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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Centurion Cycle - 8. The Centurion Book VIII Pits of Omega

The Centurion

Book VIII: Red Sun to Blue Star
Chapter One

“To Alex Helios and no one else,” Lord Gideon told the Uhr syndicate agent over the loud noise of the drilling machines.

“This had better be worth my time. Alex gets murderous when he is disturbed.”

“Alex always has murder on his mind. If I knew it would do any good, I would have invited him down here long ago clean up this cesspit. Only then would I let him kill me, but, as you know, I cannot die. Would you like me to demonstrate?” Gideon asked with a tinge of threat in his voice.

“No, of course not, Lord,” the agent bowed. “I will see this message delivered at once.”

Moving closer, Gideon was face to face with the pale skinned man. “See that you do,” he said, as a sickly green mist flowed out of his mouth. In a panic, the man tried to take a step back, but found Gideon had grabbed hold of his dirty gray coat.

As if it had a life of its own, the green mist streamed toward the frightened man, seeping into his body through his nose. Soon the gray of the man’s eyes was replaced by a dark sage green. “Now you won’t fail me, Anton.” Gideon grunted as he let go of the agent, now nothing more than a semi-intelligent puppet. Gideon knew this would hurt his relationship with all the crime syndicates, except maybe White Fang that was secretly ruled by the head of General Security, the Dalf run company that policed the upper levels of Mordel. Urh would demand compensation and Gideon would have no problem paying. His workers, after all, always exceeded the Dominus mining quota. He even sold some of it off to the other Lords of the Cabal, to help them meet their own quotas and being paid an exorbitant price. It was never wise to miss the Dominus’ quota after all.

Reaching to touch the man’s quickly cooling face, Gideon gave him a flash of his sharp fangs. “See that the message is delivered to Alex with all haste. You may use any means necessary.”

“As your lordship commands,” Anton said in a despondent voice.

Letting the man go, Gideon watched as Anton ran off into the darkness.

“People are coming,” one of Gideon’s guards warned, as the sounds of several fast moving feet grew from the distance.

“Delay them as long as you can. Anton must escape,” Gideon warned, as he headed for a side tunnel. Drawing out his long sword, he moved through total darkness, jumping over stones and holes with ease. Behind him he could hear the sound of fighting, as swords clashed. His guards would fight well. He had trained them himself in the Centurion art of combat. Still, if the Cabal was after him they would have sent plenty of mercenaries to deal with his personal guards, given their unnatural will to survive.

As the sound of fighting grew distant behind him, Gideon began to hear the sound of feet and voices further up the tunnel. Knowing the tunnel wouldn’t branch off for at least another mile, he came to a sudden halt. Turning a dial on the butt of his sword, he activated its energy coils, the resistors built into the blade causing it to heat up until it glowed a fiery red. Soon, he saw two Nosferatu members of the Cabal accompanied by a gang of their mercenaries.

“Lord Azrael, Lord Ivan, what are you two doing so far from your covens?” Gideon asked with an innocent smile on his gray face.

“We could ask you the same, Lord Gideon, especially given what you have hidden there,” Azrael snickered.

His smile gone, Gideon now glared at the two. “Don’t you dare harm him. He’s mine.”

This time it was Ivan who spoke, trying to take on a reasonable tone. “I don’t think I have to tell you, Gideon, that, as a member of the Cabal, you have a duty to keep us informed of events, especially about having such a man in your custody.”

Sensing the death of the last of his guard behind him, Gideon summoned what he had come to refer as their souls. If he could hold off these two vampires and their men long enough, he would have a nasty surprise in store for all of them. “I would have, eventually, when Jason had recovered and I was sure the Cabal wouldn’t tear him apart. I take it you don’t have him yet.”

“It is only a matter of time before we subdue the men guarding him,” Azrael replied, still wearing an over satisfied grin on his face.

“My men can’t be beaten. You know that well enough, Azrael. How did you come to know about Jason?”

“Everyone in Mordel knows of the Angel of Ares, even us poor unfortunate souls down in the bottom-most-pit. Have you tasted of him yet? Is he scrumptious? Absolutely delectable? As for how we knew you have him, one of my Dead Eaters saw you take him into your bunker.”

“Do you think the Dominus would have dropped Jason all the way down here, if he still contained that which our mistresses have long sought? He’s just a man, now; a poor sick man who so happens to have once been my friend.”

“Then prove it. Present Jason before the council and let the Cabal decided his fate. That is the law, or have you forgotten, Lord Gideon.” Lord Azrael took a step forwarded hefting the heavy iron mace he held in one hand.

Just a little longer, Gideon thought to himself. “No need for violence, Lord Azrael. All I ask, is time to nurse Jason back to some semblance of health. How do you think you would do, if you had your animus ripped from your body? ”

“The fact that he is alive at all, speaks volumes of his unique nature,” Ivan said, still trying to maintain calm. “Recovered or not, Gideon, the council needs to know exactly what it’s dealing with. You must allow an inspection of your coven.”

Knowing the souls of his dead men had almost arrived, Gideon let out a loud chuckle. “An inspection, Lord Ivan? Why be so formal? I will show you Jason myself… once I have your heads.” Gideon saved the last part until the last moment, as the tunnel filled with noxious dark green mists that quickly engulfed the two lords’ men. By the time the mist cleared, all of Azrael’s men had their weapons aimed at each of Ivan’s mercenaries, their eyes all glowing the same sickly green.

“Well my lords, whatever should we do now?” Gideon asked, the tip of his fire red sword smoldering the gray uniform of Lord Azrael, just above his heart.

“Lord Gideon, you cannot do this. The council forbad you from possessing our people.”

“Lord Azrael made a move to threaten me did he not? Doesn’t that free me from any obligation I have to the council? Isn’t an attack against my very coven not reason enough to go to war with Lord Azrael?”

“It was a decision made by the Cabal.”

“I wasn’t present for such a decision. Doesn’t such a decision to move against my coven require my presence, * so I might defend myself before the full council?”

“The council knew you would never agree to hand Jason over,” Azrael spat. Already, he could feel the heat of Gideon’s sword burning his skin. Since he lacked the ability to sweat, or blister for that matter, his skin was become dry and brittle like burned paper.

“Maybe I wouldn’t have, but that doesn’t make the council’s order to attack my coven any more valid. The law is there to protect the rights of each member of the Cabal. If we were to cast it aside whenever members of the council found it convenient, the law would lose all meaning. Where would we be then, lords? We would have chaos, and you all know the Dominus’ view about chaos in their city, even as far down as here.”

“Point taken. Now release Azrael’s men,” Ivan pleaded.

“Poor Ivan, you know I can’t free his men. Only death can do that now. Since the council killed my people, I think it’s my right to replace the men I’ve lost today with theirs. You won’t protest too much, will you, Lord Azrael?” Gideon twisted his blade past the ash of Azrael’s clothes letting the tip of his sword dig into the burned flesh.

In fear and pain, Azrael fell down on his rear to the cold stone floor, causing him to lose his breath. When he spoke, it was in a weak, gasping tone as he clutched his chest. “Of course not, Lord Gideon. Forgive me for offending you. The men are yours. I only beg your pardon.

           

“You grovel before me now, Lord Azrael, but what about tomorrow? Mercenaries are as easy to find as slaves. You could come at me with a whole army, soon enough. Should I let you live, so you can seek your revenge against me another day? I know, let’s handle this the legal way.” Taking off his black left glove, Gideon let it fall into Azrael’s lap. “I declare vendetta against your coven, and seek judgment by the Cabal.”

“Judgment by the Cabal? But you could demand a duel here and now,” Azrael replied, shocked by Gideon’s generosity.

“No, I think a full trial before the Cabal is what I want. I want to make the price they might pay perfectly clear to them, when it comes to bending the law around me and my people,” Gideon said in a pure and menacing voice. “Of course, if you don’t call off your attack on my coven I will see your entire Cabal destroyed.”

Dropping his heavy mace, Azrael pulled a small communicator from his belt and spoke into it. “Sitha, Tyrell, anyone, answer me.”

“What is it, Lord Azrael, and be quick about it. We have a situation on our hands.” A strained woman’s voice came from the com.

“Pull our people back. Leave Gideon’s coven alone.”

“Leave it alone? After so many of our slaves have died trying to take it? I told you those environmental suits wouldn’t work. They slow our people down. All it takes is a single cut in the fabric, and that damned mist gets inside, possessing one of our people as soon as we kill one of theirs. Have you dealt with Gideon yet?”

“In a manner of speaking. He’s taken over my men, and taken us hostage. He’s declared vendetta against my coven, and is demanding a trial before the Cabal.”

“A trial?” Sitha’s voice shrieked. “What sort of trouble have you gotten yourself into, Azrael?”

“The worst kind,” Ivan said loudly. He had been against this secret attack from the beginning. The law was the law, after all, just as Gideon had said. How safe could a moderate like Ivan feel, if the council could so easily cast aside the rules that had prevented all out war between the covens for eons. He had agreed to come with Azrael, a member of the radical faction, because he wanted to keep an eye on him. But mostly, he wanted to try and reason with Gideon. He suspected Gideon knew as much, for none of his people had been possessed by the green mist.

“Very well. We’ll withdraw, but I expect you in council chambers as soon as possible. I want a full accounting from you, as well as compensation for the slaves I’ve lost.”

“Pay you for your loss? What about me? I’ve lost all my men to the gray man. You were as much for this attack as I was, so don’t you start demanding compensation from me, my dear!” Azrael shouted over the communicator, his fear of Gideon temporarily replaced by the fear of lost profits.

Poking Azrael with the tip of his sword again, Gideon quickly turned the vampire’s attention back toward himself. “That’s enough, your lordship. Now, stand and keep your hands where I can see them. Any sly moves on your part, and I will run your heart through. Do you understand?”

“Of course, Lord Gideon,” Azrael said as he stood up slowly, keeping his hands over his head.

“Good, and another thing, never refer to me as the ‘gray man’ ever again. I’m actually quite sensitive about my appearance, you see. You don’t want to get on my bad side any more than you already are.”

“Of course not, Lord Gideon. I beg your forgiveness,” Azrael said through clenched teeth.

“Very well. I think you all know the way to the council chambers. Let’s get marching,” Gideon commanded. The entire group moved back up the tunnel, the tip of Gideon’s burning blade pointed at their backs.

Chapter Two

The council chamber of the Cabal was a large circular room, lined with equal sized booths on two levels. The booths were protected by bars, in case tempers flared, which was often enough, given the temperaments of the lords and ladies of the Nosferatu. On the third level, was a booth higher and larger than all the others. It was there that the Prince, the elected leader of the Cabal, sat and attempted to rule over his independent minded subjects. A moderate himself, Prince Dmitri had been troubled by the growing power of the radicals who believed they could rule all of Mordel if they just had enough Dead Eaters and mercenary slaves. Dmitri, and the moderate faction, knew how foolish such ideas were. So long as the Dominus controlled the Central Pillar, they could flood this level of the city with endless deadly light that would kill them all. As the Prince, Dmitri was the official ambassador to the Dominus, and knew how real his mistresses’ threats were.

This attack on Gideon was a perfect example of the kind of foolishness that would get everyone on the council killed, including the Prince himself. Was Gideon not favored by the Dominus? Had not the Cabal been told to treat him as an honored guest, if not one of their own?

Still, Dmitri believed most of the blame lay with Gideon. If he had not asked the Dominus for the remains of the famed Angel of Ares, the Angel’s arrival wouldn’t have caused such blood lust to grow in the hearts and minds of even the most reasonable member of the Cabal. Gideon had insisted, however, in return for what future requests by the Dominus, Dmitri didn’t know. In truth, he didn’t want to know. The gray man, with his green mists, terrified Dmitri. Already, countless good slaves had been possessed by it. The Prince was just grateful that he, and the rest of the Nosferatu, were immune to its effects.

If only the Angel hadn’t come, the Prince could have stopped any foolish attack against the gray man. When the council learned from a Dead Eater that Gideon had the Angel in his bunker, Lord Azrael had been the loudest voice demanding that the Angel be taken from Gideon, by force if necessary. He even offered a new defense against Gideon’s controlling mist, environment suits which should have kept the mists from taking control of their mercenaries. So, the majority of the Cabal had voted to break its own laws, destroying ancient traditions that had kept the peace among the Nosferatu for countless centuries.

The attack, of course, had failed. Even with Gideon far from his bunker, his guards and the mist proved too much for those covens that took part in the attack. The suits provided by Azrael proved too cumbersome and easily damaged, making their protection utterly useless against the skilled swordsmen who followed Gideon.

Now the council was reassembling, with Azrael and Ivan as Gideon’s prisoners. Even worse, Gideon had declared vendetta against Azrael and, instead of dueling him then and there, had demanded a full trial before the Cabal. Given the laws Azrael had broken, and the potential reaction of the Dominus when they learned of today’s events, the Prince and the rest of the Cabal knew what they would have to do just to survive. If not sentenced to death, Azrael would be stripped of his lordship, and all his property and wealth to compensate Lord Gideon for the crimes committed against him. Stripped of everything, Azrael would be no more than a Dead Eater, a beggar in the cold harsh world of the Nosferatu.

Looking down from his high box, Dmitri could see that many of the council were already in their seats, most wearing nervous expressions on their faces. News of Azrael’s failure had traveled quickly through the many miles of tunnels. As Sitha, the last member to arrive took her seat, Gideon came marching onto the floor of the chamber, along with Ivan who looked worriedly at Azrael as he was led in at sword point.

Sheathing his sword, Gideon spun around the room several times, his arms spread wide as he snickered at the other members of the Cabal. “My dearest friends and fellow Lords, what have I done to earn such recent insults. Have I not always acted honorably in my dealings with you? Do I not share my resources when one of you comes up short of your quota? Did not the Dominus warn you not to mistreat me?” As he spoke, the malice in his voice grew with each passing sentence. “Azrael has broken the law, leading this Cabal to try to seize what is mine. As is my right, I have declared vendetta against his coven, and have chosen trial by judgment as my means to obtain justice. Not that I fear dueling poor Azrael. He wouldn’t last ten seconds against my blade. No, the reason I am leaving this man’s fate in the hands of the council is because it was this very same council that supported Azrael in his crimes against me. I am giving this Cabal one final chance to prove that it still respects its laws and traditions. Fail in your judgment of Azrael, and you will face not only my wrath, but that of the Dominus as well.” With that, Gideon finished his speech. All he had to do now was maintain his hateful glare at the members of the council until they reached their decision.

Standing up to the edge of his balcony, Dmitri read the charges. “Lord Azrael, you have been charged with leading an attack against Lord Gideon and his coven and against the laws of this Cabal. Vendetta has been declared, and rightfully so. As leader of the Cabal, I recognize Gideon’s right to swift justice, and call on the council to vote on Azrael’s guilt or innocence immediately.”

The Prince having left no room for further debate, the members of the Cabal rose, one by one, and all declared Azrael guilty, though Sitha first touched a deep fresh cut on her face before saying so.

With the final vote, Dmitri moved to the edge of his balcony once more, and spoke. “Azrael, you have been declared guilty by this council. You are therefore stripped of all titles, property, and wealth, which now belongs to Lord Gideon, including your life. Lord Gideon, you may now exercise final judgment on the guilty party.”

“Thank you, your highness,” Gideon said as he made a deep bow and drawing his long sword. As quick as lighting, he chopped off both of Azrael’s arms. He then dropped his sword and, before Azrael could step back to defend himself, slammed his gauntleted fist at Azrael’s gapping mouth, shattering most of the vampire teeth inside. After sheathing his sword, Gideon looked at Azrael’s weeping face with a pleasant smile on his face. “There, now I think we can all feel safe around you. Doesn’t the council agree?” Looking up at the lords and ladies in their booths, he waited until he saw each one nod his or her head in agreement. He then gave the Prince a final bow and marched out of the chamber, back to his own coven.

Looking up at the Prince, Lord Ivan wore a terrified look on his face.

 

Chapter Three

On reaching his coven, Gideon saw that the Dead Eaters were already eating away at the fallen. Stepping over the dead, he punched in the code that would remove the protective bolts locking the steel door to his bunker in place. Inside, many of his blood slaves were sitting up with frightened looks on their faces. Before he addressed his people, Gideon took the time to put a calm expression on his gray face. “Don’t worry, my dears, they won’t be back again.”

“All praise to Lord Gideon,” one of the slaves shouted. Soon, everyone was shouting and reaching out to touch their savior. Many of them had once been the slaves of other lords, all of them much harsher masters than this one. While Gideon paid compensation to the other lords for each slave who begged to join his coven, all the slaves knew that terrible revenge waited for them should anything happen to their master.

When Gideon had enough praise, he placed a single long finger against his lips bringing instant silence to his followers. “Today’s excitement must have left you all tired. Rest now, for when the next shift comes we will have much work to do if we are to continue to exceed our quota.” With that, his slaves all returned to their bunks. Gideon then had a clear path to his private room where he hoped Jason was still resting.

Removing a more complex series of locks, Gideon cracked the door open, letting in a narrow beam of light fall on the bed. Seeing that Jason was still asleep, Gideon quietly slipped inside.

Putting away his sword and armored gloves, he laid down on the far side of the bed opposite Jason, afraid of disturbing the man’s slumber. Though the room was in perfect darkness, Gideon could see the pain written on Jason’s face, and it made him hate himself. Yes, Jason was safe, but only for the moment. If his Centurion brothers succeeded in defeating the great Horde of Lahore, the Dominus would demand that Gideon keep his promise to them. He couldn’t protect Jason, if that happened. His only hope lay in Alex getting his letter and attempting a rescue. Alex, however, lived in the top level of the city, over forty levels up.

Each level had its own security, with travel between levels tightly controlled. None of the Nosferatu, for instance, could leave Omega Level even if they did call themselves lords. Anton would have to find a way to make it past each level’s heavy security. As a warden over the pure human slaves, the first three levels would be easy enough. But, beyond those, he would have to get past the lizardmen who controlled the security for the next ten levels that were used for industrial purposes. Then he would have to navigate the next ten levels. These were one giant sea, controlled by the Seamen, where all the city’s water was processed and aquaculture was conducted that fed most of the people. These levels also produced most of the city’s air. To get past the sea, he would have to board one of the airtight loading elevators, where the city’s few androids stood guard.

The next twenty levels were considered part of the upper city, and were patrolled by General Security that was controlled by the Dalfs. Since Gideon hadn’t told Anton about Jason’s connection to that clan, Anton would have to depend on his own skills and resources to get past the agricultural levels, where the food for those who weren’t slaves was produced. Here, soybeans, corn, wheat, and relatively small amounts of fruit and vegetables were grown. The most difficult level to get past, other than the top one, would be level three, which was home for those animal-human hybrids who wished to live a more animal existence in among the trees of the Great Forest. On that level there was no security, as the beasts themselves protected their own territory.

Finally, there was Level One, where the top of the Great Pillar stood high above the commercial zone of the great city. There, Anton would have no way to get past the DNA scanners and other security devices that guarded the gates to the highest level. It would be on that level that Anton would have to depend on his fellow syndicate members to sneak him past security and take him to Alex.

Then the process would have to begin all over again, in reverse, except it would be more difficult, as Gideon didn’t expect that Alex would dare to come to Jason’s rescue alone. Even if he kept his party small, it would be almost impossible to get down to Omega Level, even with the syndicate’s full backing.

Of course, all this would have been much easier if Gideon had dared to use normal channels of communication. The Central Pillar reached down to all levels of the city, and had stations that allowed for communication between levels all around its perimeter. All such communication, however, was heavily regulated and monitored by Grau security. Gideon did not doubt that any call made by him to Alex would be flagged top priority for recording and later analysis by top Grau agents. The same would be true if Alex tried to contact him. That is why Gideon’s only option had been a syndicate messenger carrier. It was also the reason why he used his green mists to possess the man. On a mission of such danger, Gideon didn’t want to risk the man getting cold feet.

Yes, the syndicate would be mad at him, but Gideon was sure that they would be curious enough about what he wanted, to let the message pass on to Alex. Gideon just couldn’t judge how long it would take Anton to reach Alex and, worse, how long it would take Alex to respond. Gideon didn’t want to see the Empire that had given birth to him fall to the Dominus. However, Gideon didn’t want them to make quick work of the Lahorian Horde, either, speeding up the time when Gideon would be forced to leave Jason unprotected. Though he was immortal, Gideon knew time was not on his side.

As he continued to watch Jason, Gideon couldn’t hold back his cold arms from embracing his dearest friend. It pained him that Jason shuddered at his touch, but at least he didn’t roll away. Gideon tried to see that as a form of acceptance, and ignored the fact that attempting to roll over would have caused Jason worse pain.

For better, or for worse, Jason was all that was left to Gideon. He was the last person who could stir any kind of pleasant emotions from his cold and stoic condition. Closing his tireless eyes ,Gideon let his mind drift to happier days for both of them, back in Qul Tos where they would sneak out of the palace just to make love in the nearby woods. Though he would dare not do such today, just knowing Jason was in his arms produced a powerful emotional response. For the first time, since the night when Philip made his terrible mistake Gideon felt tears roll down his face as he held Jason even tighter.

 

Chapter Four

Since the day Jason’s bond turned cold and empty, Field Marshal Darius had kept a sharp eye on the other Spawn. It was not only that they were aware of the pain Philip was in; it was that the invisible leash that kept them in check was now completely gone. Nothing could hold them back now, other than their Centurion trained discipline, and that was quickly becoming overwhelmed by the growing rage inside them.

The Saints tried their best to help, to calm the growing rage inside the Spawn, but there were just too few of them. Most of the Winged Guard had gone off westward with Philip or Geoff, to find and rescue Jason if he still lived. Those few who remained in Ares were either guarding Jason’s children, or here with Darius doing their very best to maintain order within the ranks.

In desperate need for help, the Saints went through the ranks of the Tosian regiments stationed on the warfront. They made as many of them as possible into disciples, to aid them with their work controlling the Spawn. That was working for now but, as their rage grew, Darius feared the disciples would begin to fear the Spawn and refuse to go near them. If it wasn’t for Commander Dovin’s personal attention to the Field Marshal, Darius didn’t know how sane he would be feeling either.

“Well?” Darius asked when Dovin joined him by his side.

“Your Spawn are starting to make imps out of everyone who isn’t already a disciple. We’re trying to put a stop to it, but it’s starting to worry our allies.”

“What about the final weapons the Togo have been promising us?” Since Qopo scouts had reported seeing armored mechanical vehicles in among the Lahorian horsemen he had started to worry seriously about his men’s chances.

“What the Togo call artillery and missile launchers are already in place. It seems they are like great catapults that can fire from great distances. Anyway, they’ve placed themselves thirty miles west of here, far enough so the Togo can recover them in case our lines get overrun.”

“I hate this,” Darius grumbled. “I wish both the Togo and Dominus had both kept their noses out of our war.”

“The Horde numbers in the millions. We would never have stood against such numbers without the Togo’s help.”

“But now the Lahorians are getting help from the Dominus.”

“They were getting help,” Dovin chuckled. “According to the Togo, all aid to the Horde has stopped because of Geoff’s attack on the Grau’s main base.”

“Did he take the island?”

“He’s taken the half on our side of the barrier. There was a passageway that led through the barrier, but the Grau destroyed it as Geoff’s men were trying to pass through. Since none of the Togo’s technology can survive passing through the barrier, it would be suicide for Geoff to cross, knowing he would face heavily armed Grau on the other side. Still, the Dominus passageway to Ares is now blocked, which means no more supplies can reach the Lahorians. According to the Togo, if we can hold the Horde back long enough, they will eventually run out of weapons to use against us. As you’ve been told, most of the Togo’s weapons depend on some kind of energy. Once that energy runs out, it must be replaced. With no more supplies, it is only a matter of time before the Horde runs out of energy to power their weapons.”

“But how much do they have in reserve and can we destroy that reserve before they need to use it.”

“The Togos are patrolling the skies with their zephyrs, trying to obtain that information. You can bet the stockpile will be heavily guarded, and out of the range of the Togo’s fancy catapults.”

“If only things could be simple again. I would ride out with a thousand horses and burn that stockpile to the ground,” Darius grumbled. He hated how things were changing so fast. Whereas, in a normal war, he would organize his Centurions into a wedge and send them charging forward to divide the enemies forces, he was now under orders not to charge at all but let the enemy come to him. If he was in a fortress that would make sense but, here on the open plains of Rapa at the desert’s edge, he felt very exposed, even with his men in a network of tunnels and trenches. According to the Togo, Darius should feel grateful for such a defensive position. East of their defensive line, the soil was sandy and loose, very poor ground should the Horde try to build similar fortifications. The enemy, therefore, had no defense against the Togo’s catapults and would have to set up camp many miles away from the front line. With zephyrs patrolling the skies, the Togo would be able to warn Darius of any coming attack. This would allow him time to mass his forces along the front to meet the enemy. Hopefully, that would allow his much smaller force to beat back the much larger armies of an enemy famous for its tenaciousness.

“By the way, the Togo have been handing these out to our men,” Dovin said, holding out a rubbery mask.

“What’s this thing?” Darius said with distaste.

“They call it a gas mask. It seems the Mordelians would even poison their foe’s air in battle. Not honorable, I say.”

“Not honorable at all,” Darius agreed. “So this is to protect us?”

