckled wrapping his tail around Jason's waist.
"I want him to be desperate... desperate enough to send Armageddon after me even knowing our past relationship," Jason replied.
"I cannot stress how dangerous Armageddon truly is," James warned.
"I know but he is the key to everything. If I can't save him I won't be able to save anyone," Jason sighed, his mind becoming filled with the growing desires of the two men between him.
"Enough worrying. It is time Kyle and I lifted some of your burdens off you Jason." James insisted as his large hands explored Jason's body.
"I miss Philip," Jason whispered looking into Kyle's white glowing eyes.
"And I am sure he misses you," Kyle whispered back before kissing Jason on his spine.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Forward the Banners
"We are getting closer to him, I can feel it," Philip said as they approached the boarder to Aquanos. Already he and his Spawn had to kill three Centurion patrols. Along the way they had picked up followers, frightened Famulus wishing to flee south."
"It is still many miles to the city of Aquanos," a youthful Famulus names Thaddeus warned.
"At least I know where he is," Philip chuckled. "When I get my hands to him I am never going to let him out of my sight again."
"You are not mad at him."
"I was once a Centurion. How can I be mad at someone trying to be so brave? I am only disappointed in myself. He asked me to come with him and I refused. I only hope Jason can forgive me for my stubbornness."
"I see," Thaddeus whispered.
"Do not worry we both love each other enough to see beyond our faults."
"I must say you seem happier than usual."
"As I said I now know where Jason is. I also know what he is up to," Philip said almost as an afterthought.
"Yes, I can think of no better hands for he to be in than the Duke of Aquanos and his Demon lover's... other than my own of course."
"You don't mind Jason sleeping with other men?"
"I would be the biggest hypocrite in all of Ares if I did," Philip laughed.
"I see," Thaddeus whispered again.
"Do not worry young man I have no intention of ravishing you. I am eager to fly forward to reach Aquanos as soon as possible."
"You won't leave us behind?" Thaddeus said worriedly.
"No I won't. I promised I would see you safely to Aquanos and I will keep my word."
"Thank you Lord Philip. If it weren't for you the Centurion patrols would have killed us by now."
"It is what Jason would have wanted me to do," Philip sighed, his heart aching to be with his lover again.
Standing on the edge of the practice grounds Armageddon watch Felix perform the hundred exercises of a sword master with expert precision. "Very good Felix," he chuckled to himself when he saw the Legatio perform an exceptionally difficult move.
"Field Marshal," Xavier said, breaking Armageddon's chain of thought.
Turning around quickly Armageddon went down on one knee before the emperor. "Yes your majesty."
"I have news... news you will find interesting. It seems King Jason of Qul Tos has made his way to Aquanos. He must be a fast talker because the armies of the duke are now moving north to face us."
"I see. How do you plan to respond?"
"By sending you of course. I do not know what the brat is up to but I'm sure he has a few tricks up his sleeves. I can think of no other man better suited to face him then you my demon."
"Do you wish for me to take him prisoner?"
"If you can. It is said he can fly. My guess is that once he faces your armies he will fly away like the Legatio coward he is. I want his armies smashed however. You will then proceed with the invasion of Aquanos."
"This close to winter?" Armageddon said surprised.
"It has never snowed in Aquanos... it is too far south."
"But still there will be no grass to feed our horses with."
"Feed is expensive so use only infantry." Xavier said with a wave of his hand.
"That would put us at a disadvantage," Armageddon warned. "It will limit the range of our scouts and leave us vulnerable to their own cavalry."
"Our legions have faced harsher odds and prevailed."
"As you say my Emperor," Armageddon said bowing deeper. "If I do capture Jason I ask that I might use him for my own entertainment."
"What kind of entertainment?"
"There is no love lost between him and Felix. I would like to see the two of them face each other in the dueling ring."
"A duel between Legatio... to the death, how extravagant. And event like that must be held here in the capital of course."
"I will strive to deliver him to you then," Armageddon promised, a smile growing on his face. When Xavier was gone Armageddon couldn't hold back his shout of joy any longer. Jason had finally come as he knew he eventually would. This was the chance he had been waiting for a chance to claim Jason for his own. It had been Philip who had ordered him to remain at the Academy only to fall into Xavier's web. It had been Philip who had jealousy kept Jason close to him but Xavier did not say that Jason's demon had come only that the King of Qul Tos was now in Aquanos. Watching Felix continue to practice Armageddon hatched plans of his own. Jason's return should be met with a proper gift after all.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Angels Entwined
Waking up, with a start Jason was half surprised to find he not alone as so often happened back home. Instead he felt a pair of warm arms around him. Looking up he saw James' pale glowing face looking down at him with concern. "Another nightmare?" the duke whispered.
"It was nothing," Jason whispered back, not wishing to wake Kyle.
"Do not think to lie to me King of Qul Tos. You almost leapt out of the bed for a moment. You should also be careful around me. What is in your heart is not as well hidden as you might think."
"Good, I am tired of hiding," Jason sighed as he sank deeper into James' embrace.
"Do you regret your choice?" James asked after a long silence.
"What do you mean?"
"Picking Philip to be your demon."
"No... if not him there would have been no one."
"But he has hurt you."
"Yet every time you say his name a pained look grows on your face."
"You aren't angry with him. By all rights you should be. He is your Demon after all. His place should be at your side."
"I cannot force him to forgive his brother and Alex has done horrible things."
"Yet you forgive him."
"I never had the need to. Regardless of what Alex is done he is and will ever remain my friend."
"You love him."
"Does he love you?"
"Too much," Jason sighed.
"How can someone love you too much?" James chuckled softly.
"Can't love lead to despair."
"Are you asking will I despair when Kyle goes into his deep sleep then yes I understand what you are trying to say. If Alex loved you so much how did he not end up being the one?"
"It wouldn't have worked. He loved me more than I was capable of loving him. I love Philip but I do love others, something Alex would have never tolerated as my Demon."
"The jealous type," James laughed. "Kyle can be the same way. As his body suggests he tends to be very insecure about his place in my life."
"I don't mind. I like that Kyle feels he needs me. Dealing with his fears is a simple task. I wish all things were as easy."
"He doesn't feel jealous toward me does he?"
"Does he have reason to be? Trust me Jason he is enjoying your company immensely. After all how many Demons do you know who gets to have two angels dote on him?"
"And you your grace?"
"I suspected something was missing from my life. Until you entered it I didn't know what that something was."
"And what was that?"
"An equal," James chuckled.
"But you're many years older than me."
"Given how long the two of us will live does age really matter between us. You are the King of Qul Tos. It is I who should feel intimidated by you."
"But you don't."
"Only because you don't act like some arrogant ruler."
"Neither do you."
"Thank you. I was once an admiral so sometimes I give orders to people I shouldn't. I hope I never attempt to do that with you."
"What is it you want James?"
"Let me say it's not just me but Kyle as well. If things happen as you've foreseen Domus will be your home for some time. I hope you won't mind us visiting you from time to time."
"I would greatly like that," Jason smiled.
"There is more involved of course. Will that cause problems between you and Philip?"
"Philip will be more than eager to have you two in his bed."
"That is the problem. I have no wish for him in mine."
"You haven't even met Philip."
"But I do know my Kyle. While he eagerly looks forward to meeting your Philip it would be a mistake for me to ever hint at loving him."
"Because that would make Kyle jealous?"
"Insanely jealous," James agreed. "Give your physical description of Philip Kyle is sure to feel inadequate next to your Demon."
"Well I must agree," Jason said rolling on top of James. "I don't think I would like to see you in Philip's arms either."
"Then you won't protest too much when I frown when you are in your Demon's arms."
"You jealous of Philip?" Jason laughed.
"Spend much more time with me and I might never let you go." James said holding Jason tightly to him. "By the Mother I must be going mad."
"Insanely happy?" Jason asked.
"Maybe," James laughed as he rolled both of them right into Kyle.
"So early in the morning?" The demon yawned.
"Would you rather go back to sleep?" James asked.
"Of course not," Kyle laughed finding himself happily stuck in the middle between the two.
Riding on horseback up the road from Aquanos leading to the Imperial Capital Jason found himself sandwiched between James and Kyle the two men constantly giving him mischievous looks. "You two are awful," he declared after Kyle had slapped him on the back with his tail one time too many. Urging his horse forward he joined the ranks of the Sithian army King Samuel and Louis at its head.
"Glad you decided to join us," Samuel laughed.
"Please... there is only so much I can tolerate from those love birds," Jason smirked.
"They do act like the perfect couple, don't they," Louis smirked.
"Kyle was James' personal aid for many years before becoming his lover," Jason explained.
"I'm sure they don't mind having you to spice up their bed." Samuel added.
"I've never been with another Angel before," Jason blushed.
"And how is it?" Louis asked curiously.
"It's different. I've don't know when I've met a pair who so loved telling jokes in bed."
"And foreplay?" Samuel asked.
"They have their little games," Jason said blushing deeper.
"Nothing you would be afraid of telling Philip about?"
"Knowing Philip he will try to make Kyle his pet."
"What about James... do you think your prince consort needs a spare Angel?" Louis joked.
"No, I can't picture the two of them becoming lovers. They both like being in control too much."
"So what about you and James?" Samuel asked.
"It's good to know there is someone like me I can talk to."
"And sleep with," Louis laughed.
"I have not been that bad," Jason insisted.
"Tell that to Geoff. He can tell long stories about what he has heard outside the duke's bedroom door."
"Alright so things tend to get a little rowdy."
"I would say breaking the bed a half dozen times qualifies," Samuel winked.
"We didn't break the bed. We just moved it around a lot."
"While you all were still on it," Louis grinned.
"Have you made fun of me enough or should I just leave now."
"No Jason... we only jest." Samuel said grabbing hold of the reins of Jason's horse. "We are glad to find you in a better mood however."
"I do feel happier." Jason nodded, "Though I don't know what to do about James."
"Why what's the matter?" Louis said.
"I think he wants to bond to me."
"I don't know what that will cause."
"You didn't know what it would do to me," Louis said rubbing the short stub of red hair on his scalp.
"I know but I had no choice with you."
"Do you want James' bond?" Samuel asked.
"I do not know. A part of me is very curious to experience what I give to others for myself. Another part of me is too afraid the experience will change too many things about me."
"Well there's no rush, unless you wish to get it done before we are all slaughtered," Samuel chuckled.
"Have you no faith," Louis scolded his brother.
"You're the Arch-Priest if I remember, not me. Having faith is not something I'm required to have as king."
"Do you have no trust?"
"Oh I do trust Jason, there's no question about that. I trust he will try his best to convince Armageddon to turn sides and when he fails I hope Jason trusts that I will come to his rescue," Samuel grinned.
"If I fail with Alex we will all be in need of rescue."
"What I don't understand is why you didn't bring along a few legions of your Centurions," Louis replied.
"Because I know the kind of army we are facing. We're not going up against trained soldiers but men-children who are more animal than human. If faced against an army of Centurions these anima addicts would go into an insane feeding frenzy. It wouldn't be a battle but butchery."
"Yet you think my men will stand a chance."
"Your men have no anima. It is my guess that Xavier's devil children will feel less motivated to fight if anima isn't at stake."
"That is a big gamble," Samuel complained.
"You will just have to trust that I'm right." Jason said his eyes darting up into the sky. "Oh no, he's found me too soon," He whispered covering his head with the hood of his cloak.
"What do you mean?" Samuel asked looking at the dark figure flying towards them from the north. "Is that another Saint?"
"No," Jason said sheepishly.
"Oh I see," Louis laughed. "Philip has finally tracked your down."
"Please don't say that so loud," Jason pleaded.
"Do you think you can really hide from him?" Louis asked with an amused grin as the figure grew closer.
"Maybe for a few more minutes," Jason replied has he hunched over his horse.
"Are you embarrassed by us?" Samuel asked. "Took on too many lovers while away from your husband?"
"No, actually the fact that I have three new Saints will please him greatly. He will want to take each of you in turn... maybe even all at once," Jason replied in a low voice.
"All at once?" Louis chuckled looking at his brother.
"Don't look at me like that," Samuel winced as they both suddenly flinched on hearing a gigantic roar as the obsidian demon landing in from of their army.
"Jason!" Philip bellowed in a commanding voice.
"Don't expect us to hide you," Samuel said as he and Louis drew their horses to the side of the road leaving Jason standing alone on his horse in the middle.
"Jason," Philip said in a chiding voice as he walked towards his lover, his feet kept wide apart.
"Hello Philip," Jason whispered, peeking out of his hood.
Chapter Twenty-Six: The Meeting on the Road
"Come here you," Philip roared with laughter, lifting the king out of his saddle to draw in a tight embrace.
"You're not mad?"
"Why should I be? You're only doing what Marcus and I should have done over a year ago. I must say however you've being little too clever in your way of going about it."