“The Togo’s don’t know if Saints and Spawn will even be affected by the gas but they’re sure our regular soldiers will. The one thing the Togos are sure about, is that the Mordelians won’t resort to using plagues like they did in their Great Wars. Given how things turned out in their own lands, the Togo think the Dominus won’t risk going that far.”

“We can only hope. How soon until the fighting begins? I’m tired of waiting.”

“Well, at first the Horde was limited by the speed of their water caravans. After the Grau came to their aid, water stopped being a problem because the Grau brought all the water to the Horde on their zephyrs. When Geoff attacked the Grau’s main base, they must have gotten scared that they would get trapped on this side of the world. They all fled on their zephyrs, forcing the Horde to go back to depending on the water caravans. At the rate they’re moving, they should reach the range of the Togo’s catapults within a week. They will most likely stop to set up their main camp before that happens. It’s then up to them to decide when to attack,” Dovin explained

“They’d better attack soon. We can keep the Spawn in check for only so long. They need something to kill, and so do I,” Darius said through gritted teeth. “If Philip ever comes back, I will have words with him for taking so many of the Saints with him.”

“They all insisted on taking the risk.” Dovin sighed. “You think what you’re feeling is bad. We Saints were directly bonded to Jason. Now that bond has gone dead.”

“Sorry. I’m so filled with rage I haven’t taken the time to think what your people are going through.”

“We’re surviving, if just barely. The core is still alive; we know that much. Jason and all his love, however, is no longer connected to it, so we can’t tell if he’s alive or dead. Right now, I’m trying my best not to think about it.”

“Then you could do with some good killing yourself.” Darius laughed as he slapped Dovin hard on the back.

“I think there’ll be enough killing on both sides if we survive this,” Dovin sighed. “Once we defeat the Dominus, I think my days of war will be over.”

“There’ll always be another war. It’s human nature.”

“Then they’ll just have to depend on someone other than me to fight them,” Dovin laughed.

“If this is the way they’re going to be fought, from now on, I just might join you,” Darius said as he spat at the gas mask.

 

Chapter Five

 

Emperor Calis sat inside the armored tank as its automated controls guided it forward. Inside the tank with him were his ever-present companions, Harper, and Warren, the future High Priest of the West. It seemed like only yesterday to the young Emperor, that the Kaals came to them, presenting them with new and powerful weapons with which to fight their enemies and, therefore, giving the Horde a greater sense of invincibility than ever before.

With their gods’ disappearance, that feeling was gone. All at once, the redheaded gods had boarded their flying ships and left without saying a word. Since then, unease had fallen over the Horde. Just as they were reaching the end of their long trek across the Desert of Flames to face their enemies, just when they needed their gods most, they found themselves alone with weapons they didn’t understand and barely knew how to use.

Many of the men had, in fact, dropped their guns and rifles to take up their swords and spears, things they understood and knew they could use. Calis had ordered such men to be punished yet, with every passing moment, more men were doing the same.

“Warren, is the rumor true that our ancient enemy the Togo survived the sacrifice of Kaal?”

“It seems to be, your majesty,” Warren said sullenly. When the Kaals appeared, he had been quickly replaced as the Emperor’s favorite. Even though the gods were now gone, Warren still felt he didn’t have the same control over things he once had. He was also worried. If the Kaals had not left, but actually fled for some reason, maybe the great victory he pictured celebrating in the great Temple of the Mother wouldn’t happen after all.

“It also seems they’ve been arming the Centurions with weapons similar to what the Kaals gave us,” Harper added. Warren had been in a foul mood since the Kaal arrived, and had entered a worse one the day they left. That made life only harder for him, given Warren’s sadistic tastes.

“While my men throw away the gifts from our gods, out of some sense of tradition,” Calis spat. “How can they defy their gods like this?”

“Maybe it was the appearance of so many gods that has them confused,” Warren offered. “The prophecy said Kaal would return in Lahore’s time of need, but it said nothing about there being more than one Kaal.”

“I’ve tried punishing those who throw away their weapons, but more and more are doing so. How are we to face an army who’s better armed than we are?”

“With numbers, of course,” Warren sighed, before sipping from his water skin. “The enemy might have a half million soldiers at most, while we number in the millions. If we send all of our men at the enemy at once, surely we would overwhelm them.”

“And how many of my men would die as a result? Only one of the Centurions’ famed armies is on the field of battle. I will still need men to beat the other two into submission,” Calis pointed out.

“If we cannot beat this one army, there is no point in us fighting at all.” Warren retorted.

“Do you dare suggest we retreat?” Harper said, shocked. Among the millions of men were also many of the priests and monks of Kaal. While they were presently stunned by the disappearance of their gods, Harper knew that, if such an order were given, the bloodthirsty priests would kill all three of them and replace Calis with one of his many cousins.

“We can’t retreat. We need the anima inside those Centurions, or have you forgotten what happened to Lord Brashear?” Calis asked, as he glared at Warren. “You were the one who made me into an addict.”

“And look how quickly and strong you’ve grown,” Warren replied.

“Don’t give me that look, Inquisitor. I still won’t sleep with you,” Calis replied, as he reached down to play with Harper’s wavy brown hair. “I wish you wouldn’t abuse Harper so much. He is my favorite after all.”

“He is still my servant,” Warren said as he looked at Harper darkly.

“And I am your Emperor,” Calis replied just as coldly. “We cannot retreat, nor can we win without taking heavy casualties.” Calis was silent for a moment, deep in thought. “How badly do you want to rule Jadoor, Warren?”

“I’ve sold my soul many times, over that ambition.”

“Then, you will give Harper to me once I secure that island for you.”

“Fair enough, but what of the rest of the West. Will you leave your conquest incomplete?”

“Once you have Jadoor, you can raise your own army. I’ll even give you what advanced weapons you need. Just so long as you quickly convert your people to the true faith of Kaal.”

“With the aid of your skilled priests and my Inquisitors, that won’t be a problem. But you didn’t answer my question. What of the rest of the West?”

Everything north of Yelding will be yours. Those kingdoms are not so heavily populated, and will be easy to secure. Yelding, and everything south, I leave for you to conquer on your own.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Then let me speak plainly. I do not need you anymore, Warren, but unlike you I am a man of my word, so I’m going to give you Jadoor. I will not risk the entire Horde, in a war I cannot win without the aid of Kaal, however. Therefore, once we’ve conquered Jadoor, I will be taking Harper and the rest of the Horde back to Lahore, before some usurper decides to take advantage of my absence from Purrsha to seize the throne.”

“Aren’t you afraid what your priests might do to a coward emperor?”

“I’m not retreating. I am handing over command. The priests and monks will be staying with you, after all, to help covert the population to the true faith. If anyone is assassinated, it will be you, Warren. If you fail to please my priests, that is. They have never really trusted you .”

“What of the anima?”

“There are a quarter million Centurions waiting for us. I’m sure enough of them will die to provide a lifetime’s worth of the precious elixir. Now, get out. I don’t want to see your face.”

“Come, Harper, it’s time for another one of our lessons,” Warren commanded as the tank came to a sudden halt.

Before Warren knew it, Calis had a curved knife at his throat. “He is not going with you, Warren. For Jadoor, I demand my payment now.”

“Then he is yours,” Warren said, barely daring to breath. He would have his revenge one day. When the entire West was at his command, he would cross the Desert of Flames with his own armies, and smash the Empire of Lahore to dust. Giving up his favorite servant was a small price to pay for an entire empire.

Once Warren was out of the vehicle, the Tank started moving again. Bending down, Calis kissed the top of Harper’s head. “Now there is only you and me my love.”

“You should be more careful, your majesty. Warren will want revenge.”

“Let him try. I doubt very much that he will be able to hold onto Jadoor, once it is his. He is too used to crushing all those who oppose him. No emperor or priest can last long without the faith of the people. My priests will see to that. They will kill Warren, just to earn the people’s love and ensure that they swiftly convert to the true faith. It doesn’t matter. You and I will be back in the pleasure palaces of Purrsha, where I will make you First Consort.”

“Until you tire of me.”

“One never tires of one’s first love, my dear Harper, especially since it was I who seduced you.”

“I should have never let that happen. Warren was furious.”

“I should have killed him then, just for that,” Calis whispered, as he caressed Harper’s desert dark skin. “I’ve had enough marching today. Order the army to halt. We’ll set up our main camp here. The Kaal warned us of the Togo’s cannons. We should be safe enough from them here. Tomorrow we’ll rest. After that, we’ll do as was suggested, and send almost the entire might of the Horde against the Centurions, keeping just our elite guards here for our own protection. I’ll even send Warren into battle, and pray to Kaal he doesn’t survive.”

“I’ll doubt it’ll work. If Warren is anything, he’s a survivor,” Harper warned.

“It doesn’t matter so long as I get what I want.” Calis laughed before kissing the top of Harper’s head.

 

Chapter Six

Seeing the shimmering lights ahead of them, Philip stood in awe of the Great Barrier ‘s power . As high as the sky, and endless, it was a wall of fluctuating light. It was amazing that such a thing had protected all of Ares from an all-out invasion from Mordel for countless years. “How are we going to get through that again?” he asked the Togo pilot, to the man’s great annoyance.

“I said, you won’t understand,” the pilot sighed, before he went over it again. “This ship is equipped with a one-of-a-kind gravity drive. With it, we can produce anti-gravity fields around the ship that are powerful enough to push aside the Great Barrier and let the Argos slip through. First, though, we need to sink down about a thousand feet, as the ocean on the other side of the barrier is much shallower then the Barrier Ocean on this side of the wall. It is also more turbulent, due to the storms created by the solar winds on that side of the planet.

“So we’ll most likely all get sea sick.”

“Since we can’t keep the gravity drive on all the time, given the energy limitations, yes, things will get a little rough. Do you think you can handle that?”

“I’m a Centurion, am I not?”

“That doesn’t encourage me. You might see yourself as superior but, to us, you are an abomination that should never have occurred.”

“You Togo are always so pleasant to talk to,” Philip said sarcastically.

“If only you knew how we felt,” the pilot retorted.

Seeing Philip’s temper rise, James interceded. “We need him, Philip.”

“I just want to turn him into one of my spawn. Then he would actually enjoy me whipping his ass.”

“We swore to the Togo we wouldn’t make any abominations out of their crew. Since only they know how this ship works, I think we should stick to the agreement.”

“I can feel them slipping into madness, James…. The bloodlust is becoming too strong for them to ignore.”

“The Spawn you have with you are doing well.”

“That’s because they each have their very own Saint to keep them calm. It’s Field Marshal Darius and the Western Centurion Army I’m worried about. Between us and Geoff, we took most of the Saints with us. Darius is starting to lose control over his men.

“It’s not easy for the Saints, either. Geoff fights only so he won’t fall into complete despair. I’ve heard whispering among the Saints. Some want to take their own lives to escape the emptiness they now feel. If something isn’t done soon, I’m afraid they might actually go through with it.”

“As a Demon, I have no power over Jason’s Saints but I feel their pain. Maybe you should bond to them.”

“Steal Jason’s Saints from him?”

“More like save them. I need your Saints to be strong right now, for the sake of my own children. We can’t have rampaging Demon Spawn running through the ship. The Togo crew wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“Thank you for your concern, Lord Philip, but we have our own means of protecting ourselves. The only one we’re really worried about is you, Demon. We fear our weapons can’t stop a creature such as yourself.”

“Then we have no choice,” James said, as he looked deeply into Philip’s white glowing eyes. “We’ve avoided this long enough and, though we both have our own reservations on the matter, it’s the only solution I can think of.”

“You want me to bond to you?” Philip replied, shocked.

“And I to you. At least, that way, there’s a chance I might be able to leash your Spawn and keep them under control.”

“I can’t do this.”

“Why not? I can think of countless reasons why we should. The lives of your Centurion brothers, for starters. A quarter of a million of them are about to face the countless Horde of Lahore. Five legions of them are your Demon Spawn. What will happen to that army if the bloodlust takes over? Would your Spawn go so insane that they start killing their own people? Will we lose the entire west because of this?”

“I do care about you, James. You were the lover Jason needed when I had my head up my ass. I guess that’s the problem. We’re both protectors, so how am I going to feel when you don’t want me protecting you?”

“You’re afraid of me being able to leash you?”

“You’d better believe I am. I’ll confess, Jason loves us both almost equally, but what chance would I stand if you could leash me any time you wanted? You could then have Jason all to yourself.”

“Philip, you’re getting ahead of yourself. The first thing we have to do is get your spawn under control, before they start killing their Centurion brothers. Second, this is not about who loves Jason more. You think I’ll use the leash to keep you two apart. What do you think Jason’s reaction to that would be? This is not even a question we should be asking because, at the present moment, we don’t have a single clue as to where they’re keeping him. That’s what we should be working on, not fighting over who has control.”

“Very well but, when we come back, I get first dibs on Kyle,” Philip agreed grudgingly.

“I’m afraid not. Kyle has already told me he wants Jason to bond to him first.”

“ He hasn’t already?”

“He was afraid of what you would think.”

“Just so long as your imp doesn’t mind me giving him my bond, I don’t see any problems. I am really quite found of the little guy, you know,” Philip chuckled.

“Then let’s do it, and pray that it works,” James said as he embraced Philip.

“If all I get is some hot sex, I would say we came out ahead,” Philip replied, just before he planted his lips against James’ mouth.

As animas were exchanged, so were their bodies changed. James grew stronger and black feathers spotted his white wings. For Philip, the change was greater. His black wings turned albino white, while armored shells grew out protecting his lower arms. Soon, his entire body, except his face, was covered by the plated material.

“You look suited for war,” James noted as their lips parted.

“While you seem to have a new trick up your sleeve,” Philip replied, as he pulled out one of the black feathers, revealing its hard razor-sharp edge.

“It seems the anima knows what we’re trying to do, and gave us things to help us in our journey.”

“It seems that way,” Philip agreed. “Shall we continue, to see what new advantages we have in the privacy of the bedroom?”

“While you’re in full body armor?”

“Just give me a moment.” With some concentration, Philip absorbed the diamond hard plates back under his skin. “Is that better?”

“I can get used to it,” James chuckled, as he let Philip lead him away to the passenger compartments.

Chapter Seven

“Wake up, Jason,” Gideon cooed at the start of the next work shift. “Time I got some food inside you.” Holding out a bowl of soybean based Vox, he poured the third vial of Animani anima on top of it. Looking at Jason’s body, the angry bloody lines that had marked him, where he had been sliced open, had faded to a dull pink. Gideon couldn’t tell if there would be scaring. If there were, the marks would cover his entire body.

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he helped Jason sit up, bringing his dear friend to consciousness. “Gideon?” Jason whispered in a dazed voice.

“Yes, I’m still here. You slept well, I must say. The stitching is already starting to be absorbed by your body, so that’s a good sign that you’re healing.”

“I wouldn’t have survived without the help of the Animani. They slaughtered each other, just to produce enough anima.”

“From what I understand, the Animani don’t fear death; they only suffer due to their shared minds. I’m sure they died painless deaths. Anyway, it was their choice. You didn’t make them do it, even though I’m grateful they did. Still I don’t want any grumblings about how guilty you feel. That’s in the past, now. What should concern you is how you’re going to survive.”

“How dangerous is it out there? I know about the Dead Eaters,” Jason said, as Gideon spooned some of the anima enriched Vox and fed it to him.

“So long as I’m here, you’re safe. None of the vampire lords will dare cross me.”

“You’ve gone killing, haven’t you, killing over me.”

“Jason, believe me, most of the Nosferatu deserve to die for the things they’ve done to their slaves. You only have to look at the pitiful Dead Eaters to know that.”

“I love you, Gideon,” Jason whispered as a tear ran down his face.

“Why, why do you say that?” Gideon said, taken aback by Jason’s sincerity.

“You always do the right thing. You could have stayed in the palace, after what Philip did to you, but you knew you were too dangerous to stay. So you made the ruined city of Qul Hoth your home. And you didn’t stop there. You tried to rebuild the city, back to its former glory, only for that all to be taken away from you. You were sent all the way down here, into the pits of hell, but you didn’t give up doing the right thing. You rescued me and are now protecting me.”

“Other people wanted you. Other people would have been able to provide a better life.”

“The Dominus would have never given me to anyone but you. I know what’s going on. I know what you promised them. I’ve studied the Centurion Prophecies long enough to know your role in them. You are the force of death that will unite with the force of hatred, our most deadly foe, the Dominus.”

“Is this one of your visions?”

“No. I never saw anything past the loss of my own core. That was one fate I could never escape, not unless I had been willing to take my own life. I could never do that to Philip and James.”

“James? Is there is a new love in your life?” Gideon laughed.

“An Angel, the last of them, in fact, now that I’m no longer one. He loves me, and I love him. He’s charming, and just as protective of me as Philip.”

“Which one do you love more?”

“It’s not a matter of love, but understanding. James, as an Angel, has always understood me better than Philip. That is why I know I can trust him to keep his word, and follow my last request of him before the Grau took me. He is to stay at Philip’s side, and make sure the madness doesn’t take him. By now, they should be bonded lovers, at least I hope they are.”

“And what of you, Jason? You must have thought of what you would do, should you survive.”

“Continue to survive, for starters. Here in Mordel, I think I will find that a daily challenge. When I’m not worrying about that, I guess I will try to find some way to escape. Philip and James swore they would search for me. How big of a fool’s errand that will turn out to be, only time will tell.”

“If I were them, I would never give up searching for you.”

“Enough about me. What of you, Gideon? We both know what the Dominus want from you. Will you give it to them?”

“I promised I would when they said they would give me you.”

“And that probably has saved my life for the moment. Can you actually go through with it though? Become the force of death and turn on your Centurion brothers?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know how much of me will survive when the Dominus destroy this shell of a body I have, and release the mists inside me. Will I have any control over the force I will unleash on Ares? I can’t say. I don’t think I will, or else why would the Dominus want to use me.”

“I don’t think the Dominus know for sure what will happen. Once again, they fail to learn from their mistakes, made during their own Great Wars, and look to unleash a weapon of unknown power upon the world. I do believe a part of you will survive the destruction of your body. I just hope it will be enough for you to seize control of the force seeking to destroy your brothers.”

“I will try, Jason, that I swear,” Gideon said, as he gave Jason the final spoonfuls of Vox. “You should get some more rest now. Anima always tends to make you sleepy.”

“Stay here with me,” Jason said as he took hold of Gideon’s skeletal hand.

“You don’t mind having a corpse like me around?”

“How much longer can such questions be asked between us?” Jason replied, squeezing Gideon’s hand with his meager strength.

“You’re right; our time is short,” Gideon said as he lay down next to Jason. Nuzzling up against Jason’s smooth body, he let his dear friend warm his cold flesh.

“Maybe the Togo will find some way to cure you,” Jason whispered hopefully.

“I hope someone can,” Gideon replied. “But I’ve long given up on such a miracle.”

“You never know. A force yet unseen might come to you in your time of need.”

“If that’s the case I wish they would stop hiding.

 

Chapter Eight

Sin sat on the imperial throne, with Varrus by his side. With the eyes of the entire court watching his every movement, the young man felt almost too self-conscious to speak. Seeing this, Varrus spoke in the Regent’s name. “Let the Field Marshal in,” he ordered in a booming voice.

With a creaking sound, the great gold and iron doors that led into the throne room were swung wide open, revealing a gaunt figure dressed in the white and gold armor of the Home Guard. He held the horned helmet of a Field Marshal under his right arm. Marching forward with long strides, he walked to within ten feet of the imperial throne before falling down on one knee with a loud metallic clang.

Now that all eyes were on the disgraced Field Marshal, Sin found it easier to talk. “Field Marshal Lukas, we are pleased you have returned safely from exile. Do you feel ready to take command of the untied forces of all of Ares?”

“Ready, no, Regent, but able, yes. I’ve made critical study of Jason’s predictions, as well as the Centurion Prophecies, and I must say that I fear our armies along the borders of Rapa are falling into a trap.”

“Would you have them retreat, after making such great preparations to defend the front line?” Varrus asked.

“No. I’m afraid it is too late for that. My fear is not of the Horde of Lahore but of what will come after. Will the Steward and Regent agree that, in the coming battle, the resulting casualties will be so high as to be unheard of in the history of the Empire.”

“Never has the Empire faced the entire armies of Lahore. That is why the Eastern Kingdoms were established, to create a buffer between them and us,” Varrus replied, not seeing Lukas’ point.

“Think of the prophecies. At least the Emperor did. Though it shames me to admit it, his wisdom and foresight are much greater than that of any man, including myself. Through reading of the prophecies, and given his own visions and history, he predicted that the great force of death the Empire would have to face, would first appear on a field of battle where huge casualties had occurred. With millions of men at their command, the Hordes numbers are nearly limitless. Are they not about to go to battle against the entire Western Army, as well as a quarter million additional soldiers? With the month of preparation for us fortify the border, and with the advance weapons the Togo have given us, can’t you see that the resulting carnage will be greater than anything the Empire has ever witnessed?”

“That may be,” Varrus nodded. “But how are the dead to rise against us?”

“Gideon,” Lukas replied. “Jason believed his dear friend, Gideon, would be the catalyst that would cause the dead to rise, just as the unfortunate man did when he seized control of Qul Hoth. This time, however, it will be on a much grander scale, with possibly millions of dead coming back to life.”

“But how will they get Gideon here? The Captain of the Winged Guard has already sealed off the Dominus’ main base and passageway to our side of the world.”

“Lord Geoff might be in danger, then,” Sin said worriedly. “Have one of our Saints warn him of a possible counterattack.”

“The Togo should also be warned. If Gideon can be stopped from reaching the killing fields, the prophecy might never come true,” Varrus added. “How soon do you think, Field Marshal Lukas, until this army of the living dead appears?”

“I cannot give you an exact date, but I predict it will happen when the Dominus see that the Horde is faltering in their attack against the West.”

Stepping forward, a Togo agent, with a communicator buzzing in his ear, spoke. “The Horde is marching toward our front lines.”

“Where exactly?” Varrus asked.

“Along the entire front. They must know that we can’t protect the entire border of Rapa, so will attempt to break through the weaker points in our defensive line. If they succeed, they could outflank Field Marshal Darius and surround his remaining forces.”

“Any good news?” Lukas grumbled.”

“Yes. It appears that the Lahorians are not as heavily armed as we feared. A small force, therefore, stands a chance at holding the enemy back with the advanced weapons we’ve provided,” the Togo replied.

“Still, the casualties will be great,” Lukas said, stressing his point.

“Have you warned your people of a possible return of the Grau?” Varrus asked the agent.

“I just have, and I have worse news. The passageway the Grau destroyed before the Winged Guards could reach it, turns out to not be the only way past the barrier. It seems that the island is hollow, with an underwater tunneling running right through it. We can’t say for sure if any Grau ships have passed through it, as of yet.”

“Can you send your own ships through the tunnel?” Sin asked.

“We can, but none of our submersible ships are in that area. It will take us some time to reach it.”

“And during all that time, Mordelian warships can slip into our waters unimpeded,” Lukas warned.

“Thank you for stating the obvious,” Varrus grumbled. “We must take the other half of the island before that happens.” Turning to the Togo agent, Varrus gave him a pleading look. “Can your people lower the barrier, if just for a moment?”

“We can’t turn the barrier on and off like a switch. You do not understand the amount of power that is involved. We can move the barrier, so that the entire island is on our side of the wall, but that would mean moving Luna to a different orbit. Such a move could risk Luna becoming unstable, and it would crash down on us.”

“What is the actual risk of that happening?” Lukas asked.

“Quite small, to be honest. We have moved Luna before. We just haven’t done so in many years. It’s not a risk we like taking, but I will pass on your request to High Command.”

“See that they make their decision quickly,” Varrus said, as he fought to remain calm. Darius was the closest thing he had to a husband, after all. To have such a great man turned into an undead slave was a fate no man deserved.

“Lord Geoff has been warned, and his men will be ready should the Great Barrier shift,” one of the Winged Guards reported.

“Well, what does High Command have to say for itself?” Varrus asked the agent after a long pause.

“They will shift Luna’s orbit, but they’re not happy about it. Tell your team on the island to standby. The shift will destroy most of the Grau’s weapons, so they should have the advantage.”

“Good. At least something is going our way,” Lukas grunted.

“The barrier is shifting. Geoff’s men are advancing forward,” the Saint in contact with the captain reported. “By the red sun… Geoff’s men have found a giant squid in the compound, and it is attacking our people.”

“That is one of the Dominus,” the Togo warned.

“That monster is the leader of the Mordelians?” Varrus asked, shocked, as he peered into Geoff’s vision.

“One of them. There are over a hundred such monsters in the city of Mordel, by our calculations. The only reason there are not more, is that they tend to have their young kill one another to prove their worth.”

“Well, one just killed twelve of our men. It’s dead now, or at least we think it is,” Varrus said as he returned to his own mind.

“Most of the Grau will surrender, now that their mistress is dead. If they were to ever return home, they know what the Dominus in Mordel would do to them for letting one of them die.” The Togo agent laughed.

“Glad you find this amusing. Did any ships get through?” Lukas asked.

“Our computer experts are hacking into their database as we speak.”

Not understanding a word the Togo had just said, Lukas and Varrus just shrugged at one another.

“Three ships passed through the tunnel two days ago,” the agent finally reported. “Gideon is listed on the passenger manifest.”

“Then we acted too late.” Varrus sighed. “Is there any hope your people can find those ships?”

“Submersibles are built for stealth, but we will try to find them. Until they send what you call zephyrs to the warfront, our sensors will most likely not be able to find them.”

“By that time, it will be too late. Shoot the flying machines down and you kill Gideon, but you also release that damned green mist which will take over the bodies of our dead. I hate to tell you this, Varrus, but any man you can’t risk dying needs to be evacuated from the front lines now, while they still have a chance.”

“You’re right, of course. Saints are too few to risk, and an undead army of Demon Spawn is too horrific to imagine. I’ll have them retreat to the Togo’s Zephyrs. As for the main armies, I’ll have those who survive the first attack retreat to Sol and the Dorsa border. We need more time to evacuate our people from the Eastern Kingdoms. If we pull back, that will only leave Lahore to deal with the undead. Hopefully they’ll destroy one another enough to lessen the threat they both pose,” Lukas said.

“Or, it could just increase the number of undead,” Varrus sighed. “We need to find some way to counter and destroy the green mist.”

“We will have to capture samples and study them. I promise our full effort on this,” the Togo agent said solemnly.

“Field Marshal Darius has been given his orders, though he’s not happy about it. Commander Dovin will see he reaches the safety of Sol,” the Saint communicator reported.

“Hopefully, he won’t have to retreat much further than that,” Lukas said as he gave the Togo agent a hard look.

Standing up from Jason’s throne, for Sin would never think of it as his, he looked at Lukas with his red eyes. “Field Marshal Lukas, so that you might have a chance to restore your honor, the defense of the Gate and all Domus has been left in your charge. This time, if you fail, the Empire will fall with you.”

“I understand, and am most grateful for this second chance. I therefore ask the court’s leave, so I might take charge of the Gate’s defenses at once.”

“You have our permission to leave. Agent Lance will go with you to keep us informed of your progress.” Sin sat back down. Looking up at Varrus, he saw the man give him an encouraging nod. He had done well in facing Lukas. He only hoped he continued to do well and make his father proud of him. He also prayed that his father would succeed in rescuing his Uncle Jason. He missed him more than his own father, so kind, gentle and understanding. He also owed his life to Jason. Without the Emperor’s anima he would have died at birth, or fallen into madness like his mother. He owed so much to others, that the guilt and weight of responsibility was almost too much to bear. He would bear it however, no matter for how long. He owed the others that much, at least.

“May I leave now?” Sin asked. Now that Lukas was gone all eyes were back on him.

“Yes, you’ve done enough for today. Go meet Kyle in the nursery. I’m sure the children will be happy to see you.”

“I like them, too,” Sin nodded. “As Regent, it’s my duty to protect them. I wish father had taught me how to fight with his swords.”

“Koltus can teach you,” Varrus offered.

“I’m too afraid to ask him,” Sin whispered, embarrassed by his own confession.

“Would you like me to ask him for you?”

“Would you, please? Though you’ve told me they’re no longer mad at me, I still think most of the Winged Guard don’t like me for putting Jason’s life in danger.”

“Believe me, they’ve forgiven you,” Varrus said as he put a reassuring hand on Sin’s shoulder. “Go. I will deal with the imperial court. A young, man such as yourself, should have his fun too.”

“Thank you, Lord Varrus,” Sin said as he got off the throne and left through a side door.

“Poor lad. What could Jason have been thinking?” Varrus sighed as he replaced Sin on the throne. Until the sun set, Varrus had to deal with the more mundane problems of running the Empire. With so many refugees arriving each day, it was a chore to make sure each was sent to his or her proper settlement. It was not something Sin would have been able to handle. As Jason had last decreed, only the big decisions need be made by Sin. Based on what Jason thought, Sin was the unseen player in the game of fate that the Dominus had long believed they had mastered. Varrus hoped Jason was right. He hated seeing how weighted down by responsibility Sin had become since being raised to Regent. As an Angel, Jason had foreseen many things before his disappearance. Maybe he had seen a need for Sin. For Varrus to worry about it was pointless. The decision had already been made and was now out of his control. He could only advise and guide Sin, and do his best to protect the inexperienced young man from the harsh realities of the real world.

When he finally retreated to his own quarters, Varrus felt old beyond his years and very alone. All the men important to him were off in distant lands, fighting for the survival of the Empire and its Emperor. Due to the wounds he had suffered from Gladius, or because Jason had no one else he could trust, the Emperor had left the management of the Empire in his mentor’s hands. Just as it was for Sin, it was quickly becoming too much for Varrus. He wanted to be out of the palace with Philip, James, or Geoff, fighting and searching for the man he loved beyond all others. Jason had forbidden it, however, not wanting a cripple who was dear to him to risk his life for his sake. If that is the way Jason wanted it, Varrus had no choice but to obey. He owed Jason that much. Still, the bond that was now connected to nothing pained him as much as it did to everyone else. Philip had to succeed, and quickly, or Varrus and the rest of Jason’s Saints would die of despair.

 

Chapter Eight

Ten days ago, Gideon had snuck off while Jason was resting and had not returned. Jason knew the reason why, and it pained him. Since then, he had remained locked up in the bunker, not daring to leave its protection. Soon enough, the vampires would learn that his protector was gone. There were still Gideon’s personal bodyguards, each sworn beyond death to protect him with their very lives. Still, he didn’t think he could stay safe forever.

First of all, the slaves were disappearing. One, then two, and then a few at a time, they didn’t come back from their work shifts. Only a frightened handful remained. Jason tried ordering the guards to protect the slaves, but Gideon’s orders couldn’t be changed. They were sworn to protect Jason at all costs, which meant the slaves had to fend for themselves. When the number of slaves dropped to five, they stopped going to the ore pits and remained locked up with Jason, too scared to leave.

On the eleventh day, one of the guards came to Jason’s bedroom, reporting that two members of the Cabal wished to speak with him. The guards had already checked the two lords for weapons, and would be in the room with Jason to ensure his safety.

Knowing this day had to come, eventually, Jason agreed to meet them inside the bunker. As the two lords entered, Jason noticed their pale skin and gray military style uniforms. One wore a crown of gold around his head, while the other had a medallion on his chest. Taking the two seats the guards had placed out, the lords looked up at Jason with their yellow eyes.

The one with the medallion spoke first “I am Lord Ivan. My companion is Prince Dmitri, the leader of the Cabal. We wish to discuss matters with you. First though, how should we address you?”

“Just call me Jason. I have no titles in your lands, and the Dominus have already taken everything they could from me.”

“So the rumors say, Jason. It is good to see that you are recovering. There is almost no scarring.”

“The wounds done to me go deeper than my skin,” Jason replied. “What is it you want of me?”

“You do realize your position here is unsustainable. Without the slaves, you won’t meet the Dominus’ quota, so you will not be resupplied with food and water. The next quarter comes in the next few days. If something isn’t done soon, you and your people will starve,” Ivan said.

“Are you offering anything better?” Jason countered.

This time it was the Prince who spoke. “Believe it or not, but you are a wealthy man. Before he was taken by the Dominus, Gideon left his legal will in my care. It has made you heir of all his holdings and accounts. It’s just unfortunate that you lack the ability to protect that which is yours. Your guards are clearly not under your command, or you would have been able to protect your slaves. We have guessed that Gideon’s final command to them was to protect you at all costs. Am I right?”

Seeing no reason to lie, Jason simply nodded.

“You are a prisoner, Jason, a prisoner in your own coven unless you accept our help.”

“Exactly what is it you are offering?”

“A marriage, of sorts. You become the blood bride of one of our lords, and you gain his protection.”

“Let one of you feed from me?” Jason replied skeptically.

“Even seated away from you, we can smell your blood. You might have been stripped of your core, but traces of what you once were still remain inside your veins. This fact is well known among our people. Many would risk harming or even killing you, just for a taste.”

“But they would have to get past my guards, wouldn’t they?”

“Which is the crux of the matter,” Dmitri sighed. “After the last foolish attack, no lord or lady is willing to risk their slaves in a direct confrontation with Gideon’s men,” Ivan said. “Even with their protection, you and your slaves will die eventually without our aid.”

“I will not let you turn me into a piece of meat.”

“You are more than a piece of meat to us, Jason. We believe you are the answer to many of the problems we of the Cabal face in achieving our greater ambitions. We don’t like living down here, anymore than we think you do.”

“I am weak and will never fully recover, yet you want blood from me,” Jason said angrily.

“You will recover, certainly not to what you once were but, just as we can smell the traces of your once potent anima, we can smell the growing animus in you. With your anima core gone the animus in you is growing stronger. Soon it will make you stronger, as well. The Dalfs weren’t charged with the security of the upper city due to any weakness on their part,” Ivan said.
“What other options do I have?” Jason sighed.

“None at all, which is exactly the kind of bargaining position I like.” Dmitri chuckled, before changing to an expression of sympathy. “I’m not a bad sort of fellow, Jason. I just can’t risk your falling into the wrong sort of hands. Believe me, you don’t want to either. They would torture you just for their own enjoyment, partly because of what you once were, but mostly because of your friendship with Gideon. He has long been a thorn in the council’s side, making us all look bad.”

“Which lord would I be paired with, or is it you, your highness,” he asked the Prince

“No, not that I don’t desire you, Jason, but to claim you as my blood bride would upset the rest of the council. They would accuse me of having too much power. It’s Ivan I intend to pair you with. Not only can he protect you, but he and I share a special relationship which would make your pairing beneficial to me as well.”

Seeing the way the two vampires looked at each other, that relationship was so obvious to Jason that he laughed. “You two are lovers.”

“I made him what he is today back when he was my blood bride.” Dmitri brushed Ivan’s pale face with the knuckles of his hand. “Anyway, don’t your tastes bend toward the homosexual.”

“I have both a wife and a husband.”

“Surprise, surprise. Just don’t let Sitha find out. She hasn’t forgiven Gideon, or you for that matter, for what happened to her lover Azrael.”

“I know nothing about that,” Jason said honestly.

“All the more reason why you need our protection,” the Prince said matter-of-factly. “There are many things you do not know about this city, many chances for you to make a deadly mistake. Accept our offer or don’t, Jason. It’s as simple as that.”

Looking down at the metal floor, Jason felt defeated. But he wasn’t ready to admit it, yet. “Give me some time to think about it,” he finally replied.

“Jason, it’s not like you have the time to fool around,” Ivan warned. “Join us, and we’ll protect you. Stay here, and you’ll either die in this tomb or the radicals will get you.”

“You should also see about getting your wings remove. They’re dying, Jason. You don’t want them to take you with them.”

“I know, I know. Just as I can’t accept your offer right now, I can’t accept losing my wings.”

“But you know what you will have to do in the end,” Dmitri said sadly.

“I do, but I’m not yet ready to give myself up.”

“We’ll give you until the next work shift. That’s as long as we dare wait,” the Prince said as he stood to leave. Holding out his hand, he waited for Jason to accept it. He didn’t. “You know what you have to do, Jason. We’ll be back soon.”

Once they were gone, Jason went into the back bedroom, locked the door, and fell on the bed, sobbing. After all he’d been through, how could things get any worse? He was only now getting back some of his old strength. If only they had waited a week longer Jason was sure he could have defended himself. He did have the shock staff, and the other weapons Gideon had kept in the weapons closet. After he had cried enough, he went into the bathroom and reached under the sink, retrieving his final vial of anima. Even though he knew it would put him to sleep and leave him vulnerable, he needed the extra strength it would give him when the Prince and his lover returned. He wouldn’t fight them. He knew how pointless that would be. He would surrender himself, but with his back straight and head held high, leaving the bunker on his own unaided feet. Going back to the bed, Jason quickly fell asleep as the anima took effect. He therefore never noticed one of the slaves leaving the bunker, running purposefully through the dark tunnels.

 

 

Chapter Nine

“Brother Alex, we’ve got something for you,” Brother Maslow said from the door. In the syndicate, they were all brothers, men and beasts that had been exiled from their clans for one reason or another. Alex, however, was different. He had never belong to any of the clans, had really not belonged anywhere according to the humorless man. He was an excellent fighter and a really mean killer, and the other brothers would have no other man beside them if they were in a tight corner.

“What is it?” Alex asked in a stoic voice, as he placed his double-bladed sword back on its rack. His skin had once been a deep navy blue but, since the Animani cured him of his anima addiction, it had faded to a light powder blue over the past seven years. Having just finished the hundred exercises of a sword master, his body was dotted with droplets of sweat.

“Someone’s come looking for you, and you won’t believe what.”

“Don’t you mean ‘who’?” Alex corrected.

“You mean who he used to be. He’s a ‘what’ now, by the looks of him. You’ve heard of Anton, our agent on the slave levels. Well, he found his way up, here believe it or not.”

“And he wants to see me?” Alex frowned.

“You know what this has to be about, don’t you?” Maslow asked.

“Gideon,” Alex sighed. He knew Gideon had been brought to Mordel shortly before he had been captured. The Grau agent, Thomas, had told him so as a favor to Jason. Thomas had also told Alex of Gideon’s curse. They had never tried to contact each other. Alex had assumed it would be too dangerous. Now Gideon seemed to have a message for him, and hadn’t used the official communication lines through the Central Pillar. That could only mean that what Gideon had to say was too damned important to let the Grau find out. That worried Alex. There were too few things they had in common that were so important. “Let me speak to Anton.”

“That’s just it. He ain’t speaking except to say he has a message for you. His eyes are a sickly green, and he has a bone tube in his hands that we can’t pry away from him. We think it’s the curse, so we put him in an airtight room. You can go see him, but I wouldn’t go into that cell if you paid me to.”

“If it’s a message from Gideon, I doubt he wants to give the curse to me,” Alex said confidently. “Just don’t kill Anton. That will release the mist and cause it to search for a new host.”

“Well, he’s on sub-level five, detention center.”

“I know the way,” Alex said as he passed Maslow through the doorway.

“Good, because I wasn’t going to guide you, brother.”

Going down two floors, Alex reached the detention level where the Urh syndicate’s hostages were usually kept under heavy guard. Most of the cells were empty. Kidnapping and ransoming for high level figures in Mordel was very risky, and usually resulted in a heavy crackdown by General Security on the syndicate’s other illegal activities. Still, three cells were occupied; one by a Hawkman who had been late paying off his gambling debt. The other held a legal aid to one of the High Judges. Alex’s brothers were putting pressure on the poor fellow to repress certain bits of key evidence against Father Lars, the head of the Urh syndicate. The third cell held the man Alex was looking for: ghostly pale Anton, his once gray eyes now a sage green.

Pushing the button that activated the intercom through the thick glass walls Alex spoke into the speaker. “Anton, I understand you have something for me?”

Moving forward to the glass barrier, Anton held up the bone tube and dropped it inside the metal box where food was usually passed. Sliding the box to the other side, where Alex waited, the man stared at Alex with a vacant gaze.

Reaching into the box, Alex retrieved the tube and twisted it open, revealing the small scrap of paper inside. Removing it, he read the short message aloud. “I have Jason. Save him from me. Gideon.”

Taking in a sharp breath, Alex felt his chest tighten as his heart began to race. Jason was here in the city. The Dominus had actually done what Thomas warned Alex they would do. Take Jason from his home, steal his anima core, and then dump his body in the worst place possible. He knew what Gideon was asking of him. He knew Father Lars would vehemently oppose any attempt to raid Omega Level. There simply was no profit in doing something so risky that it bordered on the suicidal.

If Alex couldn’t count on his brothers, he would have to look elsewhere for help. “Did Gideon tell you anything else, Anton. How am I to get to the lower levels?”

“I am to guide you. Only then will Gideon release me from his curse,” Anton said in a pained voice, though his face remained expressionless.

“But we’re going to need help. Just the two of us can’t take on the Nosferatu.”

“Jacob is a Dalf,” Anton replied.

“Jacob? You mean that wolf pup of Jason’s? He was a Dalf the whole time and he’s here?” Alex asked excitedly. Anton must not have been told anything more, for the cursed man remained silent. “Jacob must be here, which means the Dalfs most likely have him. Looks like I’m going to have to make a visit to General Security’s Tower One. I, of course, will have to take you with me, Anton.” Going to the metal door, Alex grabbed the handle and jerked it off its hinges. Walking smoothly out of the room, Anton now had a dangerous look about him as alarms blared.

“What the hell is going on?” Brother Jenkins asked. Jenkins was a Dalf who was right now in the half man-half beast phase of his cycle. His left eye was missing, having been clawed out when he dared to challenge the leader of his pack. He had lost not only his eye, that day. He was mean spirited, and was an excellent jailor who would taunt his prisoners mercilessly. “What do you think you’re doing, Brother Alex? Don’t you know what you just freed?”

“Yes, so I advise you go turn off the alarms, tell our brothers it was a mistake, and let me and Anton go our own way.”

“And how am I to explain Anton’s escape? Lars would have my head on a platter for letting such a dangerous creature loose.”

“Do you really want to fight me, Jenkins? We are brothers, after all.”

“You don’t have that fancy sword of yours on you.”

“Believe me, I don’t need it to deal with a cur like you.”

“Why you, you’ll pay for that,” Jenkins said. Removing a club from his belt, he charged forward.

Once the Dalf was within arms’ reach Alex grabbed the creature by his head and pulled him the rest of the way towards him. He then jerked his arms violently to the right before letting go. Having snapped the Dalf’s neck, Jenkins fell down to the floor, dead. “Come on, Anton, let’s go before I have to kill more of my brothers.” Alex spoke in a tone that showed he could not care less about how many of his ‘brothers’ he had to kill. Jason was here, almost within reach.

He might still be a cold-blooded killer, but he had had plenty of time to rethink his actions towards Jason. Jason had offered to save him, swore he would. When Alex turned him down, just before the fall of Emperor Xavier, Jason had made sure his friend would be saved one way or another. So Jason had made a deal with the Grau. They would kill Alex, and cure him of his addiction, and they did. The problem was that, after so much killing, Alex found he couldn’t stop. It was another addiction, just as powerful as the one he had to anima.

Alex could only hope that saving Jason from the Nosferatu would erase the guilt he felt about how he had treated Jason. This was especially where it came to Felix, Jason’s nemesis back at the Academy. He had trained Felix hard, but he had never doubted for a moment that Jason would beat the Legatio. Alex just wanted to make sure Felix posed enough of a threat that Jason would have no choice but to kill him.

Back then, Alex had wanted that. He had wanted the man he loved, more than anything, to know what it felt like to be a killer, especially a Legatio killer like himself. In his anima fed madness, he thought it would bring the two of them closer, that they would finally have something in common that didn’t involve his brother, Philip.

Having been cured of his addiction to anima, his reasoning had become clear enough that he now knew how wrong he had been. When Jason had killed Felix, it had not been out of anger or revenge, but out of pity for the terrible things Alex had done to Felix to turn him into a mindless killer. Killing Felix had not brought Jason any greater understanding of Alex. In fact, it had pulled them farther apart. That shame and guilt had weighed heavily on Alex these past seven years. Now, he had a chance to make amends, to prove he could be just as good a protector as Philip. His brother must have failed Jason, after all. How else did Jason end up in the hands of the Dominus?

To Alex’s slight disappointment, they didn’t meet any resistance as he and Anton made their escape. Alex even had time to retrieve his double-bladed sword from his room. Lars must have warned all his men to clear the building while Anton was loose. It was Anton himself who had warned the syndicate about the power of the curse of Gideon.

Exiting the syndicate compound through the doors of an empty warehouse, Alex looked up at the sky for any sign of the Hawkmen patrols. Seeing none, he took Anton’s hand and merged with the thick crowds making their way through the wonders of the upper city.

 

Chapter Ten

Through sheer force of numbers, and a goodly amount of plastic explosives, the Cabal’s radical faction had broken into Gideon’s bunker, killed the slaves, and taken Jason for themselves. Now Jason was dangling over a black pit, his hands tied to a metal hook at the end of a thick long chain. Standing in a circle on the edges of the pit were the members of the radical faction.

“Fly, Angel, fly. Fly and win your freedom,” Sitha taunted. Jason was flapping his wings, but they beat unevenly and bent in a crooked fashion. Feathers by the handful were falling from them and floating down to the black oily pool at the bottom of the pit.

For Jason, having his body stretched out inflamed the scar tissue that lined his body, blinding him to everything but the pain he was in. He had been a fool. The Prince had tried to warn him that worse things awaited him if he turned down his offer. Now, worse things had come, and Jason couldn’t imagine himself surviving it, not after having suffered so much already.

“Sitha, what do you think you’re doing?” Lord Fredrick asked, when he saw the woman pull out a pair of darts that had been hidden under her belt.

“Just having a little fun,” Sitha said coyly, as she aimed and threw a dart, hitting Jason in the chest. She was about to throw the second one when Fredrick grabbed her wrists tightly.

“Stop this foolishness, Sitha. We haven’t won the day, yet. Gideon’s curse still survives and is hunting for us. If that damned mist finds us here, it will be the end of us all.”

Jerking her arm free, she placed the dart back under her belt. “Those mindless slaves will never find us here. The tunnels leading here are not even supposed to exist.”

“That doesn’t mean they can’t be found,” Tyrell warned. “Anyway, how long can we hide here. We can’t risk bringing our slaves here. They might talk. We only have our Dead Eaters, and they are more mindless than Gideon’s men. We must take what we want from the Angel, and if it works like the legends say, make our quick escape to the upper levels of the city.”

“Not until I’ve had my fun. You saw what Gideon did to Azrael the first time we tried to capture the Angel.”

“Azrael is no longer our concern. He’s been exile by the Cabal. It would be a crime just for him to be among us. Anyway, it’s not like he would be of much use. He can’t even hold a sword.” Fredrick chuckled.

“I will not have my lover disparaged so,” Sitha said as she glared at Lord Fredrick.

“If you wish to cling to the past, so be it, Sitha, but don’t be surprised if the rest of us move on to the future and leave you behind to clean up this mess,” Tyrell warned.

“You wouldn’t abandon me, Lord Tyrell. I’ve always been loyal,” Sitha whispered, a hint of fear in her voice.

“You’ve always been an enthusiastic member of our cause. Do not let that enthusiasm blind you to our greater goals, however. Since the day that the Dominus created our kind, we’ve been forced to grovel in the dark. With the Angel’s blood, those days will end. We will rise up to the surface and form a new Cabal, one more capable of achieving our goal of becoming masters of Mordel.”

“Of course, Lord Tyrell, but what of the other members of the Cabal.”

“The so called moderates? Let them rot down here, while we achieve our destiny.” Tyrell laughed.

“Can’t I have my fun first?” Sitha asked as she looked predatorily at Jason.

“We have some time,” Tyrell said, silencing Fredrick’s protests before they could pass his lips. “Preparations have to be made before we can make our move to the upper levels. The Dominus will be most furious when they learn of our escape. The money in our accounts must be hidden, and bribes made to the syndicates to insure our safe passage. We must also make sure that whoever we bribe stays bought, or dies before he can talk. The Urh syndicate is believed to have a quite skilled assassin. We can hire him to eliminate any loose ends, without Father Lars ever learning who he’s really dealing with. All of this, of course, will have to be arranged without using the main lines of communication. That means we’ll have to use couriers to relay our messages to the syndicates. This will take time, as travel between levels is never easy unless you’re a Grau, and a Grau will not let himself be bribed, given the likely punishment the Dominus would deal him. So, have your fun, Sitha, but do not kill or maim him. You can torture him, but I want him otherwise healthy. I will be most cross with you if the time comes when we need him, and I find him too weak to be of any use.”

“I understand, Lord Tyrell.”

“Lord Fredrick will keep an eye on you, just to make sure you obey my orders,” Tyrell said before he left.

“No more darts,” Fredrick said smugly to Sitha. Both knew if he reported mistreatment on Sitha’s behalf, Lord Tyrell would see her fate was no different than that of her lover, Azrael. “And get him off that chain before his lungs give out.”

“You’ve never been much fun, Lord Fredrick,” Sitha pouted.

“Of course not. My eyes have always been on our greater goal, not these silly games you like to play. Now, do as I say or it will be you on the end of a hook.”

“As your lordship commands.” Sitha curtsied as she nodded to a man by the chain’s cranks. As Jason was lifted out of the pit, Sitha tried to think of ways to rid herself of Fredric. Nothing deadly, of course. That would be too suspicious. She just needed to find a way to keep him distracted while she took out her revenge on the Angel.

 

Chapter Eleven

The Battle of the Rapan Line had been as bloody and terrible as both sides feared. In all, two million people had died. By the end of three full days of battle, the Centurions and their allies were in full retreat toward their secondary lines along Rapa’s border with Dorsa. As for what remained of the Horde, they quickly gave up the chase, moving west toward the mountains that separated Rapa from Uul. Their new supreme commander, High Inquisitor Warren, was too eager to reach the sea, and his home on the island of Jadoor, to care about the tattered remains of the Western Centurion Army. He didn’t even give his armies time to bury their dead.

That is why, when Gideon arrived, he found the desert and plains a bountiful field, from which he could harvest the bodies of the dead. As a zephyr aimed its disruptor turrets at Gideon, the cursed man repeated Jason’s name over and over in his mind, hoping that whatever remained of him would keep the name of his dearest friend imprinted into his next life.