"He says he's sorry," Philip laughed in Samuel and Louis' direction. "He can't imagine how proud of him I am. That's Jason for you always too modest for his own good."
"There's nothing modest about trying to become ruler of all of Ares," Samuel laughed.
"Maybe but you'll never hear him boast about it," Philip replied as he rocked Jason in his arms as the army began passing them by. "You've had me worried sick."
"I'm sorry. I just knew how you felt about your brother. I would have taken Varrus with me but I needed him to look after matters in Qul Tos."
"Most likely we would have," Philip agreed. "You do know your heading directly for Armageddon's army."
"Alex's army," Jason insisted.
"He was once my brother. I don't know if he still is," Philip replied.
"You will let me handle Alex, Philip," Jason said sternly. I had hoped not to have run into you until after I had a chance to talk with Alex."
"Now we can talk to him together. If he doesn't listen to you I'm sure I can knock some sense into him."
"But that's exactly why I didn't want you here yet. If Alex knows you're with me it will only increase his jealousy. I want him to be as reasonable as possible when I meet him."
"How reasonable can you expect him to be?" Philip retorted. "Everyone says he's lost his mind."
"He's not insane nor ever has been. He's overly determined. Sometimes that blinds him."
"He's overly determined to have you all for himself." Philip pointed out.
"Why me," Jason sighed.
"What?" Philip frowned.
"Why couldn't you and Alex be more alike?" Jason said.
"You want me to be more like Alex," Philip coughed in disbelief.
"In some circumstances yes," Jason said his temper rising. "Do you think I don't feel hurt when I wake up in the middle and night to find you have once again snuck out of bed to go play with your Spawn?"
"You've never complained before," Philip pouted.
"But I am now," Jason said sternly. "I know you are proud that you have an entire legion of Demon Spawn but I find it embarrassing."
"You do?" Philip whispered dropping Jason down to his feet.
"Yes, not that Alex is much better," Jason replied. "If I had picked him over you I might as well live the rest of my life in a tower because he would never let me out of his sight."
"True," Philip chuckled going silent we he saw Jason glaring at him. "What about these two... I see you've made a few Saints while away."
"I made them Saints because I need them, not to just add another two notches on my list of conquests."
"I see," Philip said, now looking abashed. "You know I'm a Centurion."
"I know Philip," Jason said giving his lover a forgiving sigh.
"But I can understand your point. While I was searching for you I started to fear what would happen to be if you were to die. I quickly realized I would go insane but not just me but all five thousand of my Spawn as well. Maybe I have bonded to too many men as you say."
"Maybe?" Jason replied skeptically.
"Alright I have but that does not mean I can easily change Jason. When I see a handsome man I automatically start trying to seduce him not even thinking about it. But you are right, sneaking out of our bed at night was wrong of me and I am sorry if I hurt you."
Not convinced Jason let out a soft chuckle. "Philip I know you too well. You want to sweep this matter under the rug so we can go right to making up."
"It has been almost two months," Philip replied. "Can you blame me for missing you?"
"And I have missed you terribly," Jason said resting his head on his lover's bare chest.
"So what is the problem?"
"The problem is I don't want this swept under the rug," Jason replied. "You having so many casual lovers does more than hurt me. It forces me to get into relationships I might not really want. I love all my Saints but you having so many Spawn is forcing me to pick partners just so there will be enough Saints to keep your children in line. You're spreading me thin Philip."
"I'm sorry," Philip apologized again. "I am a Centurion and sometimes I forget you're not. You're a Legatio; your love is not so easily given away."
"I know Philip and I don't hate you nor do I regret for a moment that you are my lover but I can't be a Centurion no matter how hard I try."
"And you've tried pretty hard," Philip chuckled softly. "I promise, once things here are settled we'll come to a new understanding."
"I'm not trying to force you to give up your other lovers," Jason said recognizing the disappointed look on Philip's face.
"I know... you can't give up yours either. It's the numbers that have become a problem," Philip sighed.
"Yes, your personal horde," Jason laughed.
"Is Gideon still with you?" Philip asked hopefully.
"No, he's gone. So is Qul Hoth from what I've been told."
"You're most likely right. Don't argue. I know part of this anger you have is because what happened to both Gideon and my brother. They were both my responsibility and I failed them both. I just wish Gideon would have stopped avoiding me so I could have asked for his forgiveness."
"He never blamed you Philip. If anything he blames himself. Both of you knew what you were doing was wrong... that is what enticed you into doing it I think. Neither of you deserved the price you both paid however."
"I wish I could turn back time and erase both of those mistakes."
"The past cannot be changed. We can only work to affect the future." Jason said just as James and Kyle caught up with them.
"Well hello you must be Philip." James said, jumping off his horse.
"And you must be the Duke of Aquanos," Philip said giving Jason a sly wink. "I hope you been taking good care of my king."
"We have strived to lessen the burdens he carries," James said giving Jason a wink as well.
"Well hello handsome," Kyle said, jumping backwards off his horse to land next to Philip his tail instinctively wrapping around the other Demon.
"Jason, I know we just talked about having too many lovers..." Philip said looking at Jason pleadingly.
"Those two are fine," Jason nodded.
"You will of course be coming with us," James insisted, grabbing Jason's hand as Kyle led Philip off the road, their tails entwined. "I'm in love with you," He whispered into Jason's ear as they walked.
"I know," Jason whispered back.
"And..." James pressed.
"And I don't feel so alone when I'm with you."
"So do I," the duke agreed. "I would still like to exchange bonds but I would understand if you say no."
"I'll think about it," Jason promised.
"Good," James said satisfied enough by Jason's answer to give the man a quick peck on the cheek.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Gift
On reaching the top of a line of hills overlooking a narrow valley James called the armies to a halt. Up on hills on the other side of the valley were the armies of Armageddon. While the soldiers worked through the night building fortifications Jason summoned Louis to his tent.
"You wanted to see me," Louis asked scratching the short hairs of his scalp.
"Yes Louis it is time I put you to use."
"I thought you had a reason why you wanted me with you."
"As I've always said you are very special."
"But how special am I?" Louis asked with a wink.
"Have you found happiness Louis?" Jason asked, changing the subject for a moment.
"I am much happier than I've been in my entire life. Jacob and I get along really well. I do not feel all alone connected to your Saints. I know you don't love me like I wish you could but you love me none the less in your own way."
"I'm glad for you," Jason said taking Louis' hands in his. "I did not wish to burden you so without you getting something in return."