Without warning, the zephyr fired. Gideon’s body disintegrated into an ever-expanding cloud of green mist. As the Zephyr raced away, countless miles of battlefield were covered with the curse of Gideon. By the time the sun had set, an army numbering in the millions was on its feet, wearing the gray face of Gideon. Jason’s name echoed across the plains as it passed each set of undead lips. With Gideon’s faint memories of his homeland in their minds, the host slowly began to move south towards Domus.

 

Chapter Twelve

Even before he made it up the steps of Tower One, Alex was surrounded by Dalfs in their beast-men form, the energy spears of their shock staves trained on him as he approached the entrance. Before he even had a chance to open the door ,it opened on its own. A tall, gangly man with gray hair ran out, jumping onto Alex’s chest and wrapping his legs tightly around his waist.

“Do you want to die?” he said, as the gray haired man kissed his blue face.

“Oh, Uncle Alex, I knew you would come,” the man said, speaking in a tearful, young voice.

“Jacob,” Anton said emotionlessly.

“Jacob?” Alex frowned.

“Of course, Uncle Alex, who else would I be?” Jacob said as he stood back on his feet. “You’ve come to help us rescue papa, of course.”

“Papa?” Alex asked, as he squinted his blue eyes at Jacob.

“Jason, silly,” Jacob said as he gave Alex a playful nudge. “Come inside. Lord Trevor has been waiting for you. We all have. I take it you know where Jason is?”

“He’s on Omega Level, unfortunately.”

“Omega Level, which level is that?” Jacob asked. He still wasn’t familiar with the layout of the city.

“It’s the bottom-most level, where the light of the Central Pillar doesn’t shine. It’s where the Nosferatu rule the pureblood slaves who are forced to dig ever-deeper tunnels, or serve as blood brides. To put it bluntly it’s the last place Jason should be, but somehow Gideon managed it.”

“They gave Jason to Gideon, but not us. Trevor offered the Dominus an exorbitant price for Jason, but they turned him down. I wonder what Gideon offered that was so much better.”

“Trevor, you mean Trevor Rex?” Alex asked as they entered Tower One.

“Yes. I think he would be the perfect husband for Jason. Much better than that whore of a brother of yours, anyway. Trevor has taken quite a fancy to Jason, too.”

“And what about Jason’s wishes?” Alex asked, a hint of jealousy showing on his face.

“Jason doesn’t know what to do. He knows he needs allies here, and that there are few better than Trevor. He is the head of his clan, after all, as well as of General Security. He wants to believe Philip will one day find him, but knows he must do whatever it takes to see that he survives to that day. Jason knows that, without his anima, the Dalf in him will grow stronger.”

“And how did Jason get Dalf animus in him?” Alex demanded.

“I sort of bit him,” Jacob said guiltily as he led Alex to a waiting elevator. “But, maybe that was a good thing. It might have been the thing that kept Jason alive when the Dominus stole his core.”

“How did the Dominus get their hands on Jason in the first place? Is my brother dead?”

“No, As I said, Philip is out looking for Jason, at least we hope he is. It’s a little complicated, but another Demon named Gladius kidnapped Varrus, and was holding him hostage as well as doing terrible things to him. Jason couldn’t stand for that, and so made a deal with the Grau that he would surrender himself peacefully to them, if they agreed to help him rescue Varrus.”

“Jason did what?” Alex shouted in a booming voice just as the elevator doors closed.

“Jason truly believed it was the only way to save his mentor. You remember how much Jason loved him.”

“Everyone at the Academy loved Varrus. It was sort of a right of passage.” Alex chuckled, remembering how gorgeous Varrus was. “Still, Jason should have never surrendered himself to the Dominus.”

“Jason felt he had no choice. He knew they would come for him eventually. This way, no one had to die, and the others and I were allowed to come here with him. Now that you’re here, and know where Jason is, we can go rescue him. You still love Jason, right?”

“Are you always this hyper?” Alex asked. It seemed that, since the moment they met, Jacob had been speaking as fast as a racehorse.

“I’m excited. We’ve been waiting for you for quite some time.”

“I suggest you take a few deep breaths and calm down, before you get on my nerves.”

Looking admonished, Jacob stepped away from Alex. “I thought you liked me,” Jacob said, almost in tears.

“I remember liking you. You caused all sorts of trouble for Academic Horst. A lot of things have happened since those days at the Academy. I’m not the same man I was.”

“I tried to talk about you with papa, but it always made him sad,” Jacob sighed.

“I’ve been a great disappoint for Jason, though I still love him.” Alex confessed.

“Papa has always known you’ve loved him. Maybe things would have happened differently if you had fled the Academy with us.”

“I’ve often wondered the same, then I tell myself there’s no point in thinking about might- have-beens. I’m afraid Jason will still find me a disappointment.”

“If you rescue him, he might forgive you,” Jacob whispered as the elevator doors opened on the top floor.

“It doesn’t matter if he does or not. I have to save him for my own sake.”

“I hoped you would say something like that,” Jacob grinned, as he led Alex and Anton to Trevor Rex’s office. Seeing two red haired men in the room, Alex instantly felt he had fallen into a trap. Pulling his sword free from its scabbard, he took a defensive stance as Jacob looked up at him with confusion. “What’s wrong, Alex?”

“What are the Grau doing here?” Alex demanded.

“Calm down, Alex, they’re friends,” a man seated behind a large black glass desk said.

“You’re Trevor Rex?” Alex asked.

“I am. I don’t need to ask who you are, Alex Helios. Please, relax, we’re all here for the same reason.”

“Two Grau wish to rescue Jason from a situation their mistresses put him in?” Alex asked suspiciously.

“Hi, I’m Thomas,” one of the Grau said. “I’m the one who gave birth to Jacob and another of Jason’s sons, Brutus. Though I often tormented Jason, I’m actually quite fond of him. He’s the father of my children and therefore family. I can’t abandon him, no matter what my common sense is telling me.”

“And you?” Alex said, looking at the Grau with curly hair.

“I’m Louis and only half Grau, a product of one of the Dominus’ experiments. It was Jason who saw me for the potential I had, instead of the freak I felt I was. I love him, so do all the people in this room for one reason or another. We would do anything for him, even free him from this city if we thought it would do any good. But we can’t do that, not while the Dominus have Jason’s core.”

“Then you think you can get it back?” Alex asked skeptically.

“No, even we admit some things are impossible,” Trevor said. “What we can do is provide Jason with a decent life, and wait.”

“And wait for what?”

“Wait for a miracle. Wait for Philip and James to find us and take Jason back home where he belongs,” Louis said.

“Even without his core?” Alex asked.

“That will be up to Jason to decide,” a winged Saint said from one of the room’s corners.

“And you are?”

“Chad, one of Jason’s four generals. Only Hector and I are here, though. If Jason doesn’t get his core back, eventually all of Jason’s Saints will die, including me. We need his bond and love to survive, you see. So yes, we would like to get the core back, but Jason’s freedom comes first.”

“So where is Jason?” Trevor asked. “I know he’s not in the upper levels. I’ve had my people search the areas thoroughly.”

“He’s on Omega Level,” Jacob said before Alex could, getting an angry glare from Alex in response.

“He would be,” Trevor sighed. “Might I know how he got all the way down there?”

“The Dominus decided to give Jason over to Gideon the accursed.”

“To that monster? Why?” Trevor demanded.

“He’s one of Jason’s dearest friends. In this case, Gideon probably saved Jason’s life. No matter what you offered, Lord Trevor, the Dominus were never going to give Jason to a man of your influence,” Thomas said regretfully.

“They didn’t give him to Gideon just out of friendship,” Hector insisted.

“Of course not,” Thomas sighed. “To the Dominus, Gideon is a living weapon. With his curse he could raise an army from the countless dead the war between Domus and Lahore will produce. That has always been the Dominus’ plan, at least.”

“The force of death,” Jacob whispered, remembering the prophecy.

“Exactly,” Thomas nodded.

“This is all very informative, but how does this get us any closer to saving Jason from Gideon’s own curse.”

“Gideon was never a threat to Jason. He was most likely protecting Jason from the Cabal, in fact.” Thomas began to explain. “The Nosferatu have been allowed to believe certain legends about a true Angel. The main one is that the blood of an Angel will cure them of their deadly allergy to certain wavelengths of light. Now that you’ve told me which level Jason is on I can use my contacts in the Central Pillar to get us on one of the elevator platforms that lead all the way down, even to Omega Level.”

“You want me to walk into the Central Pillar and not expect to get caught?” Alex asked suspiciously.

“If I’m able to arrange it, I’ll bet my life we can pull it off,” Thomas promised. “I’m risking my life just talking to you people, am I not?”

“Which means someone is covering for you,” Alex laughed. “Someone who has more authority then even you.”

“Jason has had an effect on all who have come in contact with him. We are doing our best to prevent the Dominus from noticing that fact,” Trevor said, before going into details of the plan. “This is how it’ll work. The Animani have agreed to sneak us into the Central Pillar aboard their medical vehicles. From there, Thomas will guide us to one of the service elevators that move supplies and resources between levels for the Dominus’ use. One of those elevators goes all the way down to Omega Level for collection of the Nosferatu’s daily quota of minerals and ore. That’s the one we need to get on. Thomas’ allies among the Grau will ensure that security won’t be a problem for us. Once aboard the elevator, it’s a straight ride down to the bottom. It bypasses all the security by going through all the other levels without checks. When we reach the bottom, we begin our search for Jason. I personally think we should take a few members of the Cabal prisoner, until one of them tells us exactly where Jason is. Any questions?”

“Yes. How do we get out once we have Jason? It might take several days for us to find him. The tunnels of Omega Level are known to be an insane maze,” Alex pointed out.

“Every Grau has an emergency beacon that will summon an elevator should he end up trapped on any given level. I have one,” Thomas chuckled. “When we have Jason, I can easily summon the elevator to pick us up.”

“But how do we get out of the Central Pillar,” Alex asked.

“The same way we got in. The Animani will smuggle us out,” Trevor replied. “Any other concerns, Alex?”

“When do we begin?” Alex asked with a shrug.

“Now,” Thomas said. “While we’ve been talking, emergency vehicles sent by the Animani have been arriving. They’re ready to take us to the Central Pillar the moment we leave this room.”

“You all don’t look ready to leave,” Alex grunted.

“All our gear has already been smuggled into the Pillar, and will be in the elevator when we reach it,” Chad replied. “You’ll have to leave your weapons behind, Alex. All emergency vehicles are scanned before entering the Central Pillar.”

“The gear you have better meet my standards,” Alex grunted, as he began to disarm himself. He not only had his double bladed sword, but a dozen other weapons hidden on his body.

“Is that all?” Louis chuckled.

“There’re always my fists,” Alex replied sarcastically.

“Lucky for us the sensors won’t pick them up,” Trevor said dryly. Hearing a knock, Trevor pushed a button that unbolted the armored doors. A pair of silvery Animani stepped inside the room. “Everything is in place, Lord Trevor. You should act now, while Major Scott is still in charge of the security detail.”

Standing up, Trevor took off his gray-stripped coat and folded it neatly over the back of his chair. “Ready?”

As everyone left the office, the two Animani placed medical bracelets on each of them. These would get them past the sensors. Outside the office were more Animani, and a gurney for each member of the team. There was even an extra wide one for Alex.

From there, everything went as planned. As they rode in the ambulances, the Animani administered a sedative to fog their minds sufficiently to get them past the Grau mind readers. Arriving safely at the medical ward, the team reassembled, letting Thomas lead them to the service elevators. Their path was completely clear of security. Once inside the elevator, the team began to relax as Trevor calmly opened up the bags containing their gear.

“A shock staff?” Alex said disappointedly as he was handed a pair of insulated gloves and a fist size cylinder.

“The energy bolts from these staves emit light at one of the wavelengths the Nosferatu and their Dead Eaters are so allergic to,” Trevor replied, not amused by Alex’s lack of enthusiasm so far.

“Don’t you have a sword?” Alex pleaded.

“No, no bladed weapons. The last thing we want is for those vampires to get anywhere near us. Do you want to risk them biting you, and turning you into a Dead Eater?”

“You didn’t know, until recently, that you would be facing vampires,” Alex retorted.

“The gear was selected to minimize the risk of us suffering any casualties, no matter who we faced. Shock staves work well enough against the Lizardmen of the industrial levels, just as they will against the vampires. Both prefer close combat, which is why we’re not going to let them get anywhere close to us. I know your reputation, Alex. I know you like getting your hands dirty, usually with another person’s blood, but this is not about you. It’s about saving Jason. You can either do things our way, or not at all,” Trevor threatened.

“You’re going to wish I had my sword,” Alex grunted as he backed off.

“We’ll see,” Trevor replied, as he concentrated on putting on his body armor.

For three hours they traveled deeper into the city. When the elevator lights switched from white to red they knew they were getting close. The red light wouldn’t affect any vampires when the elevator doors opened.

As the giant, twenty foot high door slowly began to rise, the team could see the ragged boots of slaves waiting to fill the platform with their master’s daily quota. It was only when the door was halfway up that the slaves noticed the heavily armed men inside. Backing away, the slaves abandoned their cargo sleds while the voices of their masters shouted after them.

“If you will do the honors?” Trevor said, giving Alex a slight bow. Even with all the man’s grumblings, Trevor knew that Alex’s reputation as a skilled killer was well earned. Anyway, he knew Alex was itching to get his hands dirty. Why risk the rest of the team when Alex was so eager to fight?

After a few minutes, and several energy discharges, Alex called out to them. “You can come out now. They’re all either dead or gone.”

“Did you enjoy yourself?” Trevor asked as he looked at the bodies of the dead.

“I still want a sword.”

“I see several lying about. Pick one up if it will shut you up about it.”

“They’re not my kind of swords,” Alex replied. All the blades were narrow and looked tarnished in the light coming from the elevator.

“Goggles on,” Trevor ordered as the elevator door slowly began to lower, cutting off their only source of light.

“Now where?” Louis asked, feeling a little jumpy. He knew he would never be a great warrior. Even Varrus had eventually given up teaching him. He had only been included for one reason. With his telepathic ability and his special connection to Jason, he had the best chance of finding him in the miles of dark tunnels.

“The man we want to see is Prince Dmitri. He’s the leader of the Cabal. If one of the covens has Jason, he will know. He keeps his coven near here, to better control the traffic to the elevator,” Trevor said as he looked down at the map he carried. “I hate to say this, but follow me.”

“Coward,” Alex grumbled.

Halfway to Dmitri’s bunker, they were met by two-dozen slave mercenaries led by two vampires. “Prince Dmitri,” Trevor called out.

“Aye, I’m here. What are you doing in our territory, Lord Trevor? You know you shouldn’t be here.”

“I’ve come to retrieve someone who also doesn’t belong here. You might have heard of him. Jason Qul Tos?”

“I should have known,” Dmitri sighed shaking his head. “I’m beginning to believe that man is more trouble than he’s worth. You’re too late, Lord Trevor. A rebellious faction of the Cabal has already taken him, damn them all to hell. They attacked Gideon’s men, who all bore his curse. Now the green mist is running loose through the tunnels, searching for those who took Jason and anyone else it runs across. Go home, Lord Trevor. This is a dangerous place for the living.”

“You have no idea where Jason is?”

“I don’t. Once Jason was taken, I summoned the council. None of those who have Jason showed up. I gathered the men of the other covens, and went to the rebels’ bunkers. All had been abandoned, with what looked like recent fighting. I can only assume the rebels are hiding somewhere not charted on the maps. I have an idea how to find them, but why should I tell you anything, Lord Trevor.”

“We could bargain?” Trevor offered.

“Dicker with a Dalf? I’m not such a fool as to do that. Your kind always get the better end of any bargain. That is a well-known fact. There is only one thing we want, and you’re not the one who can give it to us.”

“What is it you want? Surely you can tell me that much at least.”

“We want Jason as a blood bride. Just before the rebels attacked Gideon’s bunker, we came to Jason and offered him our protection in return for becoming our bride. We would have kept our word and treated him much better than any normal bride. He told us to come back after he thought about it, even though I knew he had already made up his mind to accept our offer. Before we could return, the radical faction of the Cabal attacked, overwhelming Gideon’s guard and leaving a large number of dead. By the looks of you, you’re better armed than we are and have a better chance in successfully rescuing Jason from what I believe is a very dangerous situation. We’ll provide you with Jason’s location, but Jason must agree to give us what we want, freedom from this hell hole.”

“You know the Dominus will hunt you down if you were to ever leave this level,” Trevor replied.

“I’ve been making preparations to escape ever since I learned of Jason’s arrival. Believe me, Ivan and I will live quite comfortably once we don’t have to worry about our little allergy problem.”

“We can’t force Jason to give himself to you.”

“But you can make promises in his name. Knowing what I do about your friend, I think he is the kind of man who would honor such an agreement.”

“Do you realize what you’re asking me to condemn Jason to, to force him to become?”

“So, he will have to change his diet a little. Other than a taste for blood, he won’t suffer any more harm. He will, in fact, become stronger than he already is, even given the Dalf in him.”

“What of the blood ties?” Thomas demanded. “He will always feel connected to you, whether he likes it or not.”

“Believe it or not, Grau, I’m not a bad sort of fellow. I just had the misfortune of being born a pure blood slave. I, too, was once human and taken as a blood bride, just as I took Ivan. If you demand it, I will promise to stay out of Jason’s life until he says otherwise or has need of us. The only question you need to ask, is how badly do you want to save Jason? If you leave him in the hands of the radicals, he will surely suffer and die. With me, there is at least hope.”

“And you said no one gets the better of a Dalf,” Trevor replied, forcing himself to chuckle.

“Then we are agreed. We will find out where Jason is, and you will save him. You will then tell him, in no uncertain terms, of the debt he owes us for the aid we provided. We will handle the rest.”

“So be it,” Trevor spat.

Just at that moment, a mercenary came running up the tunnel towards the Prince. Whispering into Dmitri’s ear, Dmitri smiled broadly. “Good news. We’ve just captured the man who’s going to lead us to Jason. If you care to follow, we’ll take you to him.”

“This better not be a trap,” Alex warned.

“I know better than to cross the Blue Assassin.” Does Father Lars know you’re freelancing now?” Dmitri asked.

“This is a personal matter that doesn’t involve the syndicate,” Alex replied coldly.

“You and Gideon, who would have thought Jason would have such infamous friends?”

“You might say he’s the only good thing about us left.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me in the least.”

Following Dmitri and his people, the party was eventually led to the dimly lit council chambers of the Cabal in the heart of the level. There, in the center of the room, was an armless man with shattered teeth being guarded by two of Dmitri’s men.

“Former Lord Azrael. You must have hidden yourself well after I exiled you. It took my people quite some time to find the hole where you were hiding. Your old friends not willing to take you in? Not even your lover, Sitha?”

“What do you want of me, Dmitri?” Azrael demanded, his voice slurred due to his lack of teeth.

“I want to know where your friends are hiding.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Come now. I know the radicals have their own secret tunnels that are not on the charts. I have a few of my own. Where are they?”

“Why would I tell you?” Azrael demanded, no longer denying the tunnels’ existence.

“I could make life very unpleasant for you. Your friends let loose Gideon’s curse. The green mist is even now making its way through the tunnels searching for your compatriots. I once had a private chat with Gideon about his curse. You want to know what he told me? None of us are actually immune to it. At any time he could have used his curse to take control over any of us, the entire Cabal if he wished. He didn’t, however, because he said such action would be impolite. Do you believe that? Gideon was worried about something, so out of place down here, as basic politeness. Now that your friends have gone and taken Jason, I think you will find that Gideon’s curse is no longer so polite. Would you like to test my theory? I know where the mist is, and I could take you to it. After it has possessed you, I think we’ll find you much more cooperative. Let’s take you there right now and save us the time of trying to interrogate you. That is, unless you have something you wish to tell me right now?”

When Azrael spoke he was stumbling over his own words, he was speaking so fast. “The Black Pits, their hideout is down a secluded tunnel near the Black Pits. I can show you the way.”

“Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Dmitri said as he patted Azrael gently on the back. He then turned to face Trevor. “He’s all yours, your lordship.”

“Is what you said true? Gideon’s curse is wandering the tunnels?”

“It is, curse the radicals. If you are truly Jason’s friends, you’ll have nothing to fear. The mist follows the will of Gideon, and the will of Gideon is for Jason to be safe. One of the reasons I offered Jason my protection was so he wouldn’t need Gideon’s cursed men anymore. With the mist out there, everyone is in hiding, though I believe my followers and I are safe. Before Gideon left, I promised him I would do what I could to protect Jason. I would like to think Gideon’s curse is now protecting me in return for the favor. Just remember your promise. I will expect you to bring Jason back here as proof you’ve kept your word.”

“And if I don’t.”

“As Prince, I have a direct line of communication to Hera herself. I could always tell her what you were trying to do down here.”

“I could always tell her what you wanted in return.”

“Then it seems we both have guns pointed at each other’s heads. The difference is that I have nothing to lose, while you’ll have Jason. I’m not really worried. You’ll keep your word. That’s just the kind of man you are,” Dmitri said with a chuckle.

“We’ll be leaving now,” Trevor said, as he grabbed hold of the leash around Azrael’s neck. “Lead the way, you ugly bugger.”

For several hours, they made their way through the tunnels. Azrael seemed to pick them almost at random. It was when their noses picked up a noxious odor that they knew they were getting near the Black Pits.

“The Dead Eaters,” Azrael laughed. “Given that their too stupid to even use a toilet, the lords have trained them to all come here to dispose of their bodily wastes. Since most of it is the remains of rotten carcasses, you can’t really expect this place to smell like roses. No one with enough sense comes here. That’s why this was the perfect place for us to dig out a few secret tunnels. The cartographers stopped coming here centuries ago.”

“Sounds clever enough if you can stand the smell,” Thomas said, holding his nose.

“You getting anything Louis?” Trevor asked.

Closing his eyes, Louis expanded his senses and reached out as far as his mind would let him. When he opened his eyes again, he wore a worried expression. “Jason is in this area, alright, but he’s in a lot of pain. He believes his captors are going to kill him soon, so we need to act fast.”

“Can you lead the way, or do we still need to use toothless here?” Alex asked.

“I know Jason’s location, but not the path of tunnels that will take us to him. I sense minds not walls.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Alex grunted, as he gave Azrael a hard shove.

Chapter Thirteen

It might have cost her the life of one of her prettier blood slaves, but Sitha finally got some time alone with Jason without Fredrick looking over her shoulder. After chaining Jason on a table, flat on his stomach, she had picked the dullest knife she could find and was now using it to cut away at the muscles and tendons, which attached Jason’s wings to his body. Since they were clearly diseased already, she didn’t think Lord Tyrell would be too upset to find out she had removed them.

By the time she had sawed her way through the first wing, Jason had long stopped screaming, which disappointed her greatly. How could she enjoy tormenting the Angel if he refused to show how much pain he was suffering. Something had to be done. She wouldn’t be satisfied unless she had her screams. She tried setting Jason’s remaining wing on fire, but it wouldn’t catch. She tried using acid, but it had no effect. She was about to go back to hacking at the wing with her knife, when she saw a slow moving figure pass her doorway. It was a Death Eater. She then knew what she had to do. Summoning the Death Eater into the torture chamber, she commanded it to gnaw away at Jason’s wing. Feeling something eating him alive increased Jason’s terror to the point that even his raw voice was forced to let out another bloody scream.

Pleased with herself, Sitha sat down to enjoy what she saw as music. Unfortunately, it was soon after she had made herself comfortable that Lord Fredrick came bursting in, blood staining his lips. “We’ve been found out. There are intruders coming our way,” he shouted, at first not grasping the horrific scene before him. There was only a momentary lapse, however. “What the hell is going on here?” Taking control of the Death Eater, he ordered it to stand with its back against the nearest wall.

“Damn you, Fredrick, you’re no fun at all.”

“You’re way out of line, Sitha. Lord Tyrell will hear of this, you can be sure.”

“The Death Eater was hungry,” Sitha said, pouting her pale lips. “I was only going to let it eat the wing. It’s diseased, anyway.”

“We’ll leave it to Lord Tyrell to decide if you crossed the line. Now help me unchain him. We need to get him deeper into the tunnels before his friends find him here. The Death Eaters are trying to hold them back, but you know how useless they are in a fight. Anyway, the intruders are armed with energy weapons.”

“Energy weapons? How did Prince Dmitri get his hands on those? The Dominus have always strictly forbidden such weapons on this level. They were always afraid we would kill each other with them. Then who would control the slaves?”

“The intruders are not from the Prince, or even from this level. One of them is the Blue Assassin we’ve heard so much about. We’re in trouble, Sitha, a lot of trouble. Lord Tyrell wants us to meet him at the escape tunnel with Jason as soon as possible.”

“What if the intruders know about the escape tunnel? We could walk right into an ambush.” Sitha said, panic growing on her face.

“We can’t think about that now, Sitha. We need to go,” Fredrick said as he rushed to remove Jason’s chains. The two were forced to carry Jason between them as they hurried deeper through the tunnels, When they reached Lord Tyrell near the back exit, they came to a sudden halt. Swirling around Lord Tyrell was the thick green mist of Gideon’s curse. When they saw Tyrell’s green glowing eyes they were even more shocked.

“This can’t be happening. We’re supposed to be immune to the curse,” Sitha said, screaming at the top of her lungs.

“Give me Jason,” Lord Tyrell commanded in a cold emotionless voice as he drew his sword.

“Never,” Sitha shouted, her voice trembling as the mist crept ever closer.

“There is no escape, Lady Sitha, no escape, Lord Fredrick. You dared to harm my Jason. You will now face the wrath of my curse,” Lord Tyrell said as he made a wide swing with his sword.

“We’ve got to go back,” Sitha said as she let go of Jason.

“The intruders are waiting for us there,” Fredrick said, as he tried to lift Jason over his shoulder. As Sitha and he stumbled over each other, the mist and Lord Tyrell overcame them.

When Trevor and the rest of the party reached the escape tunnel they found Jason in a heap on the cold stone floor. The green mist and the three vampires were nowhere to be seen.

“Papa!” Jacob screamed when he saw the condition his father was in. Running to Jason’s side, he cradled his father in his arms.

“Is he still alive?” Trevor asked Louis.

“Yes, if only by a miracle,” Louis said as tears rolled down his face. “We need to get him to the Animani.”

“First, we need to take him back to the council,” Trevor said.

“No,” Jacob wailed.

“Jason is in no condition to be the blood bride of anyone,” Louis insisted.

“I gave my word. If the Prince sees the condition Jason is in he might change his mind.”

“And he might not,” Alex grunted as he glared at the Dalf king.

“Tell Jason what we promised,” Trevor told Louis.

“No,” Louis refused.

“I will,” Thomas offered. “I can’t risk the Prince telling Hera we were down here. Too many of my people risked their lives so Jason might escape. I won’t let them suffer the kind of punishment the Dominus are capable of.”

“I’ll block you,” Louis said as he stood in Thomas’ way.

“You can’t block me, half blood. I was the Dominus’ chosen, selected above all others to watch over Jason and bear his children. Not even the tricks Kristen taught him could keep me out of his mind. Don’t oppose me, Louis. I would feel bad if I had to harm you. Even if Jason refuses, I will do everything in my power to make sure we keep our side of the bargain.” Before Alex could move a step, Thomas was on him. “Don’t even think it, bluey. I know what each of you are thinking before you even realize it yourselves. I love Jason, but I can’t risk all my friends being destroyed because of him. Now step aside, Louis, and let me speak to Jason.”

“So like a Grau, only caring about your own kind,” Louis said bitterly as he stepped aside.

“A Grau learns quickly that the only people he can trust is another of his own kind,” Thomas said before he spoke into Jason’s fragile mind. He let out a relieved sigh before speaking again. “Jason has agreed to live by the terms of the bargain we made with the Prince.”

“How do we know you didn’t force him to agree,” Louis replied.

“You’re not without some skill, half blood, and Jason is stronger than he appears. You would have detected any effort on my part to control Jason.”

“We’ll just have to take Thomas at his word,” Trevor said. “Come on now, the hard part is done. Let’s get Jason back to the Cabal. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can see to his injuries.”

“Papa,” Jacob wept, as Alex took his father from him.

Leaving the secret tunnels, they passed the point where they had left Azreal behind, only to find that the man was dead, run through the heart. As they continued their way back to the council chamber, they ran across more dead bodies, mostly Dead Eaters. When they reached the heart of the caves, they found the reason why. Surrounding Prince Dmitri and Lord Ivan was a thick wall of green mist. Standing in that mist were the three rebel vampires, bloody swords in their hands.”

“What is this, your highness?” Trevor shouted across the council chamber.

“Gideon’s revenge. His curse had killed everyone. Only we two remain. I think the mist learned of our bargain, and have been waiting for you to bring Jason here.”

“Do you still demand Jason as a blood bride?” Alex asked.

“What do you think?” Dmitri said, clearly scared out of his wits.

Everyone was so taken by the situation that none of them noticed Jason opening his eyes until he spoke in a weak, hoarse voice. “Gideon.” Even with such a soft voice, the mist and the three accursed responded, turning to face him. “Enough, Gideon, enough. I am safe now. Be at peace. Know I will always love you.”

“And we will love you,” the three possessed vampires replied. The three then collapsed on the floor, dead, while the green mist slowly rose and dissipated until none of the curse remained.

“How can this be?” Dmitri whispered in shock.

“For the love of one man,” Alex replied as he watch Jason fall back into unconsciousness.”

With the Cabal broken, and all the slaves dead, Dmitri and Ivan didn’t know quite what to do with themselves. They did know they owed Jason their very lives and, therefore, did not feel like pressing for the blood price, But they also knew that when the Dominus learned what the curse of Gideon had done, Hera would demand answers of her Prince that Dmitri didn’t want to be around to answer.

Given Thomas’ own fears of what might be said, he didn’t want to leave either vampire to be questioned by the Dominus. “We should kill them,” Thomas said coldly, as the party debated on what to do next.

“After Jason went to the effort to save their lives?” Louis scoffed.

“They know too much,” Thomas insisted.

“You’re just afraid what the two will tell the Dominus about your people’s involvement,” Alex said.

“You’re damned right I’m afraid.”

“We can’t kill them, not without dishonoring the miracle that has happened here,” Trevor said firmly.

“Don’t get spiritual on me, Trevor,” Thomas threatened.

“Can’t you get a team of Animani to come down here?” Alex asked.

“There’s a team on the level above us, why?” Thomas asked.

“Get them down here so they can help Jason. If they can patch him up, he might be strong enough to keep our end of the bargain.”

“It will take days for Jason to get that strong,” Louis replied, not liking the plan.

Looking nervous, Ivan walked closer to the group. “We could help, make Jason stronger that is.”

“With your foul blood?” Trevor asked in disgust.

“Our animus does have its good points. We’re fast healers for starters, not to mention gifted with the unnatural speed and agility that make us such fine swordsmen.”

“Ivan and I always intended to give Jason the blood kiss as payment for what he was giving us in return.”

“You wished to curse Jason with your vampirism?”

“We believed it wouldn’t be a curse, not when his blood is the cure to our curse.” Ivan said.

“Let us try to help Jason.”

“It’s alright,” Jason whispered, where he was lying on a pile of coats. “The Animani are coming. They’ll be here soon.”

“But how?” Trevor asked, surprised.

“I gave them children so they gave me something in return.”

“You are part of their overmind?” Thomas asked.

“I am only a boat they’ve let float atop their waters. I can peer into small portions of it. Swim in its waters, and make a few waves, but not much else. “I am with the overmind, but not part of it. It was a last precaution the Animani took before the operation, to ensure that a small part of me would survive.”

“I didn’t know the Animani could do such a thing,” Thomas said amazed.

“They are finding they can do many things, now. Once, the overmind was a simple construct. Coming into contact with me, they’re finally able to reach their true potential. Their minds are gaining new complexities they never knew they had.”

Just then the medical team arrived, quickly setting up a portable medical unit. Soon, Jason was resting on top of a floating hoverbed, an IV of white Anima dripping into his veins, The remainders of his wings were surgically removed and Jason clung to them as if too scared to let go of a dead friend.

“We can build prosthetic wings for you, Jason, so you will fly again,” the lead Animani promised.

“It won’t be the same. My wings were part of me, and will never grow back. I had hoped to fly one last time before I lost the ability. I lost my chance, staying locked up in Gideon’s bunker. If I fly again, it will be with the aid of a machine with automated systems. It won’t be me flying anymore.”

“We could grow you a pair of living wings, using the remains of this wing as a model. We’ve done such things, in the past, for high-ranking Hawkmen who feel like you do about artificial wings. It would be a long process, and a painful one. After they are attached, you would have to spend six weeks on your stomach to let the bones fuse with your body. They’ll never be as great as the wings you once had, but they would be alive, and a part of you just like your old ones. Would you like us to make the attempt? ”

“Would you? Is such a thing possible without my core?”

“The wings we would grow for you won’t depend on your anima. They will work from your Dalf animus. That’s not an easy match for wings, but we’ll manage something.”

“Thank you… No matter the situation, I am always finding myself in debt to your people.”

“We still have great hopes for you, Jason, so don’t give up on yourself.”

“I’ll try not to. Can I see the two vampire lords?”

“If you promise to take it easy.”

“You know me, always looking for a fresh challenge.”

“I’ll send them in,” the Animani said, keeping a firm hold on Jason’s wing.

“Jason.” Dmitri and Ivan bowed, keeping their eyes on the floor as they entered.

“What can I say? You were right, and I was wrong. Worse, I knew I was wrong but was too stubborn to admit it,” Jason said, confusing both vampires.

“Your pardon?” Ivan asked.

“I should have accepted your protection, right when you offered it to me. I knew it was the only sensible thing I could do, but my pride got in the way.”

“That wouldn’t have stopped Lord Trevor and the others from coming to your rescue.”

“But it would have been a much easier rescue. You would have let me go, knowing you would face Gideon’s curse if you didn’t.”

“How did you end the curse?”

“All Gideon was trying to do was protect me. When I told him I was finally safe, and he saw Alex holding me, he saw no reason to remain. I needed help from the Animani to assist me in making this small part of Gideon move on to the next life but, together, we were able to lift the curse.”

“What about Gideon himself? Could you have ended his suffering the same way?”

“No, That curse will not go away, so long as I live. He loves me, you see and, as long as he continues to do so, he will continue to exist.”

“Is there no way to stop him, then?”

“There was a way. If I could have summoned enough anima, I might have purged Philip’s conflicting influence over him. The act would have most likely killed me, but it would have freed Gideon completely. Since my core is now gone, that is no longer an option for me. There is only one other who can lift the curse, but I don’t think he knows he has such power in him. Hopefully, one day, he will and not be afraid to make the sacrifice. But enough of Gideon and curses. What am I going to do about you two?”

“We don’t understand?” Dmitri shrugged.

“You still want out of this hell hole, and I can’t blame you. I will give you the freedom you want, if you ask it of me.”

“Are you strong enough?” Dmitri asked, concerned.

“If it’s just you two, I am.”

“It is just the two of us,” Ivan nodded. “What about what we want to give you in return?”

“Your blood bond, I don’t need. Something tells me though, you won’t accept that as my final answer.”

“We want you to know how grateful we are for what you’re about to give us. We want to know that you’re safe and happy. We want you to know that, if you ever have need of us, we will come to your aid. We know the others won’t accept a pair of vampires as a part of your life, but we still want to be a part of it.”

“I understand and respect your sincerity. I will let you give me the blood kiss, though I am sure it will greatly upset the others.”

“They never have to know,” Ivan said as he moved in closer to Jason.

“If I find myself thirsting for blood, I am sure they will notice.”

“Just stick to the Syn-B stuff and you should be fine,” Dmitri said, as he too moved in closer.

“I can’t drink blood for the rest of my life,” Jason insisted.

“Afraid of what it might do to your reputation?” Ivan laughed. Taking Jason’s bare arm in his hand he ran a slender finger along the long scar that ran its length. “To have such perfection marred like this. Let us remove it for you.”

“You’re trying to seduce me,” Jason whispered.

“Pheromones. Ours are more powerful than the Dalf’s. They can even prove to be addictive. It is how we controlled our slaves and kept them loyal. You, of course, are no slave, which can only mean our scent is stronger because it responds to the strength of the individual. Yet, you remain in control. Amazing.”

Jason let out a breath, as a small smile formed on his lips. “Most likely I am too tired to respond.”

“Feel how warm he is,” Ivan said as he passed Jason’s hand to his lover. “To give off such heat you must be feeling something, Jason.”

“Brushing Jason’s fingers over his face, Dmitri licked the palm of his hand. “Maybe it is we who are under his spell,” he said before repeating the motion.

“Jason,” Alex’s deep voice came from the other side of the curtained-off area.

“Come in, Alex,” Jason said, causing a look of discomfort on the two vampires’ faces.

“What’s going on here?” Alex demanded, as he stood on the side of the bed opposite Ivan and Dmitri.

Taking Alex’s blue hand, his brushed it against his face. “I need your strength, Alex. Will you help me?”

“You mean, give you my anima so you might keep your bargain with these two leeches?”

“My honor is one of the few things I have left.”

“I don’t know about this, Jason. I’d be more than happy to kill them for you.”

“No, Alex, no more killing, not for a while at least.” Jason rolled on his side to face Alex. He then slid back to the edge of the bed.

“You can’t be serious,” Alex said his heart racing as he understood what Jason was offering.

“Just lay with me for a while, Alex.”

Peeling off his black t-shirt and dropping his leather pants, Alex climbed onto the bed wearing the skimpiest piece of undergarment Jason had ever seen. Laughing, Jason rested his head against Alex’s hard, broad chest. Alex did try to embrace Jason, but when his arms pressed against the places where Jason’s wings had been attached, Jason let out a sharp breath of pain, causing Alex to quickly jerk his arms back. “Sorry, I forgot.”

“It’s alright,” Jason whispered as he wrapped his own arms around Alex. “I can hold you instead.”

“How can you bear me, Jason? I’m such a monster.”

“Because I know, deep down, there is still the young man who only wanted one thing in the entire world, my love.”

“I will give you my anima, Jason, all of it if you want. Your honor will be protected.”

“I just need enough to do what I must do,” Jason replied as he raised his head so their lips were even with each other.

“And then, will you still want me as your friend.”

“I will always want you by my side, dear Alex.”

“Then I am yours,” Alex grinned, as tears of joy rolled down his face. “If I didn’t know how weak you are right now, and all the pain you’ve suffered, I would ravish you until I lose myself in your body.”

“I promise you that day will come, Alex, but I will never be the man you dreamt I would become. I can never be solely yours.”

“I know… I knew that the day you arrived at my brother’s house in Domus. I knew that one day my brother would have your heart. When Gideon pursued you, I knew he and I would have to become friends as well. The day I learned Varrus would be your mentor, I knew I was out classed. I have always known I could never have a man as remarkable as you solely as my own, yet that didn’t stop me from trying, did it?” Alex chuckled softly, remembering that long ago year, the best moment of his life. Even though Alex knew Jason could never be his the way he wanted, he wasn’t going to give up on that dream. Philip, Varrus, and now Gideon, were gone. Only he remained of Jason’s original lovers. This let him hope that, while Jason might not become entirely his, he would take the place of his brother in Jason’s life. Alex thought on that as his kissed Jason’s mouth passionately, passing on great quantities of the concentrated anima that made up only a mere fraction of his vast reserves. He then watched as the anima had its effect on the lines of scar tissue on Jason’s body. They bubbled away as dried skin, leaving Jason healed and whole. Jason’s skin darkened, taking on a Centurion hue so that he looked like the perfect representation of a member of that warrior caste. All but his eyes seemed Centurion now. As an Angel they had once been black opals. Such darkness could now only be seen in the center of his green eyes, proof of his Legatio heritage.

As he took in Jason’s restored beauty, Alex’s lips trembled and his mouth began to water. This time he kissed Jason out of pure lust and desire, their mouths remaining pressed together for a long time.

“Soon, Alex, soon,” Jason promised as he gasped for air. “You know how anima affects me. I need to get this done before I fall asleep.”

“Then I will leave you,” Alex said with a great force of will. His manhood had already popped out of the tiny neon blue briefs he was wearing.

“Stay, Alex. It would comfort me greatly to know I have you watching over me.”

“Then I shall stay.” Alex grunted as he lay back down and tried to make himself comfortable, even though his sex burned with carnal desires.

“Dmitri, Ivan, this will be your only chance,” Jason warned, his eyes feeling like dead weights.

“We can wait for a better time,” Dmitri said. He watched warily as Alex glowered at them both.

“When I awake, the others will want to take me away from here. You won’t have another chance. Take what you want from me now, or risk never receiving it at all.”

“It’s just, well, we wanted it to be more romantic for you.”

Jason let out a tired laugh. “I have Alex’s manhood pressed against me, lords. I do not dare let things get any more romantic than they already are.”

“Then you must let us see you again, so we might treat you properly the second time,” Dmitri said as he held Jason’s hand over his racing heart.

“I do not see us meeting again, sirs.”

“You cannot say that, dear Angel. You do not know what it is we’re about to gift to you. You will want to see us again, if only to understand,” Ivan said as he sat down at the foot of the bed.

“Please, gentlemen, I cannot keep myself awake much longer. You helped save my life, so I am in your debt. Take your reward before it is too late.

“And before I kill you both,” Alex said as he stroked Jason’s dark wavy hair.

Looking at each other, Ivan nodded to Dmitri who took out a sharp knife. Taking one of Jason’s wrists, he made a shallow cut. Jason’s blood ran down his tanned arm. Watching the stream of blood with wide-eyed excitement, Dmitri quickly pressed the cut against his lips, taking the blood into his body. The mixture of blood and anima warmed his cold body as he became less of a monster and more than human.

Passing Jason’s cut wrist to his lover, Dmitri made a swift cut to his own left wrist and pressed the bleeding wound against Jason’s lips. “Drink, Jason, and seal the blood tie.”

Jason had originally planned to refuse, but now with the blood dripping onto his lips and the smell filling his nose, he found he had no reservoir of resistance left in him. Letting his tongue emerge from his mouth, he lapped up a few precious drops and felt a jolt of elation that no anima had ever given him. Still, he had enough of his wits about him to draw his tongue back and seal his lips closed before he became consumed by the experience. Soon though, he had to test his will again, as Ivan took his turn. This time he fed a few moments longer, but was still able to stop himself before letting the blood lust take him.

With his face flushed and dripping with sweat, Jason looked at the two shocked vampires as he tried to slow his breathing. “There, our business is done. I hope you both received what you desired. Make your escape now while you still can. Know you have nothing to fear from me or my friends. No vengeance will be taken.”

Dmitri let out a deep sigh. “You amaze me, Jason. No usual human could have taken so little of what we had to offer. No matter what you might think of us now, know the ties that bind us runs very deep in us all. Right now, you might believe we will never meet again. One day though, you will call for us and we will come as if you were our own brother in need. Until then, try to think kindly of us. We never wanted it to be forced like this. If you had accepted our offer of protection, things might have gone differently. You might have done it out of love. That is what we had hoped for. You are a rare man, Jason Qul Tos. Unfortunately, in this city, men of your caliber die young if they are not careful to keep the eyes of the great off them. Promise me you will be careful and stay hidden. The Dominus did not send you down into the pits of hell so you could survive. If they learn you still live, you can be sure their fury will be as great as their next attempt to destroy you. Just being alive, you are the gravest threat to their rule and survival.”

“Go,” Jason replied, too tired to worry what tomorrow would bring. Exhausted, Jason closed his eyes for a moment. When he jerked them open again the last of the vampires of Mordel were gone. Relieved, Jason rolled over to face Alex. “Did I do the right thing?”

“No,” Alex replied sternly, before giving Jason a forgiving smile. “But you did the only thing you could’ve done. As has been said by me, and many others, you are too good for this world. Not back then, not now, and not ever most likely. Now rest, Jason, and I will stand watch over you. No one will disturb you until you are ready. Never shall I let you face such nightmares alone again.” Seeing that Jason had fallen back asleep while he had been speaking, Alex forgave Jason of the slight and kissed his head. Soon they would all be gone from the endless darkness and death, and go up to where there was light, warmth, friends and, hopefully, lovers. Alex hoped the worst was over for Jason but, with the Dominus still to contend with, Jason would always be in danger.

Dmitri had been right, though. If word got out that the Angel of Ares still lived, most would see it as a sign of weakness in the dominating control of their tyrannical rulers. Many would begin asking questions, might even start to have hope. If Jason dared to risk himself by taking the mantel of a rebel, there was an actual chance he would succeed where an endless number of previous rebellions had failed. The Dominus knew this. That is why they had sent Jason to live among the Nosferatu. If they had killed him they would have created a martyr. Knowing the vampires would, most likely, do their work for them, the Dominus believed they could succeed in passing off the blame to those who were despised even more than they were. It would have worked, too, if not for Gideon. Seeing him only a weapon, they didn’t imagine that Gideon’s curse could serve any other purpose than to destroy. Because of Gideon’s love him, the curse had served to protect and save Jason from the death the Dominus had so carefully planned.

Alex wouldn’t press Jason into leading a rebellion. He knew he wouldn’t have to. Once Jason saw that the human suffering in Mordel went beyond the horrors he had faced on its deepest level, the good in him would leave him no option but to fight against the Dominus’ tyranny. As for himself, he would be by Jason’s side, killing all who stood in his way. The work would be bloody, but Alex always liked getting his hands dirty.

As he continued to watch over Jason, Alex imagined the look on his brother’s face when he finally came to Jason’s recue and found his husband already ruler of a Mordel. That triggered a deep chuckle from Alex and he began making plans on how he would bring the syndicates into Jason’s rebellion.

 

Chapter Fourteen

“Land-ho,” the officer of the watch reported when an island appeared on the Argos’ monitors.

“Where’s Newburg?” Philip asked as he watched the screens.

“According to what I’ve been told, the entire island is one big city,” James said from the captain’s chair.

“That’s impossible. Wouldn’t they need some land for farming, and forests for wood?” Philip said, as the screens showed the concrete ruins of what must have been a city filled with high reaching towers.

“Everything must have been brought in by ship,” James replied.

“No sir,” the Togo officer of the watch replied. “While some things were brought in by sea, most of what the city needed to survive was manufactured right on the island just using a few basic chemicals.

“I don’t see any signs of life,” Philip pointed out.

“And you won’t. You forget, a war was fought her so that, now, living on the surface is about impossible. If anything survived the war, it would be underground, just like the city of Mordel.”

“And how are we to find these underground places?” Philip asked. The long days at sea, restricted to the protective interior of the ship, had left the Demon with a bad case of cabin fever.

“You can use the gravity drive, or do I have to explain the principles of radar and sonar again?” the Togo manning the senor equipment snickered.

“I think that both Philip and I will agree when we say we don’t care how it works, only that it does,” James replied before Philip could come up with an angry retort.

“Very well,” the officer sighed, before saying something in his native language that caused a few of the other officer to chuckle.

“Just let me make a Spawn out of him, and we’ll see who’d be laughing.” Philip grunted to James.

“You know we swore to the Togo leadership that we wouldn’t bond to any of the crew they provided.”

“They think we’re idiots.”

“Face it Philip, when it comes to their technology we are idiots. Remember when they caught you amusing yourself by flushing the toilet constantly?”

“I wanted to know how it worked,” Philip said defensively.

“And just as I told the crew. It really doesn’t matter how the things on this ship work, only that they work when we need them to. By the way, how’s training with that new sword of yours working out?”

“It is the only thing I have enjoyed since boarded this prison barge.”

“Oh really?” James replied crossing his arms over his chest.

“Well, other than what we do in our own quarters,” Philip admitted sheepishly. “But let’s not discuss that in front of the crew.”

“You mean not to the Togo. I’m sure you’re boasting every detail to your Spawn.”

“I do have a reputation to maintain, just not with those annoying bastards,” Philip insisted.

“Very well,” James replied bemusedly. He then felt the entire ship shake. “What was that?”

“A gravity pulse released by the drive, nothing to get scared of,” the senor officer replied holding back a grin.

“In the future, you will warn us before doing that, or I will let my Demon friend here have his way with you, agreement or not,” James threatened.

“Your pardon, Admiral,” the officer said, his smirk quickly disappearing as his eyes watched Philip nervously.

“Why do you get to threaten them, and I don’t?” Philip complained.

“Because I’m the admiral, so I really mean what I say. You only pretend to threaten everyone because that’s what your used to doing.”

“Are you saying I can’t be taken seriously?”

“I’m saying that, if you’re going to threaten someone, threaten them with something you can actually do. Force them to do pushups or swab the decks. I’ve already had the pilot clean out the showers my Saints use, to clean the drains of feathers, for the past week and you haven’t seen him mouthing off as much.”

“Good point,” Philip said as an idea popped in his head. “Officer,” he barked getting the sensor officer’s attention.

“Yes sir,” the Togo replied, looking nervous.

“I’m putting you on laundry detail. You see, my Spawn like to have a little fun now and then. The only problem is that it tends to mess up the bedding. So I want you to wash all their sheets on a daily basis.”

“Won’t that interfere with my duties, sir?”

“You can do it while you’re off duty. Just promise me you’ll be careful. The seed of my Spawn is known to cause madness.”

“How long will I be on detail?” the officer asked, his jitteriness getting worse.

“That really depends a lot on you, officer. Now back to your station,” Philip said in a dismissive tone. He then went back to James. “That felt good.”

“But a little harsh, wouldn’t you agree? What if the stains on the sheets do drive him mad?”

“Then one of us will have to cure him of his madness. I’m sure High Command wouldn’t mind us doing that if the only other option was to let him go insane.”

“You truly are evil, Philip.”

“I am a Demon, am I not?” Philip said proudly.

“We have the data back from the pulse, Admiral. I will put the relevant data on the screens now,” the sensor officer reported in a purely professional tone. Replacing the views of the island were three-dimensional images of the island looking at it from different angles. In a section that looked to be part of a hill, black voids could be seen on the maps. “Newburg used to have a whole series of underground bunkers, in case of heavy bombing, but this is the only one that still seems to be in one piece. The others have either been completely destroyed or have had their upper levels caved in. Unless you wish to use a drilling team to reach the lower levels of those bunkers, the one on the screens is the only one with its entrance to the surface still intact.”

“Is that all you can tell from the pulse?” James asked.

“I was going to suggest we release a sensor drone to scan the area for any unusual heat or magnetic readings, anything that would suggest the bunker is still occupied,” the officer replied.

“Do it,” James ordered.

Turning his communicator on, the sensor officer spoke to the ship’s hanger . “Launch crew, release drone number one.”