"You are giving me the crown of Qul Tos," Louis laughed. "I would never imagine I would one day become king of the wealthiest kingdom in the entire East."
"It is a great responsibility I am giving you," Jason replied.
"I will not fail you Jason," Louis promised.
"I know you won't. You will have help. Varrus will aid you at least in the beginning. I sent a message to Qul Tos before leaving Aquanos explaining my intentions to him."
"I'm sure I will learn a great deal from him."
"I hope you do as well," Jason chuckled. What he really hoped was for Varrus to seduce Louis to death. Considering what he was asking from the man he felt Louis deserved to experience what it is like to make love to the most handsome man in all of Ares.
"What is it you need from me Jason?" Louis asked, going back to the original subject.
"I need you to search for Armageddon with your mind."
"Can't you do it?"
"I could if I had enough time. I believe you can do it must faster than me. The Grau are believed to be experts in this matter."
"Very well, how will I go about doing it?" Louis said sitting down on the edge of Jason's cot.
"Search Armageddon's camp, search for the brightest soul you can find."
"They are all bright," Louis said after a short while.
"They should be that army is made up mostly of anima addicts. There should still be one soul brighter than all the others, find it for me."
"I believe I've found it," Louis said after a long pause.
"Is it Armageddon's, search his mind."
"No, his name is Alex," Louis said quickly.
"Good you found him," Jason said his hope rising. "Tell him I've come for him and to meet me in the village just south of his camp."
"Jason," Louis said in a warning tone."
"Do it Louis," Jason insisted.
"I have... he just ran into a tent and is now shouting orders to his commanders. He plans to set a trap for you."
"I know," Jason whispered.
"And you're going to walk into it?" Louis said popping his eyes open in disbelief.
"That has always been my intention."
"But you don't know what he has planned for you."
"Louis I'm afraid I do, I've known since I began this adventure how it would end."
"I don't understand," Louis said shaking his head.
"The others are right. No matter what trick I can use our army doesn't stand a chance at defeating the opposing army so long as Armageddon is in command. After all he has the knowledge of legions worth of Centurions. I must therefore lead Alex away from his army long enough for James to make his attack."
"Does he know what you are doing?"
"He knows when to make that attack, nothing more."
"Does Philip know?"
"Yes, I can't keep something like this a secret from him. I led him into a forest before I confessed my plans to him. When he insisted on stopping me like I knew he would I leashed him there. Once I reach the village I will let him go."
"By then it will be too late."
"I know," Jason sighed.
"What is to prevent me from stopping you?"
"Louis, you cannot stop me," Jason said picking up the gold staff Philip had retrieved for him.
"You think I'm afraid of a stick," Louis said drawing his sword.
"Now this is plain foolishness." Jason said, hitting Louis's sword arm with his staff before the man was ready and then raising the staff up to hit Louis under the jaw, knocking him unconscious. "We never did get to those sword lessons," Jason sighed as he covered Louis with a blanket. He then walked out of the camp before daring to spread his wings, making a wide half circle around both armies before landing in a village. Knowing a battle was coming, the Famulus had abandoned it. Still Jason could see the light of torches coming from the village tavern.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Meeting
"Alex!" Jason shouted toward the building.
With the loud sound of cracking wood the door to the tavern burst open, revealing the blue skin giant. "Jason," Alex replied in a deep voice. "Come inside its cold out."
"I think I will stay out here. You know how I've always like the open air." Jason said. Inside the tavern his wings would be useless. Jason didn't want Alex to think him a fool after all.
"Yes I remember," Alex said sounding pleased. "A result of you living so many years in that stuffy tower."
"Please come with me Alex, there is still hope for you."
"Hope for me," Alex said coldly. "I have done horrible unspeakable things."
"Armageddon did, not you." Jason insisted.
"You always were an optimist." Alex laughed. "It was something I always enjoyed about you. Tell me do you still keep Gideon around?"
"I'm afraid Gideon is dead," Jason said which was half ways truth. The body still lived but the soul was gone.
"I am sorry to hear that." Alex said with true regret in his voice. "But now you're here because of me."
"I am here for the good of all Domus... including you."
"Domus is dying Jason. In a few more generations everyone will be dead."
"It doesn't have to be that way. We can save it together. Lead your legions against Xavier."
"I cannot Jason. Without Xavier there will be no anima to feed me or my men," Alex said, taking out a vial and draining it down his throat to stress his point.
"I know a little of that pain Alex. You know how much anima I was given in a single year. For the past six months I've been fighting anima sickness."
"Then let me give you its cure," Alex said tossing a vial to Jason's feet.
Picking up the bottle Jason tossed it in one hand. "This is not the cure Alex, you are."
"What do you mean?"
"You have consumed too much anima Alex. The addiction controls you but it is also your cure. You are missing only one final piece."
"And what is that?" Alex asked skeptically.
"Me," Jason replied. "Your bond can cure me and my bond can cure you."
"How do you know this?"
"Melkior told me. You are not the only one who has gone through this Alex. Long ago in the early days of the Empire the Field Marshals thought they could create the perfect Centurion by giving him the anima of their most famed warrior. What they got was a man just like you, mad with addiction. That man became a true demon and so they killed him. When they gave his anima to the other men they were experimenting on they were shocked to find his anima cured their addiction. You see Alex your anima is so pure, so potent that it will never fade away but remain in the person's body forever."
"That doesn't sound like a cure."
"It is the only cure," Jason insisted.
"And how will you cure me," Alex demanded.
"By giving you what you always wanted, my bond," Jason replied.
"It has already been given," Alex said in a low grumble.
"My true bond yes. As you know I gave it to Philip. I am however able to give another bond... the Saints' bond. I believe it will act like a catalyst in your body, neutralizing the excess anima and return you to normal."
"Normal, you think I want to go back to being normal. I am Armageddon the greatest Centurion to ever exist."
"You are a demon Alex. You have no honor left and your name has become a curse. I am offering you a chance to free yourself from your shame."
"I am respected."
"You are feared. Alex you killed your own sword master for goodness sakes."
"He called me out as a demon."
"And so you are and will always be unless you accept my help."
"Why, so I can become a lesser man?" Alex demanded walking towards Jason.
"So you can be saved. There is still hope for you Alex. Don't make me lose you as well as Gideon."
Once he was within arm's reach Alex stopped. "There is no hope for me Jason but if you do care for me you will come with me willingly. If you do I promise I will cure you."
"Alex, please! Don't reject me," Jason said as both of them heard the sound of an approaching battle.
"What is this?" Alex said grabbing one of his retreating men.
"They attack us sir, in the middle of the night."
"I see," Alex said letting go of the Centurion as he glared at Jason. "You tricked me."
"I defeated you the only way I knew how." Jason replied as Alex closed the remaining distance between them.
"By sacrificing yourself," Alex said with gritted teeth as he grabbed both of Jason's arms.
"Your armies are scattered Alex. You must surrender to me or flee." Jason said as over a dozen men stormed out of the tavern.
"Not without you," Alex said, forcing his lips on Jason to give him the anima kiss, knowing full well it would send the Angel into a deep sleep. "Put him in the cage," he ordered to his men when he felt Jason go lax.
"We must retreat Field Marshal. We are facing not one but two armies," an officer reported.
"Another one of Jason's tricks," Alex grunted. "Order the retreat of the old legions but keep the younglings fighting."
"That is the problem sir. The younglings won't fight if there is no anima at stake. The army we face is almost entirely Famulus."
"I see. Then we have no choice but to flee. Jason chose his men wisely" Alex replied. "Is my horse ready?"
"It's behind the tavern waiting for you, sir."
"Then pull back towards the capital. We will make out stand there."
"As you wish Field Marshal."
Going to the back of the tavern Alex saw Jason was already in a cage in the back of a four horse wagon. "Move Jason out of here. I will kill you myself if his men are able to free him," he ordered before spurring his horse up the road to the capital.
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Shock
"What has Jason done?" James whispered as a healer inspected Louis. All the leaders were gathered in what had been Jason's tent.
"He did what he felt he must. He gave us a victory and hope."
"One victory does not win a war," Samuel replied before asking;"Where's Philip."
"He and the spawn he brought with him are out hunting Xavier's younglings. Such abominations can't be allowed to live." Louis said rubbing his sore jaw.
"How could you let him go," Samuel scolded his brother.
"I'm no swordsman as you well know."
"While Jason is a staff master," James replied. "Do not be hard on your brother I doubt any one of us here could bested him."
"What do we do now?" Samuel asked.
"We press forward," James said. "We do have the advantage now. We've shown that Armageddon can be defeated by an army of Famulus no less. The other legion generals will soon learn of this and begin to doubt Xavier's invincibility."
"Just as Jason had hoped," Louis whispered.
"We must move fast. While your army has been creeping up this road I've been visiting every town a village I can. The Famulus are ready to revolt. When news of Armageddon's defeat reaches them they are sure to rise up." Julian said.
"You must be a pretty fast talker to achieve that," Kyle laughed.
"All I had to tell them was that Jason had finally come to free them. They've heard these rumors before but I am the first Saint they hear tell of it."
"I'm sure they were most impressed by your wings," Logan replied.
"They helped move things along." Julian admitted.
"Then pretty soon things are going to become pretty chaotic," James replied. "We will need to increase our patrols in numbers and strength in case any remaining Centurions try to attack the Famulus. As we move forward we will send any Famulus we come across behind our lines. They will act as our reserves. We will continue to move forward growing in numbers until we reach the Domus itself. We then will do what no army has done before and besiege the city."
"Then me and my brothers should be going," Geoff said.
"Where to?" Kyle asked.
"To the Gate, we will need the help of the Tosian army waiting on the other side."
"You think you can take the gate with only a dozen men." Caleb asked.
"A dozen Saints," Geoff corrected. "You forget I'm used to sneaking about. I'll get the main gate open and make sure it stays open long enough for the Tosian army to pass through. It should not be too heavily guarded. No one really thinks any army can get past that stone door. I will catch them by surprise."
"See that you come back in one piece," Caleb demanded. "I don't want to have to explain your death to Jason."
"You believe we can save him." Samuel asked skeptically.
"I think Jason has been treated us like children leaving us ignorant of what he's really planning." Caleb replied.
"He has outsmarted us most of the time and we're supposed to be his friends." Louis said, his jaw still hurting.
"You don't understand. Jason just doesn't want to put any of you at real risk. This was his plan so he feels he's the one who should shoulder the responsibility," Julian said knowingly."
"We could have helped him," James insisted.
"If he told us the truth I doubt any of us would be able to fully believe him," Julian said. "Don't you understand this grand plan of his to retake Domus came to him in a dream? Everything that's happened is happening the way he's foreseen it."
"Now that I would find hard to believe," Samuel agreed.
"If that is true I'm actually more scared then before." James replied.
"Why?" Caleb asked.
"Because if his dreams are coming true then maybe so will mine."
Chapter Thirty: No Choice _______________________________________________________
Unlike the first time Jason arrived in Domus there were no lines of waiting people there to greet him. Inside the walls the entire city seemed to be under a dark shadow. Its once crowded streets almost completely empty, the few Famulus about almost running to their destination. From where the Famulus Quarter once stood Jason saw a large pillar of black smoke rising.
Taken to Xavier's palace where once the Grand Square once stood Jason was put in chains, his wing bound to his body before being led inside to Xavier's throne room. There he found to so called emperor sitting on his gold throne his knees bouncing in an agitated fashion. "So this is Jason... the Holy King of Qul Tos." Xavier smirked.
"We've met before," Jason said smartly, receiving a punch in the jaw from one of the Centurions guarding him.
"Still a cocky brat I see but what are you going to do now my winged Legatio. There are no more Field Marshals to protect you. There is only me."
"Not much of an improvement from what I can see," Jason replied, this time getting hit in the gut causing him to bend over.
"What a clever mouth you have," Xavier chided. "Still you have some uses. We have planned a great festival to celebrate your capture. There will be games and sports with a grand finale of you being put in the arena against Felix."
"I know." Jason whispered having foreseen it all. "Please don't send Felix against me."
"Why, you afraid?" Xavier asked holding a hand to his ear mistaking Jason's tone of pity for insecurity.
"Felix cannot beat me so I do not wish to hurt him."
"Oh it is overconfidence you feel," Xavier grunted, disappointed. "I think you will be surprised by Felix now," he said before clapping his hands. To the side of the throne room a pair of gilded doors opened. From it jumped a large half naked man, wildness about his face as he darted his head about the room.
"Oh Felix," Jason sighed sadly. "To think our rivalry would lead to this."