“We will have the drone launched in five minutes. Please send flight data to flight control,” the voice on the other end requested.

“Sending data now.”

This time a different voice replied. “This is flight control, we can have the drone in the target area twenty three minutes after launch.”

“Acknowledged, fight control, ETA twenty seven minutes twelve seconds… mark,” the senor officer said before turning off his com. “We should have additional information in a little over twenty seven minutes,” he reported to James.

“Good, all we have to do now is wait,” James said, knowing how it would annoy Philip.

“I hate waiting. Why don’t you let me lead a team to the bunker and check it out ourselves?”

“Because that might be an even bigger waste of time,” James replied.

“It wouldn’t be for me. I want off this ship.”

“It was this ship that has gotten us this far,” James pointed out. “I’m not going to risk you or your men getting radiation sickness over nothing.”

“You don’t even know what radiation sickness is, except for those images the Togo showed us. Anyway, the Togo believe our people have a special resistance to these poisonous winds from the sun.”

“Those images looked pretty bad to me. Do you want to risk getting killed over what is only a guess on the Togo’s part? As they warned us, they don’t know how resistant we really are.”

“There’s the protective clothing,” Philip grunted.

“None of which you can fit into, my large friend. Just wait a little longer, until we have more information. Jadoor, for instance, had an excellent spy network. You say your Centurions never used spies out of a sense of honor, but what I really suspect is that none of your kind could pull it off. You will admit that Centurions do tend to stand out among normal people.”

“Because we are far from normal. We are superior.”

“Until you drop dead at the age of forty,” James laughed. “Even though you’ve been the Empire’s biggest whore, you’ve not been able to save every Centurion from that fate.”

“Not from a lack of trying. Given Jason’s expansion of the Empire, not even I can reach every Centurion in time. It’s the damned Dominus who did this to my people. A cruel trick to keep us under control. If we had a normal lifespan, more of us would have taken the time to have children, which would have meant more Legatio.”

“Which would have meant a lot more Centurions,” James said before Philip could. “You would have ruled the world.”

“Which the Dominus surely didn’t want to happen.”

“Drone launched,” the communications officer reported. As James and Philip turned their eyes to the screens, they saw the view through the eyes of the drone as it flew towards Newburg.

“Still more waiting,” Philip grumbled, after a few minutes passed in silence.

“A short life was not the only thing the Dominus cursed your people with. You Centurions have a distinct lack of patience,” James commented as Philip began to pace.

“Our lives are too short to wait when the situation calls for action.”

“Not until we know more about the island. If you want, though, you can assemble your men in the hanger and wait there. I’ll have any information we obtain from the drone sent to you down there.”

“That would save time, since you’ll have us go search the bunker anyway,” Philip agreed as he left the bridge.

“It’s a good thing these floors are made of metal or he would have dug a trench in the middle of my bridge,” James sighed after Philip had left, triggering laughter from the rest of the crew.

 

Chapter Fifteen

“We’re ready to exit the Zephyr. So far no sign of life,” Philip reported an hour later as he and his men stood by the ramp.

“At least the power generators are working so you have that much going for you,” James replied over the com. With Philip so far from the ship, James’ voice was masked by static due to atmospheric interference.

After the ramp lowered his Spawn, five Togo technicians ran directly to the bunker’s armored doors. With only the protection of a mask, Philip spoke into its built in communicator. “Can you find the locks?” he asked the techs.

“We found it,” one of the Togo replied as he opened a rust covered box. Inside was a faintly glowing input panel. “We’ll try the standard emergency codes first.”

“How long will that take?” Philip asked.

“There were only two dozen basic emergency codes back in the days of the war. Hopefully, whoever reached the bunker didn’t scramble the codes.” Even over the static, Philip could hear the Togo sigh. “Of course that would be the case. No one, after all these years, would leave the door mat out.”

“Can you open the door or not?” Philip demanded.

“Of course I can get the door for you. If I can’t break the code we can always blast it. Doc, go check the Demon’s vitals. I don’t want to face the admiral if his pet gets a bad sunburn.”

“Pet… I am no man’s pet,” Philip growled as he whipped out his tail.

“Right,” the code breaker laughed. “Here we go… same numbers just different order. Whoever scrambled the locks must not have a good imagination.” Slowly the thick doors split open on their rusty rollers, letting out a sharp squeal.

After Philip ordered his men inside, they found themselves in a freight elevator. “How deep does this thing go?” Philip asked one of the technicians.

“About five-hundred feet before we reach the main complex,” the tech said as he started examining the controls. “Get ready for your ears to pop, the air cyclers are still working. The air pressure should the same as in Ares, so you will be able to take off your masks.”

“Centurions are used to wearing battle masks but these things block my vision.” Philip grumbled as the doors slowly closed. Soon, fresh air was coming from under the grates on the floor as back air was pumped out the ceiling. When the lights changed from red to florescent white, everyone began removing their masks.

“Can we expect a warm welcome?” one of Philip’s Spawn asked.

“Be prepared for anything,” Philip replied as he charged up his shock staff.

With a loud squeal, the elevator came to a halt and the doors once again slowly opened. On the other side were a dozen emaciated looking men with barely a stitch of clothing on them. In their hands were machineguns, similar to those carried by the Togo techs.

Stepping past Philip, the lead technician, Paz, let the near naked men have a good look at his dark skin. “Qopo,” one of them whispered.

“Togo,” Paz corrected.

“We should have known,” the man said in perfect Centurion, as he signaled the others to lower their guns.

“You speak my language?”

“And what manner of creature is this?” the old man demanded, shaking his rifle at Philip. “He looks like one of the Dominus’ freaks.”

“Freak!?” Philip shouted. He had put up with the Togo calling him an abomination, but a freak was what Centurions called deformed babies, too weak to ever become warriors. They were usually killed while they were still young; the Legatio and Famulus consort looked upon with shame.

“Be at ease, Demon. They didn’t mean to insult you. This is the home of your ancestors, after all.”

“My ancestors?” Philip said in disbelief.”

“Where do you think the Dominus obtained their experimental subjects? For most of the Great Wars, Newburg was neutral. Given the small territory they had to protect, they were able to build shield barriers just like our Great Barrier, to protect them. The people of Newburg were therefore spared many of the mutations those on the mainland suffered. When the wars ended and the Dominus ended up on top, they knew they needed fresh blood in order to survive. So they attacked Newburg and their Rapan allies. Eventually, they broke through the shields and took most of the surviving population back to Mordel. There they experimented on them, including the experiments of the Mother who created you Centurions. Somehow, however, this group has continued to survive. Care to explain that, elder?”

“We are the last of those who survived the Dominus’ attack on our city. This bunker was the command post for all the other bunkers on the island, and was therefore especially protected with a field, which masked its presence from the Mordelians’ technology. That equipment failed centuries ago, its electronic circuits destroyed by the radiation outside,” the old man replied before turning to Philip. “So you are one of our people. I must say, I do pity you now. Down here, we could only imagine in horror of what tortures the Dominus performed on our people.”

“But how are you still alive?” Paz pressed again.

“I am Mayor Kai, and these men with me are the last members of the city council.”

“Now I remember. Those elected to office also won the right to the immortality drug. Why didn’t I think of that before?” Paz laughed.

“Most likely because it’s ancient history. Do you remember the main side-effect of the drug?”

“Let me think… yes, now I remember. The drug would let you live forever, but would leave you infertile as a result.”

“An intended result. How else were the people to prevent their leaders from resorting to nepotism, creating a ruling caste of immortals?”

“If you are immortal, how does anyone get elected?” Philip asked, slightly confused

“Every hundred years, new elections are held and the old mayor and council go into a retirement of sorts,” Kai replied.

“Your people look to be in pretty bad shape. Is there anything we can do?” Paz offered.

“Do not play me for a fool, Togo. You’ve not crossed the Great Barrier out of concern for our welfare,” Kai replied bitterly. “If you want something from us, you might as well tell us what it is.”

“Fine…” Paz said before taking a deep breath. “Where’s the underground city of Mordel, and how can we sneak inside?”

“If we knew, don’t you think we would have struck back against the Dominus? I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time coming here. We do not know where that accursed city is.”

“Do you know where we could find out?” Paz asked patiently.

“There is the old outpost,” one of the councilmen replied.

“It was where many of our people and the Rapa were sent. For some reason, the Dominus thought the research needed to be done away from their city.”

“Must have been the outpost run by the Mother,” Paz told Philip. Her revolt proved her experiments creating the Legatio and Centurions were too dangerous to take place in Mordel itself. Do you know the exact location of this old research station?”

“I can,” the councilman nodded. “It lies to the northeast, on the coast of the Mordelian Wastelands. I doubt you will find what you are searching for there, though. Most likely the Dominus cleaned the facility out, once the slaves escaped.”

“You were aware of that, even down here?”

“Not all our people went with the Mother. A few managed to return to us. They’re all dead now. With no stores of the drug in the bunker, none of them could become immortal. Eventually, sickness and starvation claimed them all,” Kai replied, with not a hint of sadness in his voice.

“Yet you and your councilmen still live?” Philip said suspiciously. He didn’t like the man’s coldness.

“Do you suspect we killed them? We didn’t. We do not kill our own kind. We weren’t sorry for their loss, however. That much is true. They were a strain on what few resources we’ve managed to gather here.”

“You’re the ones with the guns,” Philip replied sarcastically, even as Paz gave Philip a warning glare.

“As I said, we didn’t kill them,” Kai replied sternly. “Now, unless you wish to offer us some aid, I request you leave our home and be on your way. Councilman Dane will give you the coordinates you need.”

“Thank you, Mayor. We will be on our way soon. We can leave you some supplies, food and medicine,” Paz said as Philip continued to glower at the mayor.

“That would be most appreciated. Our food synthesis equipment care barely feed our remaining members.”

“We’ll send the elevator back down after we’ve returned to the surface,” Paz said as Dane handed him a data pad.

As the elevator doors painfully began to close, Dane darted inside with amazing speed just as the doors sealed shut. “Please don’t send me back. Kai will kill me for helping you if you do.”

“Why I am not surprised,” Philip grunted. “I take it most of what the mayor said was a lie.”

“He’s not the mayor, at least not originally,” Dane said as he breathed rapidly out of fright. “He, like most of us, was one of the guards. As you said, Demon, whoever has the guns controls the bunker. When the shields were destroyed, he led a revolt, killing the original mayor and the council.”

“If that’s the case, how have you and he survived so long. Let me guess, in case of radioactive fallout, doses of the immortality drug were kept in each bunker.”

“That’s why most of the guards went along with the revolt. The last mayor and council wouldn’t give it to the guards, knowing it was their only leverage over them,” Dane replied.

“What about those who returned to the island? What really happened to them?”

“They’re not dead. They were given the immortality drug like we were, except…”

“Be careful, Dane. Do you really want to upset my demonic friend here? He might not be ready to know the truth of his peoples’ heritage,” Paz warned.

“He must know, or he might send me back down. I was just a lowly guard… I never wanted to take part in the customs of the immortals but, with the food running out, what other choice did we have.”

“You ate them?” Philip growled, his temper rising.

“Kai said we had no choice, there were just too many of them. On the lowest level of the bunker, he set up a flesh farm from equipment he was able to salvage from the city. He said we should be happy and honored to be able to eat like real immortals. I didn’t want to do it, but I didn’t want to end up as part of the farm myself. What was I supposed to do?”

“Your people were cannibals, still are by the way the Legatio eat your bones and drink your anima to stay alive. The same was true of those leaders who took the immortality drug. After their hundred years were up, they were sent to the flesh farms so they too could be used as food for the new government. The drug itself would keep them alive, but only by feeding off the flesh of others who took the drug could they remain young and strong.”

“That’s different. We don’t eat each other for food but for medicine. Too many Legatio would die of blood loss if we didn’t.”

“And how is that different than what the Newburg leadership do? Anyway, you’re taking this a lot better than I thought,” Paz said, surprised.

“Why? I still plan to go back down there and kill them all,” Philip said darkly.

“Let my people handle this. We’ll send them supplies just as we promised, but I’ll hide a few detonators in amongst the food packs. Given how starved they look, I expect them to fall on the supplies like a pack of wolves.”

“If they have their flesh farm, why are they so old and starved looking?” Philip asked.

“I can only assume they got too greedy, isn’t that right Dane?” Paz asked.

“When the regular food supplies ran out, not even Kai could stop the other men from raiding the farm for food. A long while back, there was a fight among the men that resulted in the farm equipment being irreparably damaged, so the farm died. Since then, we’ve been slowly aging, suffering from a hunger we have no means of sating.”

“Why haven’t you killed yourselves and ended your suffering?” Philip asked.

“We believed we were the last of our people until you showed up. You might look like a creature of the Dominus, but I believe your Togo friend that you are one of us. That’s why I helped you. I hoped you would take me away from this hell.”

“Why didn’t Kai and the others ask us to take them? We have the room, after all,”

“They’re too afraid of you learning everything I just told you. Would you ever trust such men not to betray you? In the end, we’re all too scared of dying after surviving so many countless years.”

“I’m not sure I trust you myself,” Philip replied.

“I’m sure you and James can arrange something to ensure this man’s loyalty. His information might prove useful.”

“Let James make him a Saint? I don’t think so. He doesn’t deserve to feel such love, not with the crimes he took part in.”

“I never wanted to,” Dane insisted.

“But you never did anything to stop Kai, either,” Paz replied. “His fate I leave in your hands, Lord Philip, but please keep him alive. We might need him.” As the lights turned red, panic grew on Dane’s ghostly white face.

“Might as well deal with this down here,” Philip said, as he wrapped his leathery tail around Dane’s thin waist. Pulling the man toward him with little effort, he grabbed the man by the jaw, forcing his mouth open. He then gave the Newburgian his anima kiss, turning the unfortunate man into another one of his Demon Spawn. Dane’s skin turned into elaborate patterns of red and black as his body began to fill out. “Don’t think I’m done with you, Dane. There are many pleasurable tortures I will introduce you to before too long.”

“What have you done to me?” Dane gasped.

“I’ve made you one of my children and, since my children always obey me, I do not think you will dare ever betray us now.” Letting go of the man’s waist, Philip raised his tail to Dane’s black lips, teasing the man.

“Master,” Dane whispered as a red tear rolled down his face.

“Did you have to do that in front of us?” one of the Togos complained.

“Why, are you now scared of me?” Philip chuckled, his white eyes shining brightly.

“No, actually I find you a bit disturbing. Is there anything you do that’s not motivated by sex?”

“I’m a Centurion. All that’s required of us is that we fight, train, and fuck. As the Lord Demon, I also have the burden of command, and a good commander always takes care of his men, isn’t that right, men,” Philip said as he looked toward his other Spawn, getting a loud cheer in response. “See, I take my responsibilities quite seriously.”

“Now I understand why the Dominus made sure your people were all gay. If you weren’t, you would have overpopulated the world with your children,” Paz smirked.

“You just don’t understand what it feels like to make love to another man. I, of course, would be more than happy to let you experience such wonders.”

“I think I’ll pass. I’ve heard what your seed does to a normal man, and I have no intention of becoming mad or one of your love slaves. Remember, you swore not to bond any of us with your Anima.”

“I could always send a Saint to your quarters. They can be quite convincing when they want to be.”

“I have a wife and three children back in Ares,” Paz replied.

“That is an excuse, not a refusal.” Philip laughed as Paz looked down at the grated floor. “Masks back on,” he said after an awkward pause.

           

Chapter Sixteen

Soon they were all aboard the Zephyr and flying back to the Argos. “Have those surprises you left in the supplies gone off yet?”

“I was just about to set them off,” Paz said, as he held a black remote.

“Give that to Dane. Let him deal with his former comrades. It would be a good test of his loyalty.”

“As you wish,” Paz replied, handing Dane the remote.

“Will this destroy the entire complex?” Dane asked nervously, and his hands shook as they held the remote.

“That, and everyone in it,” Paz promised.

“Good,” Dane said just before he pressed the detonation button.

“Pilot circle over the hill one last time,” Philip ordered, as he took the remote from Dane’s nervous hands and gave it back to Paz.

Looking through the shielded windows, everyone saw the large crater where the bunker had been moments before. “Does that satisfy you, Dane?” Philip asked as he held the man close to him.

“It does,” Dane nodded, as tears ran down his face.

“None of that now. As one of my children, you should know better than to cry.”

“I’m sorry, master, but I never thought that nightmare would ever truly end,” Dane replied.

“But, now that it’s over, you see there’s no going back,” Philip whispered as he used a clawed finger to cut away the tiny bit of frayed fabric covering the man’s groin. “The only future you’ll have to worry about now, is the one I give you.”

“Please don’t rape me,” Dane whispered. “The others saw me as weak, and took advantage of that.”

“I wouldn’t dare think of raping you. We’ll only do what you want me to do. You just have to tell me what that is.” Retracting his claws, Philip brushed his fingers against the complex designs that covered Dane’s manhood.

Through the bond, Dane knew what his new master expected. It only felt a little strange that he found himself wanting the same thing. Resting his head against Philip chest, he kissed him with his parched lips and felt his sex begin to swell.

“Lord Philip, you’re not actually going to do this in front of all of us,” Paz complained.

“My men don’t seem to mind,” Philip chuckled, after nibbling on Dane’s neck.

“Your men are as insane as you are. Have you no decency?”

“Just don’t watch, or close your eyes if it bothers you so much. My guess is that you’re too embarrassed by your own curiosity to admit you can’t help but watch.”

“I will report this to High Command, you should know,” Paz threatened.

“Go ahead. I’m not trying to bond any of you, so you really have nothing to complain about,” Philip said as he slid his tail between Dane’s legs.

“I can’t watch this,” Paz grunted, even as his eyes remained frozen on the pair as Philip penetrated Dane with his long tail. Watching them for the entire trip back to the Argos, Paz and the other Togos didn’t know what to call what Philip and Dane were doing to each other. They wouldn’t call it the tender lovemaking prescribed by their own people. It was more an act of mutual lust, as Dane groaned and cursed with every act Philip performed on him. When the Zephyr finally was lowered back into the hanger, most of the Togo had burning faces and not a few dealing with their own erect sex. After the ramp was lowered, many raced to get out into the open space of the hanger, having felt like a captive audience in the plane.

Paz, however, remained, transfixed by the acts of lust he had witnessed. When Philip finally allowed Dane to climax, he quickly turned around and winked at Paz while Dane’s seed ran down his hard body.

Seeing he was caught, Paz quickly darted out of the Zephyr and raced back to his quarters where he could finally strip down and relieve his aching manhood. Once he had a chance to calm down and think things through, he remembered Philip’s threat to send one of the Saints to his quarters. In a panic, he quickly ran for his door, tripping over himself due to his pants still being around his knees.

Falling to the metal floor, Paz’s head hit the hatch, knocking him unconscious. When he awoke, he was in the medical ward. Admiral James and Lord Philip were looking him over with amused grins.

“How do you feel, Lieutenant?” James asked as he gave the Togo a critical look.

“What happened?” Paz asked, not remembering his fall.

“It seems you took quite a spill in your quarters. There was a smear of blood on your door, so I can only assume you hit your head. Why you were trying to reach it? Being dressed the way we found you, I hope you can answer for me.”

As his memory slowly returned, Paz looked up at Philip with panic in his eyes. “Keep him away from me,” he said as he pointed an accusing finger at Philip.

“I wasn’t the one who found you,” Philip said defensively.

“He’s trying to seduce me into your Domus sexual perversions,” Paz insisted to the Admiral.

“I wasn’t trying to bond you was I? In fact, I remember having my hands full at the time.”

“Philip,” James scolded. He already knew what had happened on the Zephyr. He had received enough complaints from those not too embarrassed to admit what they had witnessed on the ride back to the ship.

“I told him he could close his eyes. Is it my fault he couldn’t help but watch? If he got a hard-on, that says a lot more about our chief technician then it does about me.”

“Did you get a hard-on?” James asked Paz, holding back a burst of laughter.

“I won’t dignify that with a response.”

“He had a really big one,” Philip laughed.

“Enough with the torments. You’ve proved your point,” James told Philip before turning back to Paz. “Do our perversions really disturb you so much, Lieutenant?”

“It’s not the way of my people. We have strict rules dealing with sex. It was the only way we could keep control over our numbers, given the limited living conditions we had underground.” Paz said defensively.

“Now I find that surprising,” James said, as he scratched his chin, “given that you could have had as much sex as you wanted, as long as it was with another man. After all, two men can’t have a child unless they’re one of Mordel’s Hermaphadites. So why no gay sex?”

“It’s always been forbidden. It is seen as unnatural.”

“It must have seemed pretty natural, for Philip and Dane to get you so excited,” James countered. “Who knows, you might be gay. At the very least, you’re curious. I will have to think on this matter to see how best to deal with it.”

“There is nothing that needs to be done, other than for you to keep Lord Philip on a tighter leash,” Paz retorted. He didn’t like the way the two lords were looking at him.

“Well, a Spawn will surely not do, so I guess I will have to have you report to one of my Saints. Commander Volt should do. Report to his quarters, once the medics clear you to leave.”

“And what if I don’t,” Paz replied.

“Then I will have you written up for insubordination, which means you will fall into the hands of Philip’s children since they are in charge of security aboard the Argos. So, what will it be; a nice chat with Commander Volt? Or the brig, where Philip’s Spawn will be in charge of you?”

“That is not much of a choice you’re giving me.”

“As an admiral, I’m used to having my orders followed,” James replied sharply. “Since I know what you will decide, I will tell the Commander to expect you soon.”

“I haven’t agreed to anything yet,” Paz said in a panic, as James and Philip began to leave.

“Yes, you have,” James replied as he waved goodbye, not once turning around to see the look of horror on the lieutenant’s face.

 

Chapter Seventeen

When the Togo fleet finally arrived on the island that had served as the Grau base on this side of the Barrier, Geoff had his men prepare to board the submersibles so they might travel through the underwater tunnel where the lands of Mordel waited for them. He knew, from Togo High Command, that Philip and James were chasing down a lead up in the north. That meant Geoff could cover Southern Mordel without having to worry about any overlap.

In truth, he didn’t want to run into Philip and James. The brutality he and his men had used when taking the island would have shocked even the Lord of Demons. Geoff knew that if they didn’t find Jason soon, and restore his core, he and the rest of the Winged Guard would all suffer nervous breakdowns due to the growing unease they all felt as a result of the change in their bond to Jason.

It was the emptiness that Geoff couldn’t stand. He knew the core still survived but, without Jason’s soul to give the bond form, he felt tied to a vague nothingness that was eating away at his sanity.

“Fleet Commander,” Geoff grunted as he met the Togo commanding officer on the bridge of his flagship. Running his fingers through his tangled curly hair, he hoped he didn’t look as horrible as he felt.

“A hard won battle,” the Togo said, as he offered his hand to the Captain of the Winged Guard.

“A bloody battle,” Geoff replied as he shook the man’s white-gloved hands. When he let go, he saw his hand had left a large smear of blood and dirt. “I apologize for my appearance. It’s been weeks since I’ve had a chance to bathe.”

“Then you’ll be glad to know that we have hot showers waiting for you and your men.”

“I greatly appreciate that,” Geoff replied.

“I thought you would, Captain,” the Fleet Commander nodded. “If you want my advice, I suggest you and your men take this chance to relax and rest up. It will take us at least a week to reach the Isle of Man.”

“Why there?” Geoff asked, as he tried to recall the maps he had been shown.

“According to our intelligence, it was the last point of resistance to Mordelian domination. I am not saying we will find any surviving resistance fighters there, but since they fought the Dominus the longest, their records will have the most information on their hated enemy. We can only hope they knew the location of the hidden city.”

“You know that part of the world better than I do, so I’ll trust your judgment. Now, if you don’t mind, I would really like to have that shower.”

“Of course, Captain. Ensign Palo will show you the way,” the Fleet Commander said as a young Togo officer stepped forward.

“If you will follow me, Lord Captain,” Palo said, showing Geoff off the bridge.

Taken down several levels, Geoff was shown to the shower room. There were twenty-eight stalls, many already taken by one of his weary Saints.

“I will show you to your quarters once you are finished here,” Palo said politely as he took up station by the door.

Taking off his blood stained armor and soiled clothes, Geoff breathed in the cleansing steam as he stepped onto the tile floor. Receiving nods from the other men present, Geoff went to one of the few remaining stalls and turned the hot water on, full blast. The heat and force of the water relaxed his sore body.

As he watched the blood and dirt wash away from his body, Geoff began to cry, sobbing harder than only one other moment in his life, the day he had killed his sister. He had believed that act had stripped him of what was left of his humanity, leaving him the cold assassin for which he was famous. Jason had changed all that. He did more than make him a Saint; he restored his humanity and gave him his trust. He took him away from his life as a paid killer.

With the bond now gone for two months, Geoff could feel his old self returning, and that frightened him. If he ever did find Jason, he didn’t want his savior to see the monster he was becoming.

“Don’t, father,” Geoff heard his son’s faint voice speaking inside his mind over the great distance that separated them.

“Owen,” Geoff sent back. “You shouldn’t be in my mind.”

“I… I was worried about you,” Owen replied.

“Through the bond?”

“Yes, father. You’re not feeling well, are you?”

“It’s Jason… I have to find him.”

“I understand why you left, father. I even know why you didn’t take me with you.”