"Quite fearsome isn't he," Xavier said taking Jason's sad expression for shock. "Unfortunately high quality anime is rare these days so we had to use the anima of the younglings on him. Their unformed memories have driven him quite mad as you can see. Still he knows how to use a sword." Xavier said as he drew the sword from his belt, throwing it to Felix, the insane Legatio catching it and using it to kill one of the men holding his chains. Felix then used the blade to break into the man's anima core. Reaching into the dead Centurion's body he scooped out the elixir with his bare hands.
"Enough Xavier, end his misery." Jason pleaded.
"No, I am leaving that pleasure for you. If you are as good as you think you are you will have no problem killing him in the arena. Let him sulk in the dungeons for a week as he thinks on this," he ordered to his guards.
It was not until the fourth day that Armageddon visited him, bring with his a flask of water and a little food with him. "I'm alright Alex. You shouldn't risk being down here," Jason said calmly. "I know what he's up to. He hopes to weaken me before I face Felix."
"Yes, that is what he's planning," Alex nodded. "Tonight I have gained a boon from him. You are to come with me to my bedchambers."
"Have you seen reason?" Jason asked hopefully.
"I have always known Xavier would come to a bad end even if I caused it myself. The great store of anima under the Hall of the Field Marshals is almost exhausted. As you saw with Felix the anima of the younglings is tainted and will drive a man insane. What I want to know is what do you plan to do about it?"
"Why are you asking me that? I am your prisoner."
"I might be a demon but I'm no fool Jason. I know you have a plan. I was hoping you will let me in on it. We could help each other like in the old days."
"I wish I could Alex but I know why you're really here. The Gate has fallen. Armies are moving toward the capital from the north and south. The old generals are turning against Xavier. The emperor is becoming desperate. That is why he sent you here and why I can't tell you anything."
"Damn Jason. How do you know all that? I know no one has come to visit you since you were put in your cell since I have the only key to the dungeons."
"Reaching through the bars Jason grabbed Alex's right hand. "We cannot escape our fate. We can only make the best of it," he said his dark eyes burrowing into Alex's solid blues. This was the moment... the moment he would always wake from his dreams. Before Alex were two futures. Both of them were almost identical, except for one thing, Alex's fate.
"I am a condemned man Jason... nothing can save me from that fate," Alex said after a long silence.
"I have failed," Jason said in an inaudible whisper, heavy tears dripping from his face. If Alex believed he had no hope for salvation that was to be his fate.
"Why are you crying," Alex demanded anger filling his voice. "Are you crying for me? He said before he started kicking the bars of Jason's cell. "No one cries for Armageddon, no one!" he yelled in his booming voice.
"Do not worry Alex. I promised I would take care of you. Though I had wished to do it, you will be saved. I promise." Jason said his voice filled with a terrible sadness.
"Stop crying!" Alex shouted at the top of his voice.
"I'm sorry Alex," Jason said even as the tears continued to fall.
"Stop it," Alex screamed as he fled from Jason's sight.
Letting out a deep sigh, Jason tried to wipe his tears away. He knew why Alex had run from his tears. Deep down past all the thousand memories Alex had consumed was the original young man, untouched by Xavier's corruption. It was that tiny part of Alex, the part of him who remembered what being a Centurion meant and remembered his promises to Jason that could not stand the idea that he could cause Jason such pain as he had seen on Jason's face.
"You have done well Jason," Thomas' voice said interrupting Jason's silent grief.
"You will keep your word?"
"Aye the Dominus are pleased with you. They hope to continue to be impressed by your progress. Alex will be taken care of, do not worry.
"I have no choice... do as you will."
"You should be used to having no choices. You knew what would happen if you refused to come here. Domus would have destroyed itself, the Centurions and Legatio would have gone extinct and you would not have the army you know you will need for the approaching storm."
"Is that all you have to say."
"Only congratulations, it will all be over soon," Thomas said before his voice faded out of Jason's head.
On the seventh day the guards came for him, giving him a leather jerkin to wear as well as his gold staff. He counted that as a blessing. As he rode in a cage to the arena he was comforted by its touch and familiar weight as he replayed his dreams in his head. No matter what happened now Xavier was doomed. Nothing Jason could do could ruin that outcome. By the time he reached the arena he knew that the guards at the main gate had been overpowered by a raging Famulus mob, opening the gates to let in the combined armies of Tal Sith, Qul Tos, and Aquanos as well as the countless throng of Famulus who followed them all in Jason's name.
Stepping into the sandy floor of the arena Jason saw Felix, still as mad as ever held back only by a leather leash. In the balcony where the Field Marshals once watched only Xavier sat looking incredibly uncomfortable on his stone throne. With a drop of the emperor's hand the leash was cut, Felix almost running on all fours toward Jason. Standing as if stoic Jason waiting calmly for Felix to come towards him. In the end all he could offer the unfortunate man now was a quick death. As Felix attempted to jump at him, sword flailing, Jason made a mighty swing with his staff, sending it crashing into the man's skull, crushing it on contact. As the gathered crowd of Centurions, Famulus, and even a symbolic number of Legatio sat in silence Jason took in a deep breath, snapping the chain that bound his wings. He then rose up to be even with the Emperor in his box, ready to lay down the crimes this man had committed.
"For shame!" Jason shouted in a strong voice that filled the arena. "For shame that we have come to this... that a Legatio has been force to kill his brother." Jason said as crossbow bolts bounced off his body. For shame on you all who has supported this usurper, this Legatio and child killer, this demon. Do none of you remember your oaths. How dare you let this creature live as the people of the Empire, my people have been forced to suffer under his heel."
"Kill him," Xavier spat in desperation.
"Kill Xavier," First one then several Famulus shouted as they ran towards the emperor's box.
"Kill the demon," the Centurions shouted in greater number.
"No!" Jason shouted, his voice booming like thunder. "None of you here have the right to kill him. For resisting him since the beginning and for the pain he has caused me only I have that right," Jason said sending his staff at Xavier like a bolt of lightning just as the man attempted to flee. The force behind the staff was such that when it hit the back of Xavier's head it ripped it right off his neck, slamming it into a stone wall where it fell, a fleshy sack of shattered bone. "Xavier is dead, his skull is broken. Such is the penalty for all Centurions who forget their oaths." Jason said before landing back down in the middle of the in the arena. Closing his eyes, he waited in stunned silence for his fate to be sealed.
"Hail Jason, Emperor of Domus," A single strong voice shouted.
"It is done," Jason whispered sadly as the single man's cheer was soon picked up by every man woman and child in the arena. Looking up he saw his Saints arriving with their belated rescue.
Chapter Thirty-One: The End of the War
"We have searched every building in the city. There is no sign of Alex," Geoff reported as Philip rubbed his head as if he had a headache.
"Jason said we wouldn't," Julian chuckled.
"You seem awfully confident," Caleb grumbled. "Now we are going to have to deal with endless rumors that he escaped."
"But he didn't escape. Jason told you what happened to him," Julian replied.
"I still can't believe it," Philip sighed. "He really is now emperor. A Legatio ruling Domus... Marcus is going to have a fit."
"Good thing he's not here then," Geoff chuckled. "The way the people outside are acting they might tear him apart if he protested too much."
"Jason as Emperor," Philip said still in disbelief.
"And Overking of the East." Louis added causing his brother to grimace.
"And he did all that without really needing us." Philip said almost in tears.
"He needs you Philip more than ever now. As he said he didn't just lose Alex but if we are to believe him Gideon as well." Julian said. "I sense he is feeling very lonely right now."
"But what do I say to him... congratulations?" Philip asked.
"No," James whispered. "Tell him you sorry. You know Jason well enough to know he never wanted any of this. At least you should."
"You're right I should. I almost forgot how I had to force him just to accept the crown of Qul Tos. He must be terrified." Philip said as he stood to live.
"We will soon be joining you," James said eyeing Kyle.
"I think Jason would like that." Philip nodded softly as he went through the unfamiliar halls of Xavier's former palace.
On reaching Jason's door Philip almost stopped to knock but then thought better of it. If not Jason's husband who else would dare barge in on him. Knowing Jason he would feel hurt if Philip suddenly acted as if he needed permission to see his lover. Still he opened the door very slowly finding the room dark with the curtains drawn. "Jason?" He whispered.
"Please close the door Philip," Jason said in a weak voice.
"I'm sorry Jason. I know you never wanted any of this," Philip said his bright glowing eyes guiding him to the bed where Jason lay.
"I had no choice. I couldn't let any more of my people die."
"I know and while I am sorry things came to this I am also very proud of you. You did it, you saved your people." Philip said as he slid next to Jason's from behind, wrapping a protective arm around his waist.
"Why didn't you tell me Philip?" Jason whispered after a long silence.
"Tell you what?"
"That I will lose you one day."
"I didn't want you to worry about it... at least for a long time."
"Things are not going to get any easier Philip," Jason warned before rolling on top of his lover, resting his wet face against Philip's chest.
"More dreams?" Philip asked stroking Jason's black hair.
"Yes... and now I know the truth. They will come true."
"Are you so certain about that?"
"This dream came true."
"You mean this nightmare?" Philip chuckled. "Maybe if you were to share your dreams with me we could work together to stop the bad things from happening in the first place."
"I understand," Jason sighed.
"Why you didn't tell me. It is the same reason why I can't tell you my dreams."
"I could help," Philip insisted.
"You would only worry," Jason replied some warmth returning to his voice.
"I would," Philip said as he tickled Jason's sides.
"Stop that," Jason said as he tried not to laugh.
"Make me," Philip said as he flipped them both over so he was now on top.
"Alex did do what he was supposed to do. He did cure me," Jason said as Philip pulled off his leather jerkin.
"At least some good came out of this," Philip said as he nuzzled himself against the middle of Jason's chest. "Promise me this... no more adventuring without me."
"Will you start listening to me for a change?"
"I will try, but you know how stubborn we Helios boys can be."
"That is something I do indeed know," Jason chuckled before Philip silenced his lips with a long deep kiss.
Chapter Thirty-Two: Declarations
Standing in the Grand Hall of the Field Marshals Jason stood on a tall stool in the middle of the speaking circle. Gathered in the hall were his friends, those elected by the Famulus as their new Elders, while those picked among the surviving Legatio looking quite out of place in their ill fitting red robes.
"I welcome you all," Jason said once the hall was silent. "Know I have never wished to rule the Empire I only do so now because there is no one else who can and hope to succeed. All of us bear the wounds caused to us by the Oath Breakers. Know that the guilty will be punished but the fact remains the Empire cannot survive without its Centurions. I do not expect you all to forgive them for their crimes for they are countless but the healing must begin now if we are to survive as a people. To help erase those bad memories I am ordering the leveling of the old Legatio Quarter. It will be turned into a park in remembrance of all we have lost. As for the worst of the Oath Breakers they will be banished to the Valley of Bones in Qul Tos where they will be kept imprisoned until their fortieth birthday where if they yet live they will be executed for the crime of consuming the anima of a Legatio. To ensure they remained imprisoned until their deaths I appoint a company of Demon Spawn as their jailers."
"Demon Spawn as jailors... that should be interesting." Marcus chuckled to Philip as Jason continued to issue punishments.
"He wishes only to convince the Legatio and Famulus that justice will be done." Philip replied.
"And he's doing a good job," Marcus said looking at the relieved expressions on the people's faces.
"Finally as one last punishment the names of Xavier and Armageddon are here by forbidden. May no child in the Empire be given such accursed names from this day forth?" Jason said before stepping off his stool.
"Now here's the important part," Marcus chuckled as Jason walked behind the thrones of the Field Marshals.
"Since you now have an Emperor many of you question the need for Field Marshals. I was born a Legatio however and the ways of war are not for me to master. I must therefore have trusted and well respected men who can advise me in such matters. For my first choice as Field Marshal I reappoint Field Marshal Marcus. Though he did not come to Domus' rescue in its time of need I believe any effort he could have made would have only resulted in a noble death. He has kept his oaths and has the loyalty of the Eastern Army. He is therefore the only man suitable for the role of Field Marshal of the East."
"That's my cue," Marcus said proudly as he stepped through the crowds to stand behind the eastern throne.
"As all of you know the Western army is no more and it will be many years before we can form a new one. Still Jadoor remains our greatest enemy and must be met with a force strong enough to defeat their vast numbers so never again will we face a similar humiliation. I know of only one force capable of achieving such a task and the one man who leads it. I therefore name Philip Helios Field Marshal of the West... May his children protect us all and do us honor on the field of battle."
Trying to look surprised Philip made his way to the western throne opposite Marcus.
Going to the throne of the Home Guard Jason let out a deep sigh before speaking. "The Home Guard has been declared Oath Breakers but Domus cannot survive without them. Once the guiltiest have been removed the army will be reformed. It needs however to be led by the right man... a man of integrity, who values the oaths with his life. I know of a man, though not born of the Empire who came to respect and love the ways of our people, who offered sanctuary to Famulus and Centurions alike who could not stand living under Xavier's rule, and when the time came and the opportunity arouse joined me to help bring down Xavier. He is the only man to have ever defeated Armageddon on the field of battle. Though I promised him the governorship of Aquanos I find I have greater need for him here. I therefore apologize in advance James as I name you Field Marshal of the Home Guard."