“I never want your hands soiled with blood. Only one of us should bear such a burden.” Feeling a gentle hand on his naked body, Geoff turned around to see one of the other Saints, Argil, looking at him with sympathetic eyes.

“Let him help you,” Owen said as his voice began to fade.

“Help me, son?” Geoff said aloud, as he rested his head on Argil’s shoulder

“Argil will help you,” Owen said as his voice disappeared from his father’s mind.

“I am such a monster,” Geoff wept as Argil held him tightly in his arms.

“You are only doing what we all want to do; kill those who took our Angel from us. If you had been born a Centurion, you would understand that better.”

“Before Jason, I was the most feared assassin in all the East. I thought Jason had saved me from myself.”

“He did, but now he needs you skills more than ever. We’re all amazed and proud of you, sir.”

“Only because you were once a Centurion. I’m afraid Jason won’t be so pleased.”

“He’ll forgive you, especially if we’re the ones who rescue him.”

“If he’s still alive at all.”

“Stop that, captain. Of course Jason is still alive and boy, will he be glad to see us when we rescue him. Until then, we need to stay strong and remember that we, too, are still alive.” Reaching between their bodies Argil took hold of Geoff’s manhood. “Shall I slay you, or will you slay me?” he chuckled as he felt heated blood pump into Geoff’s sex.

“I slay in battle, but never in bed, at least not with Jason,” Geoff confessed.

Raising Geoff’s chin up with his free hand, Argil whispered into the man’s parted lips. “Then I will slay you with the most tender care.” With that Argil kissed Geoff gently on his wet lips and walked him backward until he was pressed against the tile wall. He then kissed and nibbled his way down the captain’s body until he was on his knees with Geoff’s cock in his wide-open mouth.

At he let out deep moans, Geoff slide down the tiles until he was resting on the warm, wet floor.

“Feeling better?” Argil said as he moved Geoff so he was crouching on all fours.

“Yes,” Geoff moaned. As he felt himself being penetrated from behind, he let out a sharp gasp. “Yes, that’s it. Give it to me. Slay me with your thick sex.”

“More than happy to,” Argil laughed, as he thrust his hips forward, impaling his captain with his massive manhood. Pounding away while his hands fondled the other man’s sex, he gave Geoff both the pleasure and the punishment the captain desired. At the same time, he filled Geoff’s mind will the love and respect he, and the rest of the Winged Guard, felt for their captain.

So entwined were their minds that they all reached climax at the same time. Geoff, collapsing with both physical and emotional exhaustion, was taken out of the showers by his men. He was taken to what had been a conference room where sixteen pallets lay on the floor in a grid like pattern. The room reminded Geoff of the Wing Guard’s barracks back in Domus. Placed in the center of the room, Geoff let out a deep sigh as a pillow was placed under his head. “Much like back home,” he whispered, as Argil and the rest of the men lay all around him.

“We’re not used to living apart from each other. The bunks on this ship don’t really give us the space we’ve grown accustomed to,” Argil replied as he rested his head on a raised hand.

“It feels better, having all of you around me,” Geoff agreed.

“Good. Then you should sleep well. It will be some time before we are needed again.”

“The Fleet Commander did suggest we get some rest.” Geoff chuckled softly.

“Then rest, captain,” Argil said. Rolling onto his stomach, he extended one of his long black wings and covered Geoff’s upper body with it. Soon, the other Saints near their captain were offering the same soft, warm comfort to Geoff.

“Thank you all,” Geoff whispered as sleep overcame him.

“Thank you, Captain,” all of them replied as the lights were turned off. Soon, the only sounds that could be heard were the rustling of wings, and the light sounds of breathing, as each man fell asleep. That was how Geoff and his men marked the moment when the Togo fleet crossed through the Great Barrier into the rougher waters that waited on the other side.

 

Chapter Eighteen

“Field Marshal Darius,” Dovin introduced, as Varrus and Sin arrived for a surprise inspection of the secondary defense line along Rapa’s border with Dorsa. Sol was their main base.

“I know the Field Marshal well, Commander Dovin.” Varrus chuckled as he embraced his Demon lover tightly.

“I heard what Gladius did to you, but I never imagined all the rumors would be true,” Darius whispered as red-hot tears rolled down his face. “I should have come for you myself.”

“You had your duty to the army, which is why we have come. The Senate, and the rest of Domus, are in a state of shock that your men were forced back from the desert so quickly. We’ve also heard that an army of the dead is marching here. What happened to Lahore?”

“They’re crossing the mountains into Uul, even with snow in the mountain passes. As for this army of the dead, I wouldn’t believe it if I had not seen them with my own eyes. We took heavy casualties during the three-day battle with the Horde. We lost half our forces, about a third of them from our own Centurion legions. More reinforcements are coming each day, so we’re almost back to full strength, but this army of the dead numbers over a million. I can only assume they are made up of those who died during our first defensive battle.”

“Can only assume?” Varrus said, not liking the lack of confidence on the Field Marshal’s face.

“Yes, they all wear the same face, you see.”

“Is it a face you know?”

“It’s Gideon’s face. Jason said his friend had died the night Philip claimed him. We know, from the few survivors, what Gideon did at the Siege of Qul Hoth. Jason even gave his friend the city. I had assumed, like most people, that Gideon disappeared with the city when some unknown force destroyed it. I knew that, whatever happened, Jason refused to talk about it. Now Gideon is back, with an entire army calling out Jason’s name.”

“Have you tried harrying them?” Sin asked.

“Aye. I sent Rapan light cavalry to attack their flanks. None returned. There’s this green mist that surrounds the army. It is my guess that it might be poisonous,” Darius replied.

“Or it could be what is causing the dead to rise in the first place. Have the Togo said anything about it?”

“They’ve tried bombing the dead into submission, but the more we kill the thicker the mist becomes. Right now my scouts can’t even seen the dead due to the mist becoming so thick. According to the Togo, the best we can hope for is that their gasmasks provide protection against the mist.”

“What if it is all mist? How will your men fight against it?”

“To be perfectly honest, we can’t, nor can the Togo until their great thinkers figure out what the mist really is.”

“You say they’re calling out Jason’s name?” Sin asked.

“Yes. That’s how we know there must be quite a lot of them still on their feet. Their chanting can be heard for miles.”

“Maybe Jason could defeat the mist. I know, from the stories my father told me, that the Emperor and Captain Gideon were good friends.”

“They were almost inseparable, near the end. What Philip was thinking, interfering in their relationship, I will never understand. Jealousy, I bet.”

“How soon until this army reaches you here?”

“A week, maybe ten days. The army is moving very slowly, as if they are in no hurry to get here.”

“Do you have enough gasmasks for all your men?”

“Enough for my Centurions and Demon Spawn. Now that Philip is bonded to James, the Spawn are easier to keep in line, even with our shortage of Saints.”

“The shortage can’t be helped. All of them wanted to take part in the search for Jason. If you understood the pain we all feel…” Varrus said, as he began to cry as well. “This is all my fault. Jason should have never risked himself over me.”

“Jason would never have forgiven himself if you had died,” Darius said as he held Varrus tightly.

Wiping away his tears, Varrus quickly recovered. “What about the gasmasks, again?”

“Oh that. What I was going to say, is that I have enough for my own legions but not for the regular soldiers we have from the other kingdoms. The Togo are bringing more in every day, but even they say they can’t make them fast enough to be sufficient when the mist reaches us.”

“Then I want you to pull those men back to Dorsa’s border with Qul Tos. Until you know what we’re dealing with, I don’t want any lives put at risk unnecessarily,” Sin said in a commanding tone that took both Varrus and Darius by surprise.

Looking at Varrus, and seeing him give him a curt nod, Darius bowed to the Imperial Regent. “Of course, your Excellency. I will send Commander Dovin to send the word to his other Saints. They will see that our allies are pulled back. I just hope what troops we have left will be enough to hold back the walking dead.”

“You must do the best you can,” Sin replied sternly. He then took Varrus’ hand and pulled him away. Once he was out of earshot from the Field Marshal and his aids, he looked up at Varrus with deep concern. “We must find the original Gideon. He’s the only one I can reason with.”

“You, Sin, you think you can reason with the dead?” Varrus said, a little perturbed by this sudden surge of assertiveness from Sin.

“I know I can. Who else has more of Jason inside him? Since Jason isn’t here, I’m the one who must represent him.”

“If you go into that mist, you will surely die,” Varrus said harshly.

“Gideon wouldn’t do that to me, anymore than he would to Jason.”

“Are you so sure about that, Sin?” Varrus demanded. Jason had risked his life to save him only to order him to watch over Sin. He wasn’t about to let Sin throw his life away on an outrageous gamble. So angry was he, with both Sin and himself, that he was caught unprepared for the kiss Sin gave him. Even when he realized it was anima passing down his throat he couldn’t pull away. His mind was soon filled with memories, Jason’s memories of his friendship and love for Gideon. There was also the pain Jason had felt on losing the last of his friends.

When Sin let go of the kiss, tears were running down Varrus’ face. “You see it now, don’t you? Everything Jason was, before he bonded to me, I now am. To me, my friendship with Gideon is as real as your love for Jason.”

“It’s still risking your life, Sin.”

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take. I know this is why Jason chose me to lead the Empire. He knew I was the only one who could save it.”

“Do you have any proof? Do you have memories of Jason telling you all this?”

“No, he never told me, but I’m sure he picked me for a reason, and it was not because he saw me as a great leader. He knew I am the only one with the power to defeat the Dominus’ plans. He just never realized he gave me that power himself.”

“You are my responsibility, Sin. I won’t have you throw your life away. Let’s see how Darius does against Gideon’s army. With the help of the Togo, and an army of Centurions behind him, you shouldn’t doubt him so.”

“I do not doubt him, anymore than I doubt the Dominus’ power. Jason proved I am invisible to their foretelling. He proved that when I saved Kyle’s life. Why risk the lives of so many of our people, when I can end this war before more suffer the dead’s fate?”

“You are the Regent, that’s why. What do you think would happen if you were to die? Every man who’s ever dreamed of having power will be fighting to take your place on the Imperial throne. The last thing the Empire needs is a civil war.”

“Will there even be an Empire, if we are overcome by the living dead?” Sin countered.

“I will not have this debate with you, Sin. We’ve made our inspection, so we shall return to the palace. It will take us two weeks to get back, enough time for all sorts of trouble to have gone on while we’ve been away.”

“I know you don’t like taking care of me. You want to be out there with the others, looking for Jason.”

“I do, but Jason didn’t want a cripple like me chasing after him. I’ll be damned, however, if I let anything happen to you. Jason wanted me to protect you with my life, and I will if you force me.”

“I understand, Lord Varrus. I would never want you to die because of me. Jason wouldn’t like that. I will go back to the capital, if you insist, but I tell you, again, no one can stop this invasion of the dead but me.”

“We will see, your Excellency. Come, our escort is waiting to fly us home. We shouldn’t dally here any longer.”

“As you wish, Lord Varrus,” Sin said sadly. He knew what he had to do. He just wished Varrus could see the same.

 

Chapter Nineteen

Kept hidden inside Evergreen, the giant lodge in the center of the Hunting Grounds, which was a forested area on the third level of the city, Jason had sunk into a deep depression. He rarely left his bedroom, no matter how hard the others tried to coax him.

Never leaving his side, Jacob tried his best to lift his father’s mood. Everyone knew what was bothering Jason. With each passing day, the animus in him was growing stronger and, while the Animani provided him with a supply of their own anima to prevent him from fully changing, it was the small things that bothered Jason the most. Body hair upset Jason the most. He had to shave once a day to prevent a dark growth from appearing on his face. Then there was the dark hair covering his chest, and the narrow trail down the middle of his stomach. He was tempted to shave that hair as well, but Jacob always snatched his razor away before he could. Jacob tried to explain Dalf culture to his father, but such talk would only emphasize, all the more, the changes Jason was going through.

Jacob knew what had to happen. Jason needed to spend more time with Trevor. The king of the Dalfs had sworn to protect Jason’s life with his own, but only if Jason agreed to become his mate. In Jacob’s eyes, there could be no better husband for his father than the Alpha of all the packs. Jason, however, refused to even see Trevor, fearing what Jacob was hoping for.

Jason still insisted he could have no husband other than Philip, even after living twelve weeks in Mordel. He knew he couldn’t hold Trevor back much longer, anymore than he could hold back becoming a Dalf. A Dalf had needs, needs Trevor could fulfill like no other. Jason felt guilty and ashamed for spurning the Alpha for so long, but he feared what would happen to him should he give in. He also felt badly for his son, Jacob. Jacob had found a lover among the Dalf, one of Trevor’s older sons, Dirk. Jason knew he was keeping the two young lovers apart because of his son’s loyalty to him. He had to leave his bedroom and face his destiny. His time among the vampires, however, had drained him of most of his courage. He was doubting many of his previous decisions, such as letting himself get captured in the first place. It was all foolishness. He had to save Varrus and, for that, he needed the help of the Mordelians. There had been no choice. To have let Varrus suffer, and not rescue him, would have led to worse feelings than what he was now facing.

Hearing the door to his bedroom unlock, Jason quickly buried himself under the sheets when the room was flooded with light from the open doorway.

“I’ve brought you breakfast, Jason,” Alex said in a cheerful tone. “I told the cooks to cook it some more, but they insist you need to eat some raw meat. You probably won’t eat it, anyway.”

Jumping from the bed, Jacob took the tray from Alex. “That’s okay, Alex. I’m sure I can get father to eat at least a little of it.”

“Still not willing to see me?” Alex asked the lump in the bed.

“I don’t want anyone to see me,” Jason mumbled, while remaining hidden.

“Trevor sends his love, but then again he always does. He’s hoping you’ll join us for dinner tonight. I might not be happy that he is already claiming you as his future mate, but I can tell he means well. I’m sure he can explain what it is you’re going through a lot better than Jacob or I can, so you might want to talk to him.”

“Anything else, Alex?” Jason said, wishing his friend would just leave him alone.

“Do you mind my company so much?” Alex said, clearly hurt.

“Of course not,” Jacob replied as he returned to the bed. “Father is just having a hard time right now, given all he’s been through.”

“I don’t need you apologizing for me. I’m a coward.”

Sitting down at the foot of the bed, Alex reached over and patted the lump on the bed. “You are no coward, Jason. No man, willing to face me alone, can be called a coward. To say so would be an insult to me,” he joked. Now, come out from under there and let me get a good look at you. Ever so slowly, Jason peeked out from under the sheets, revealing his very short hair. “You cut your hair,” Alex said, as he grinned at Jason. Alex personally preferred Jason’s hair longer, with its wavy locks, but he wasn’t about to tell him that, now that he’d coaxed him to show himself.

“I tried to cut it,” Jacob began to explained. “But I made such a mess of it that we decided to shave it all off.”

“You should have asked for help. I’m sure one of Trevor’s people could have done a good job of it,” Alex replied.

“Jason didn’t want anyone but me to see him,” Jacob replied, as if stating the obvious, which he was.

“Well, I like it,” Alex said running his fingers through his own short blue tinged hair.

“Don’t lie to me, Alex,” Jason replied, an actual smile appearing on his face to both Alex’s and Jacob’s surprise.

“What makes you think I’m lying?”

“Because you always played with my hair, especially after sex.”

“You have a good memory,” Alex chuckled.

“And yours must be lousy, to think I wouldn’t remember.”

“You forget how many memories I have running through me.”

“I used to have that problem, but no longer,” Jason said, his mood going sad again.

Knowing it was only a matter of time before Jacob shooed him out of the room, Alex went back to the main issue. “Will you see Trevor?”

“I know I should,” Jason said guiltily.

“Then why don’t you?”

“I’m afraid of what might happen,” Jason replied.

“You don’t have to become his lover. You could always turn him down,” Alex replied, not purely for unselfish reasons.

“I can’t turn him down, Alex, not given what I’m becoming. With every day that passes, I become more like him. I know who, and what, he is. He is the Alpha. I should feel honored that he wants me as his mate. It will not be easy. There will be those who will challenge my right to the position and, by tradition, I will have to face them in combat or lose face. Among the Dalf, one’s honor and strength in battle is all one really has.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. You’ve never been weak, Jason, not even when you were under your mother’s tyranny. Just by surviving, you proved to all the Centurions that you were a man of strength.”

“I’m not afraid of fighting. I just don’t want to do it over something I never desired until I started to change.”

“May I see how changed you’ve become?” Alex asked, as he began to remove the sheets covering the rest of Jason’s body. Seeing the chest hair, he could only grin and shake his head. “Is that what has you so upset? Only a vain Legatio would care about such a small matter. If anything, the hair makes you look more Centurion, which pleases me greatly.”

“I am so relieved you don’t see the problem,” Jason replied sarcastically. “What will Philip think if he sees me like this? It will be even worse if he finds out I’ve taken a new husband.”

“If Philip scoffs about the hair, I’ll give him a good scar to teach him some manners,” Alex threatened. “As for you taking on a new husband, you’re only doing what you need to do in order to survive. Certainly, Philip should feel grateful to have a man like Trevor looking after you. I might be able to protect you from most threats, but it only takes one Grau to immobilize me. I would prefer that you marry me, but I know enough about myself to know Trevor is the better man.”

“Then I have your blessing to go through with this?”

“I don’t understand. I’ve been trying to encourage you to meet with Trevor since the day we arrived here.”

“I know, but you still have a claim over me that I don’t think will ever go away.”

“If it’s my permission you want, you have it. Go see Trevor. See him now, in fact.”

“Jacob?” Jason said turning to his son.

“I will get the clothes Trevor sent,” Jacob said as he got out of bed again. “You should eat some of your breakfast before you go.”

“I’m sure the cooks undercooked it again,” Jason sighed, as he picked up his plate. “I always hated eating beef, especially if it was still bloody. I guess this will just be another change I will have to get used to.”

Returning with a suit on a hanger, Jacob laid it out on the bed. “I’ll help you with the tie when you’re ready.”

“Why people would want to wear such clothes, I will never understand,” Alex grumbled as he looked at the striped gray suit.

“I’ve had to wear worse in my time. At least there’s not a crown,” Jason said. After eating a few pieces of the raw meat, he set the plate aside. Stepping out of bed, he began to dress, first putting on the white collared shirt, then the gray pants and the vest, which fitted his V-shaped body, and finally the coat.

Standing behind his father, Jacob helped him put on the red tie, placing it’s end under the vest. “Trevor also sent this for you,” Jacob said as he took out a gold pocket watch on a gold chain. Putting the watch in the vest’s side pocket, he also put the chain in place. “There, now you look like a Lord of Mordel.”

“Another thing I never wanted to be,” Jason sighed, as he tried to control his growing fear. Putting on a pair of black socks and shoes, there was nothing left to keep him in his bedroom any longer.

“Would you like me to show you the way?” Alex offered.

“I think Jacob should. He’s already been accepted as part of Trevor’s pack. Coming with you might send the wrong message.”

Letting out a sigh of disappointment, Alex nodded his head. “I understand. I do look quite intimidating.”

“Stay here, Alex. I should be back soon.”

“And I’ll be waiting,” Alex grinned. After Jason and Jacob were gone, Alex waited a long time for them to return. When he looked at his watch and knew that dinner had come and gone, he gave up. Things must have gone well with Trevor. Isn’t that what Alex had hoped for? He tried to feel happy about it but, deep inside, he felt the pain of losing Jason for the second time in his life.

 

Chapter Twenty

“Lord Trevor,” Jacob said with a bow, as he stepped onto the third floor deck.

“Jacob, I didn’t expect to see you today. Is your father well?” Trevor asked without turning from his view of the thick forests.

“He’s trying his best,” Jacob replied as Jason stepped forward.

“Always his best. Is there anything I can get you to ensure your father’s comfort?”

“Your forgiveness,” Jason said, as he sent his son back inside.

Turning his head, Trevor saw he hadn’t imagined Jason’s voice. Soon, he wore a wolfish grin on his face. “So you’ve decided to poke your head out of your den.”

“My fault… I’ve been acting cowardly lately.”

Going to Jason, Trevor ran his fingers under the lapels of Jason’s coat. “Do you like my gifts? They suit you well.”

“Oh, Trevor,” Jason sighed. As a Dalf he could feel Trevor’s commanding power, as well as the Alpha’s growing desire for him.

“Are you afraid of me?” Trevor chuckled as he brushed Jason’s unshaven face.

“Scared of us,” Jason replied honestly.

“Of us?” Trevor said in surprise. “I see. You’re worried what your Philip might think if he were to find you mated to me. Do not worry, Jason. I am more than capable of protecting us.”

“That is not what I’m worried about. My Demon might be a strong warrior, but he has a fragile heart.”

“So why are you here if you are afraid of betraying him?”

“I cannot have you as an enemy, not when my son is in love with one of your boys.”

“Dirk,” Trevor nodded. Reaching behind Jason, he stroked the man’s curved back. “Those two are quite a pair, but nothing compared to what you and I can become.”

“I can sense the same, but Philip will still be hurt.”

“Philip might never find out. Not even I know where our city is really located. It is one of the great secrets the Grau and Dominus protect with their lives.”

“That may be, but Philip will not stop until he finds me.”

“And what will you do if he does? Will you leave me?”

“I would take you with me, you and all your family, to the land of Ares where the land is still green and the air is fresh.”

“Sounds wonderful, but what would I do there.”

“Live free.”

“But, I am free. Of course I can never leave this city, but here I’m an important man with title, power, and an army of followers. I can’t leave that all behind. Anyway, without the vaccines the Dominus control, I could never survive in your world. So I ask you again, will you leave me for Philip?” Trevor leaned forward so his face was barely an inch away from Jason’s.

“I don’t belong here, Trevor. This isn’t my world. Back in Ares, I’m the one with the title, power, and followers. And, most importantly, I have a responsibility to protect my people.”

“And you think I don’t?” Trevor asked. Taking a step forward, he caused Jason to back away in order to avoid their heads colliding.

“I never meant to suggest that. This city is your entire world, and you’ve made a good life for yourself here. Mordel, however, will always be a prison to me. If, as you say, Philip will never find me, I will still wish to return home.”

“Even if your Jacob wishes to remain here among his own people?

“Jacob is free to make his own choice.”

“No, he’s not.” Trevor laughed as he waved at the head poking through the curtains. “He might be fond of Dirk, but he loves you more. If you leave, Jacob will surely go with you, even if that means leaving two very sad Dalfs. Just tell me you only want to be friends. That’s all you have to do.”

“You know I can’t, Trevor. You’re the Rex, the king, the Alpha, and you’ve picked me. With all the changes I’ve gone through, I find I can’t say no to you anymore.”

“Then don’t say no, say yes. I promise I will take good care of you, as a mate should. Hearing some of the stories your son tells about Philip, you haven’t had a real man take care of you before.”

“Given my son’s feelings toward his uncle, I would take his words lightly.”

“So your husband isn’t the biggest whore in all of Ares?” Trevor laughed.

“You have me there. He does tend to sleep around, but it’s not like I’ve been without my lovers.”

“You mean that half blood Grau and those two Saints of yours.”

“Among others.”

“I don’t mind. They’re your followers. You can do with them as you like, as long as it’s done openly.”

“I’m not the kind that would keep such secrets from you.”

“I’m glad to know that. Just so you know, when you become my official mate, there will be no other than you. That is the way of my kind. I hope that, one day, you will see things are better that way as well.”

“It’s what I always wanted from Philip, but knew I could never have. Given the Centurion’s curse, how can he stand aside and let his brothers die because of something the Dominus had done. By making them his lovers, he gives them a reprieve from death.”

“And your Saints?”

“Given the countless people who have told me they love me, most people are surprised I have so few Saints compared to Philip’s Spawn.”

“Why do you have any?”

“An Angel needs love in order to survive. When someone truly professes their love for me, I can’t help but respond in kind.”

“And now that you’re no longer an Angel?”

“I find I still need that same love.”

Trevor chuckled softly as he placed his hands on both of Jason’s shoulders. “Which is why you’ve come to me, my young Dalf.

“I’m not that young. I’m twenty eight after all.”

“I didn’t mean to offend you but, compared to me, you’re quite young. Or I should say I’m that old, three hundred and twenty-three come next cycle.”

“And you’ve never found a mate?”

“A true mate is a rare thing. I’ve had plenty of lovers, but none of them were worthy or honorable enough for me to trust them with my very life. A true mate is sworn to protect his lover with every fiber of his being. Given what you did for Varrus, and the feelings that your other followers have for you, I know you’re the sort of man I can trust my life to. I already know I will do anything to protect yours.”

“So what do we do now?” Jason whispered as he watched Trevor lick his lips.

“This suit looks perfect on you. It’s a shame I’m going to have to take it off,” Trevor replied, as he unbuttoned Jason’s gray coat and slid his arms around Jason’s waist. Nuzzling against Jason’s unshaven face, he started planting several light kisses on the man’s cheeks.

“Not here,” Jason whispered as he felt Trevor slide a hand under the back of his pants.

“You’re referring to our two little spies?” Trevor chuckled as he looked at where Jacob and Dirk were watching them. “Of course, something like this should be done in complete privacy. Taking Jason’s hand, Trevor led him back inside the lodge, shaking a chastising finger at the two snoops. Going down one floor, he unlocked the door to his private suite of rooms. Still holding Jason’s hand, he led him straight to a large bedroom and its massive black bed.

When Trevor finally let go, Jason started removing his coat, but Trevor stopped him. “Let me undress you.”