"What?" Marcus mouthed to Philip in surprised. They had not known who Jason intended to pick but they had assumed he would at least be a Centurion.
"Jason?" James said looking as flabbergasted as the Centurions.
"I am sorry James but I find I can't bear the idea of you being so far away from me," Jason replied, patting the man on the back.
"If you put it that way," James chuckled as he leaned over the throne to kiss Jason on the cheek.
Chapter Thirty-Three: Secret Oaths
"Exciting isn't it," Kyle said popping up next to Philip.
"Did you know about this?"
"Of course. He didn't warn James of course but Jason was polite enough to ask for my permission. It is only right he did as I am James's husband.
"Care to explain his choice to me."
"Yes well you see according to Jason you're a bit of a lecher who tends to get himself into lots of trouble, you know insult Jason when you don't really intend to so Jason thought..."
"Jason told you about our fight."
"Of course, don't you gossip with Marcus all the time?"
"That's different; I do that to show off, not to complain."
"Well its' too late. It seems you agreed to compromise. Jason knows you didn't mean to but he plans on keeping you at your word. From now on it's just the four of us... lucky me, right?" Kyle said waving his tail around playfully.
Going over to Jason, Philip pulled him away from James. "What have you gotten me into...? Kyle is looking at me like a carnival prize he just won."
"Oh that," Jason chuckled. "I had wondered if I could talk to you first but if you get to know Kyle you'll discover he can't keep a secret to save his live. You should remember that if you plan to tell him anything important."
"I know I agreed to limit myself but to only those two?" Philip said pointing to where James was now seated on this throne Kyle sitting in his lap.
"It won't be only those two," Jason said calmly. "But it will only be people we can both agree to and no more sneaking out of the bed in the middle of the night just because you can't control your urges."
"How hard will that be, to get you to agree to let me sleep with someone."
"That depends on who you pick. I don't want hear about you sleeping with some stranger I don't know I even like."
"You're going to make me suffer, aren't you?"
"At least in the beginning until you figure out the rules at least."
"And what are the rules?" Philip asked.
"That's the tricky part... you should already know me well enough to know them." Jason said as he went back to James.
"Are you really going to make him suffer?" James asked as he and Jason walked out of the Grand Hall together.
"Just a little. The point is Philip should know better. Then again I should have put a stop to his nonsense from the beginning."
"Why didn't you?"
"I was afraid to. At first I thought he must love the men he sleeps with as much as I do when in truth the most he usually feels is a passing fondness. That's one of the differences between him and me. I don't like the idea of sleeping with someone I hardly know. For Philip the not knowing adds a sense of mystery and adventure to his encounters."
"Do you think he will really change?"
"No, I know better than to expect a Centurion to stop being a Centurion," Jason laughed. "I just want him to be less rude about it."
"I must say from experience I've had you in my bed and I've never wished to leave it."
"I know but how long are we going to play this game of trying to make Philip jealous."
"Until he learns his lesson," James laughed. "I am very fond of you Jason."
"As I am of you."
"Is that why you gave me that very uncomfortable chair. I really do wish you hadn't by the way."
"I need you James, not just to command the Home Guard but because you are the only one who understands what I am going through."
"You could always tell Philip."
"I can't. If I did he would seal me up in a box and bury me in a deep pit to prevent my dreams from happening and it would do him no good."
"I understand but don't think I feel much better knowing some of my dreams might come true."
"That is why we need each other. We have to tell somebody after all but I don't think Kyle is the kind of person who would handle it much better than Philip."
"He's called the imp for a reason."
"Does that bother you?"
"No. I know why he's so small. Amplexor recognized me as the protector of the two of us and gave me the body to help do exactly that. Kyle has always been the nervous type and I like that I can comfort him. It helps me feel needed. It's just..."
"You can't get angry with him or he melts like butter."
"How did you know?"
"Philip is the same way. I used to think I was the one more afraid of the two of us. As time passed I learned I was wrong. Philip is the one who is really scared."
"What does he have to be afraid of?"
"That I might leave him or that he will wake up one day find his life with me was nothing but a pleasant dream."
"But you would never leave him."
"Not of my own free will," Jason replied.
"You listen to me Philip would slaughter an entire army of Grau before letting them have you and I'm quite willing to do the same so enough of you thinking there is no hope." James said, turning Jason to face him.
"I will try James," Jason said softly.
"Say it with a smile," James insisted.
"I will try," Jason said this time with an awkward grin.
"That's no way to smile," James said before kissing Jason hard on the lips. "Now that's a proper smile," he said after their lips parted.
"You're infatuated with me," Jason laughed.
"Maybe I am," James said taking hold of Jason's hand in his. "What am I going to tell Kyle," he said with a sigh.
"I am more worried about Kyle than I am you. You see how he clings to Philip."
"It's different with him... I think he sees Philip as the fun older brother he wish he had. You know someone to beat up the boys who used to bully him about his size."
"And how do you see me?"
"As the man I wish Kyle could sometimes be... gentle but strong enough to handle the serious matters."
"Then we might have a problem," Jason whispered.
"Why, how do you feel about me?" James asked.
"To be honest I haven't felt this way about another person since Varrus."
"The most handsome man in all of Ares? I feel honored," James laughed. "You're right, we might have a problem. Should we stop?"
"No," Jason said quickly frightened by how fast he reached that decision.
"Good because I don't want to either. So about our bonds... still thinking about it?"
"I think we both should."
"But you do want to give me yours and mine to you?"
"I do but as I told you I am afraid what that could lead to."
"It is a road we won't ever be able to leave," James agreed. "We'll wait a year and then decided... that is if we still feel the same way about each other."
"I don't think that will be a problem," Jason almost croaked.
"I'm sorry if I'm making you nervous," James as the two of them reached the steps of the palace.
"You're not nervous?"
"Right now I'm trying not to imagine Kyle clawing my eyes out."
"Funny I picture Philip doing the same thing to you." Jason chuckled.
"He would never set out to hurt you intentionally?"
"He never will. That's why I don't want to hurt him."
"Then I know what I must do... either Kyle or I must get Philip to love us as much as I love you."
"That will never happen."
"Then he must never know," James said stopping at the doors to the palace.
"I understand," Jason whispered before stepping inside.
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