“If you insist,” Jason replied, as he let go of his coat.

“I do. I’ve always liked unwrapping things, especially when I don’t know what lies inside.”

“I hope I don’t disappoint you, then.” Jason chuckled as Trevor pulled his coat down so that his arms were trapped at his sides.

Taking Jason’s face in his hands, Trevor went back to nuzzling, his nose taking in deep whiffs of Jason’s scent. “I could eat you alive,” Trevor chuckled before kissing Jason hard on the lips, his tongue quickly sliding into Jason’s mouth. While he held the kiss, he took several small steps toward the bed, forcing Jason to walk backwards until he almost tripped.

“Eager are we?” Jason asked when their lips parted. Looking at Trevor’s face, Jason saw the Dalf’s eyes had changed from gray to emerald green, a glowing green in fact.

“Stay right where you are,” Trevor insisted, as he kissed his way down Jason’s body until his was on his knees. Unzipping Jason’s pants, he reached inside and pulled out Jason’s half hard manhood. Giving it a few tugs, he rubbed the hardening sex against his face and took it into his hungry mouth so his face was buried against Jason’s crotch. While he continued to suck on Jason’s swelling cock, Trevor’s hands were busy unbuttoning Jason’s tight vest. Once that was done, he pulled Jason’s white shirt from his pants and started unbuttoning from the bottom up, reaching all the buttons but the one covered by Jason’s tie.

Standing back up, Trevor pulled off the remainder of Jason’s coat before pulling him into another hard kiss. “I think I’m really going to enjoy this,” he laughed, as he undid the knot holding Jason’s tie in place and undid the final button. Removing the tie, he pulled Jason’s shirt off, rolled it into a ball, and tossed it over his shoulder. He then took off his own coat and began unbuttoning his shirt with one hand while the other kept Jason’s sex hard with constant stroking. Trevor’s body was pale and just as hairy as Jason’s, but still couldn’t hide his hard, chiseled features. Dropping his pants he revealed his bulging jockstrap.

Arching an eyebrow, Jason winced on seeing Trevor’s undergarment. “Now that’s unusual.”

“You mean my jock… it’s either this or nothing at all.”

“So you like a bare rump,” Jason chuckled as he slapped Trevor on the rear.

“You do have to admit, mine is quite beautiful,” Trevor said as he flexed his muscles, showing off his hard ass.

“Are you sure… I’ve seen quite a few in my time.”

“As smooth as mine? I won’t tell you the trouble I went through to remove all the hair from it.”

“You can shave your ass, but not the hair on your chest?”

“Chest hair is a matter of pride and honor. A true Dalf wouldn’t dare remove it.”

“But you can remove it from your butt,” Jason said, appreciating the irony. “What happens when you enter your werewolf stage?”

“Since becoming Rex, I’m supplied with enough Animani anima to ensure that will never happen.”

“Why is that?”

“Those living as werewolves tend to be very temperamental. That can only be expected, given their duel nature. A werewolf lives under the constant stress of balancing his human logic with animal instincts. It is only so that the Dalf are ruled by a stable leader, that I am supplied with all the anima I need. I also know that the Animani are being just as generous with you.”

“I had hoped it would stop me from changing.”

“It will stop some changes. I don’t think you will have to worry about hair growing out of your ass or on your back. You won’t grow fangs, or claws, or hairy feet, either. All the more reason why you are the perfect match for me. Who, other than yourself, is so human?”

“Jacob is quite human.”

“Jacob is not a pure Dalf. He is very much his father’s son. Though he might make a lot of boastful threats, his nature is quite gentle just like yours.” Reaching between their bodies Trevor unbuckled Jason’s belt and then squatted down, taking Jason’s pants down with him. “Now, this isn’t the undergarment I sent for you to wear.”

“I saw what you wanted me to wear. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the front from the rear it was such a tiny thing.”

“You’re right, of course, I apologize. You’re a man of honor and should be treated so. Still, I would have like to have seen you in it. Where did you get those baggy white boxers, anyway?”

“I’m borrowing them from Jacob,” Jason replied, daring Trevor to comment further.

“Well, they have to go. Only foot soldiers wear such common garb.

“Are you saying Jacob’s common?”

“No, he just has his father’s modesty. Dirk finds that trait quite endearing, compared to some of the more exotic things other Dalfs do in an attempt to impress him.”

“Such as?”

“Such as rings in their nipples, studs on their ears, all sorts of outlandish jewelry that have become so popular among the younger pups. I’m sure you’ve never had such problems with your own children.”

“It would not matter if they did such things to their bodies. I would still love them all the same.”

“Even if he wore a ring through his manhood?”

“I don’t think I will ever have to worry about that. Piercings are seen as a womanly thing throughout all of Ares, though I do believe the Dalls believe otherwise.”

“And who are the Dalls? I’ve never heard of them before.”

“There’s not much for me to tell. Most of what we know comes from the Qopo traders. After my people, the Dalls are the most hated enemy of the Lahorians. They also have the distinction of being the only people the Horde of Lahore has failed to conquer on their side of Ares.”

“So they would be a natural ally for you?”

“No. If the Qopo’s tales are to be believed, the Dalls hate and would kill any stranger in their jungles. The Qopo only deal with them to obtain the rare furs and pelts that are popular in the West. Their meetings with the Dall take place on a long sandbar that borders the coast of their jungles. It seem, the Dalls don’t consider the sandbars their territory and are willing to deal with outsiders there, as long as they’re not from Lahore. Anyway, it is their custom to show their rank by the size and number of bones piercing their noses.”

While Jason had been talking, Trevor had gone over to his dresser and pulled out a jockstrap similar to the one he had on, only his was dark blue while the one he handed Jason was black.

“You really want me to put this on?” Jason chuckled as he held up the undergarment with his index finger.

“It would please me greatly,” Trevor said, giving Jason a flamboyant bow.

“If you say so,” Jason said as he kicked off the white boxers, revealing his cut manhood.

“What is this?” Trevor asked, curious, as he licked his lips. “Why is your foreskin so short?”

“I was circumcised years ago, when I entered adulthood.”

“Your people do that?”

“Not all people, just Centurions and their lovers. It’s a tradition that has the power of law. Varrus and I got into serious trouble when we broke that custom.”

“Why would there be such a tradition?” Trevor asked as he leaned down to examine Jason’s sex up close.

“Partly to prove how brave we are, but mostly so that there is no misunderstanding about who a grown Centurion can sleep with.”

“I take it there were quite a few misunderstandings in the past.”

“In the distant past, yes. Back then; a Centurion who wanted to make love to a Legatio could force himself on the weaker man. The Legatio eventually demanded that laws be passed to protect them from such assaults. The circumcision does not just mark a Centurion as a full adult; it also serves as a warning of the pain and shame he will face if he dares to force himself upon a man who is not circumcised.”

“So why did you do it?”

“Out of love, of course. If I wanted to be with those who loved me, I needed to be marked the same way they are.”

“Did it hurt?”

“Yes, but not for long. Philip’s anima was flowing freely at the time. All it took was for him to coat my sex with it, and I quickly healed.

“You’re not going to ask me to do that, are you?” Trevor asked as he straightened up.

“Of course not. This is not the Empire, and you’re not a Centurion, or a Famulus even. I won’t force my customs on you.”

“So long as I don’t force my own traditions on you either. I know how this mutual respect thing works.”

“But, have you ever had an equal.”

“No, but that’s why I’ve not had a true mate. I wouldn’t have one unless…”

“He met your standards,” Jason said wryly.

“No, he had to be a better man then I could ever be,” Trevor whispered into Jason’s ear as his fingers ran down the muscular groove of Jason’s back.

“Is that how you see me?”

“It is what Thomas has shown me,” Trevor replied.

“When?”

“Whenever he came back to the city and give his report to the Dominus. Given that his first born son is a Dalf, he sought me out to try and figure out why Jacob hates him so.”

“Did you tell him why?”

“I told him that Jacob most likely resented being used by him to spy on his loving father. You must understand that we Dalfs mature much faster than pure humans. When Jacob saw you for the first time, he knew you were his father. ”

“But Thomas is still his mother.”

“Dalfs stay close to their mothers only when they’re first born. By the time they’re weaned, they’re ready to take the lead from their fathers. According to Thomas, Jacob was very scared when he met you in the forest. The young pup knew that you didn’t know you were his father. All that fear disappeared when you first took him into your arms. In that moment, he knew you were a kind and loving young man, and he loved you for it. He knew that, one day, you would find out about his parentage, but he didn’t fear you finding out because he already knew you would love him just the same. You two are so much alike, you could have been brothers,” Trevor laughed before lowering his voice back to a whisper. “He misses his other brothers, your sons, as much as you do.”

“Varrus will see that no harm comes to them, and that they achieve their own destinies,” Jason whispered back as a tear rolled down his face.

“Come now, why do you think Jacob fathered so many children of his own? He wanted to make sure his younger brothers were well looked after.”

“Will they ever be human?”

“No, werewolves when they are old enough, but never fully human since the pups’ mother was a wolf. You don’t have to fear for your children, those pups will never harm a hair on them, and will protect them with their very lives.”

“I wasn’t worried,” Jason said as he rubbed his short hair.

“Are you tired?” Trevor asked, looking worried.

“Just emotionally worn out,” Jason said as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “I’m… I’m still having nightmares about what happened down below.”

“You’re safe. Gideon saw to that.”

“But for how long? If I’m to be your mate, then you’ll eventually have to tell your followers. Can you depend on all of them to keep me a secret from the Dominus? I can’t imagine they’ll be happy to discover I escaped their trap.”

“You’re right; I can’t count on all my people. Some I’m sure are paid spies working for the Dominus. I can’t have an official mate that I can keep as a secret. You’ll be seen as an Alpha, just as I am. You might not have the title of Rex, but most of my people will obey and protect you should danger come. You can also help me with a problem I’ve been having with the Hawkmen. Angel you might have been, but they will see you as one of their kind. With you as an Alpha of the Dalf, tensions between our people and theirs might lessen. Curse be on the Dominus for setting us against one another.”

“Why do you fight with the Hawkmen?”

“We were both given charge of security for the upper levels. As a result, we tend to bump heads a lot. Since much of our income comes from the fines and penalties we impose on the criminals we catch, competition between us is fierce. Things have gotten so bad that we’re now arresting each other’s people on trumped up charges, just to get our competitors off the streets. It is almost as if we’ve declared Vendetta against one another.”

“What would happen if Vendetta is declared?”

“A true Vendetta, an open war between the clans, can only be sanctioned by the Dominus Pantheon itself. If they were to allow it, many of my people and those of the Hawkmen will die.”

“What about the security of the city?”

“Until the war ends, one way or another, there would be no security, which means the syndicates would be free to do whatever they want. It would mean total chaos.”

“Surely the Dominus don’t want that.”

“In the case of both our people, I’m afraid they do. The Hawkmen and my Dalfs represent the two most powerful clans in the upper levels of the city. We therefore pose the greatest threat to the Dominus, if we were to revolt. By encouraging our rivalry to the point of war, the Dominus hope that both clans will be weakened to the point that they no longer pose any threat to them.

“Though many of my followers are demanding we ask for Vendetta against the Hawkmen, I know in my own heart that such a war must be avoided at any cost. If I announce to the city that I’ve taken you as my mate, that might close the breach between me and Orson, enough for us to reach a new understanding and put a stop to the violence before it spirals out of control.”

“But I’m not a Hawkman.”

“But you once flew like one. Are not the Animani creating a new set of wings for you? As a man who can fly, they will see you as somebody they can relate to, much better than they can relate to a grounded Dalf like me, at least.”

“But to make my existence public; won’t that put both of us in danger?”

“Yes, but the Dominus won’t be able to attack us directly. Doing so would only upset the other clans, especially when they learn where the Dominus dumped your body. Already, the Grau are searching the tunnels of Omega Level, trying to find your corpse. By announcing your continued existence to the entire city, the Grau and Dominus will be humiliated as public hatred towards them grows. You, on the other hand, will become greatly respected for escaping such a deadly trap. That respect, as well as the Dominus’ embarrassment for having failed to kill you in such a horrible way, will be your best shield against any further attempts on your life.”

“But there will be attempts,” Jason replied.

“Of course, but the Dominus won’t do it openly where they would be able to kill you easily. They would have to be careful, to make sure they’re not blamed for your death, as this would anger the city further. They would have to make your death look like an accident. Accidents are something I can protect you from, using my own men. I can’t protect you from an all out assault, not without the support of the other clans. If we can achieve peace with the Hawkmen, then we will have taken the first and most important step in uniting all the clans. The Dominus will have no choice but to listen to our demands.”

“Another war,” Jason sighed sadly. “Have I gone through so much, just to lead another bloody campaign?”

“Blood will flow with or without you, my love. Either we go to war with the Hawkmen, or fight for freedom from the tyranny of the Dominus.”

“I once saw all of Mordel as my enemy, but that’s not true. Most people here want to live normal lives without fear. I’ve never wanted power, Trevor. I’ve never wanted to be a leader. All I’ve ever wanted was to live a normal life, without fear, and with the people I love just like your people do you. When I first touched my mother’s crown, I was so scared I ended up dropping it. Philip told me it was my duty to be king, and made rings for each of us, with the two gems that had been knocked off the crown mounted in them. That ring had been on my hand since the day Philip gave it to me. When I arrived in your city, it was but one of the things stolen from me by the Dominus. I never thought I could be capable of such hatred as I feel toward the Dominus for what they’ve done to me.”

“Is it revenge you want?” Trevor asked, as he lay on the bed next to Jason.

“I have my own vendetta I wish to settle, but such desires are selfish. I will not ask your people to fight on my behalf. Enough blood has already been spilled in my name.”

“Yet you still wish to strike back at the Dominus.”

“I do… so, if you need me to gain allies among the Hawkmen, I will serve that role. I will be the leader you need me to be, and will obey you faithfully.”

“I don’t want your obedience, Jason. As my mate, you are my equal. If I demand too much of you, or ask you do something you feel is wrong, you have every right to get angry with me and the shame will be on me for treating you so. Our people do need a leader however, one not corrupted by the political games that have long been our bread and butter. The people know of you, and are sympathetic. When word spreads about how the Dominus planned to kill you, that sympathy will turn into outrage. If we can only harness that anger, and direct it, we can change this city forever.”

“Then I am yours,” Jason said as he lay down next to Trevor.

“As I am yours,” Trevor said and wrapped his muscular arms around Jason, pulling him closer.

Before Jason knew it was coming, he felt Trevor’s sharp teeth bite hard into his shoulder, green animus dripping from his teeth into the bleeding bite marks. Its affect wasn’t pain, to Jason’s surprise, but orgasmic pleasures as Trevor mark him as his mate.

“What do I do?” Jason asked as Trevor rolled on top of him.

“You just relax, and let me handle everything,” Trevor said between several wet kisses.

 

Chapter Twenty-One

Grau security officer Scott watched as his team set up lights throughout the complex of tunnels that made up Omega. Although the stench of death was unavoidable, he wore an oxygen breather over his face. Constantly shouting orders and receiving reports, he did not hear the mechanical whirling sound until Nymph Athena was directly behind him in her armored warrior form.

“Have you found him yet,” Athena demanded, not needing to name who.

“No, my lady, but we’ve only covered a small section of the mines,” Scott said, as he tried to hide his fear. He had never thought one of the Dominus would come down here to see the devastation herself. Then again, if any of the Dominus did come it would be Athena, given Jason’s relationship to her.

“So you can’t tell me if he’s alive or dead,” Athena said, anger entering her electronic voice.

“So far, we’ve found no one even halfway alive,” Scott said in reference to the Dead Eaters.

“What of the Nosferatu?”

“The first thing we did was send teams to each of their bunkers. All were either deserted, or filled with the bodies of the dead. Many of the bodies have decomposed, so identifying them will take some time.”

“You’re not giving me the answers I want to hear,” Athena warned.

“All I can give you is the truth, my lady. I beg your pardon for its inadequacy,” Scott replied.

“I don’t care what you have to do, but Jason must be found alive or dead. You must also make sure that all the vampires can be accounted for. If even one were to escape to the upper levels it would be a disaster. I don’t think I have to warn you what happens to those who give the Dominus bad news.”

“Of course not, my lady. May I ask that more resources and men be put to the task of searching the tunnels?”

“You would have to ask one of my superiors.”

“So what is your authority here?” Scott demanded.

“I’ve come here on my own volition. Jason was an important test subject for my mistresses. His fate is therefore of importance to us.”

“My lady, given the extensiveness of the tunnels and chambers, not to mention pits, we might never know for sure if Jason died here or not. When he was left here he was in no condition to make any attempt to escape. My guess is that he died here at the hands of the Nosferatu. Given the legends the vampires had of him, they must have fought over his body, resulting in the death of most of them and their slaves. As for survivors, they’re probably hiding so deep we can’t hope to find them. If the legends are true, they might have made their escape to the upper levels.”

“I want certainty, not excuses!” Athena said, magnifying her voice so it echoed throughout the system of caves.

“Then I ask that you speak with your mistresses, and ask that we be given more men to search the tunnels.”

“Very well, but the moment you find Jason I want to be informed.”

“If by some miracle we do find him, I will report to you myself.”

“See that you do, Major,” Athena said before stomping away.

Just as soon as Athena was gone, Thomas appeared next to Scott. “You’ll never find him here, you know.”

“So your team was successful,” Scott whispered.

“Jason did suffer at the hands of the Nosferatu, but he survived.”

“Still, I can’t stop searching, in order to prove that we tried as hard as we could. Do you know what really happened here?”

“Gideon’s curse. It seems a faction of the vampires attacked and captured Jason, but not without killing most of Gideon’s cursed guards, which set free the green mist. The mist went through the tunnels like a plague; possessing and killing anyone it came across. Eventually, the mist found the hole Jason’s captors were hiding in, and dealt with them in the same manner. That’s how his rescuers found him, at least. It seems the curse is more than we thought it was. It is not mindless; nor does it choose its targets at random. It doggedly pursues its own goals. In this case, it was to save Jason from the monsters who would have butchered him.”

“Did any vampires escape?”

“Two did, Prince Dmitri and Lord Ivan, his lover. They’re probably hiding in one of the upper levels by now.”

“The Dominus will be most displeased to learn that. If the light from the Central Pillar can no longer affect them, then there is nothing to stop them from rebuilding their covens from the Animanus. I can’t stress enough the chaos such knowledge would cause among the populace.”

“Jason can find them.”

“How? Don’t tell me; they gave him the blood kiss?”

“Yes but, as you know, Jason has always exceeded our expectations of him. He shows no sign of vampirism, but the Dalf in him is growing stronger. Pretty soon, I expect Trevor to announce Jason as his mate and co-Alpha.”

“If that happens, the Dominus will surely learn of it.”

“Of course, but in this case it will be to our advantage. Jason will be a Lord of the City. The Dominus won’t risk the mess that taking him by force would cause, so they won’t be able to attack him or the Dalfs directly. Hera will most likely ask my advice, since I know Jason best.”

“And what will you tell her?”

“That Jason, as he is now, is nothing more than a biological waste product. That Trevor Rex picked Jason as his mate solely to annoy the Dominus, and not out of any attempt to gain more power. I will tell the Dominus that Jason is a broken man who is no threat to them, that Trevor will eventually tire of caring for a cripple. That he will dump him in some alley where our people will be free to pick him up for final disposal.”

“Cold, ruthless, calculating… all the things Dominus expect to hear from a faithful Grau. We, though, know it’s just a bunch of lies. Trevor does plan to use Jason to unite the clans and he will most likely succeed with a few exceptions. The Lizardmen, for instance, would never take orders from a Dalf. They’ve long resented their station as guards of the lower levels. They’ll be even more angry when we send them down here to take over the Omega Level.”

“Have they been told yet?” Thomas asked.

“No, but they keep asking, while making it clear they have no wish for such degrading work,” Scott replied.

“Well, they have no choice in the matter. The Dominus have already made their decision. Speaking of our mistresses, that was Athena who was just here. What did she want?”

“She wants to know what happened to Jason, was quite insistent about it.”

“Probably has to do with those strange children of hers. They act like no other Dominus their age. They were put into a larger tank with other hatchlings. You know how they usually fight among themselves until only the strongest is left. Well Athena children don’t fight one on one, but charge in with an entire swarm. They killed off all the other hatchlings in a matter of days, but never harmed one of their own. Athena must fear the Dominus will see her children as dangerous and order their destruction. Such an act would shame Athena, and lower her standing when the Dominus decide which Nymph is worthy of joining the Pantheon. As for Jason, she probably wants his body for further study, to try and find a solution to her children’s unusual behavior.”

“Do you think Jason is the cause?”

“He has to be. I know, from the two children I had with him, that he has a strange influence on his offspring. Brutus is already asking questions that I don’t feel up to answering, quite yet.”

“Like, why you never told him about his father, or why you were absent most of your son’s life?”

“Why he and Jacob are so different,” Thomas sighed, as he ran his fingers though his red hair. “He doesn’t understand why Jacob can’t talk with his mind, or why Jacob understands the animal grunts of the Dalf while he can’t.”

“Is it jealousy he feels?”

“Maybe, but he’s not angry with Jacob, not with him constantly asking me to arrange their little visits. He just doesn’t understand how we are a family.”

“That’s what you get for spending so much time in Ares. You start thinking like them. Surely, Brutus sees the Grau as his family.”

“That is what we teach, but can you blame me for wanting a real family.”

“What does Jason think of all this?” Scott asked.

“I haven’t asked him.”

“Too afraid to? He’s taken to Jacob well enough.”

Thomas let out a deep sigh. “Jacob is not the problem, nor is Brutus, really. It’s me, Scott. I tricked Jason into having this family. I spent most of my time with him tormenting him and taking away his loved ones. I don’t think Jason really likes me.”

“That’s your own fault, as I’ve told you before,” Scott chuckled.

“It’s our people’s fault. We’re so used to getting our way, as the favored children of the Dominus, that we’re taught to look down on anyone who is not one of us.”

“Maybe… How do you expect that to ever change? I’ve already stuck my neck out for you too many times. You and I might like Jason, but most of our people do see him as a waste product that needs to be disposed of before he can contaminate the city and its people.”

“Jason won’t stay hidden much longer. Lord Trevor is very eager to announce him as his official mate.”

“That’s probably for the best. As an official Lord of Mordel, the Dominus can’t just have him executed, especially assassinated using their normal methods. I would not be surprised if the Dominus ask that you handle the situation.”

“I could never kill Jason, not after all the horrible things I’ve done to him already.”

“They won’t ask you to kill him, but spy on him instead. The Dominus know you are one of the strongest agents they have when it comes to mental control. Keep Jason on a tight leash, and the Dominus will have no need to kill the father of your children.”

“Oh Scott, what would I do without you?” Thomas said as he touched the Major’s face affectionately.

“Most likely, you would already be in the birthing tanks.” Scott laughed while Thomas shuddered. Tickling the left side of Thomas’ neck, Scott grinned as the skin began to separate, revealing a set of gills. “Have you told Jason about this little secret of ours?”

“I don’t want him to think I’m a freak.”

“If Lord Trevor is making Jason his mate, then surely Jason is slowly becoming one of the Dalf. Given that, I doubt he would see you as a freak. You might even want to tell him why we were given gills. Fear of our mutual enemy might bring you two closer together. There is one thing I need to ask you, before you go. Does Jason know where the two vampires are hiding?”

“No. Jason made it clear he didn’t want to see them, ever again,” Thomas replied.

“But will they stay away?” Scott asked. “You must keep a close eye on Jason. If those two monsters approach Jason, or contact him in any way, you must report it to me.”

“I will, if I can find out. Those two lords know about me, so they most likely will take steps to avoid me learning of them.”

“If only Jason hadn’t given them his blood.”

“He did it out of guilt and honor. He knows he would never have fallen into the hands of the radicals if he had accepted the Prince’s aid. Even though Jason rejected their offer, they did help Lord Trevor and I find where the radicals had taken him. By all accounts, Jason owed them something for everything they tried to do on his behalf.”

“But, to let those two escape into the upper city… Jason has not been here long. Surely you should have warned him of the chaos those two are capable of causing. What if one of our own people fell into their grasp… a perfect spy from which those monsters could learn things none of us should even know.”

“I will keep an eye on Jason. Once he makes the move to Tower One, I will be able to spend more time with him.”

“I’m sure the Dominus will agree to that, as you know Jason best. Do you know if he can still resist your probes.”

“I really haven’t tried since we rescued him from the lower city. He was in a pretty fragile state at the time.”

“Then I suggest you test him and see how strong he is. You always told me he was quite a challenge,” Scott replied.

“I should, but I don’t want to force myself on him. How else am I going to get him to trust me?”

“You know what’s best. Promise me you’ll take care around the Dominus. As strong as you are, not even you can keep their tentacles out of your mind.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Thomas said as he left.

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

With the Argos docked in the stone harbor, Philip, James, and their followers explored the ruins of the last of the Dominus’ outposts and the place of their birth. Walking into an underground sandy arena, Philip and James looked at the towering stone statutes holding up the domed roof. Standing on opposite walls, with their wings outspread, were the cold images of Amplexor and Gladius.

“I bet you never thought you would see their faces again,” Philip grunted. Holding a shock staff in his hand, he was tempted to send several energy bolts into their hard expressions.

“I know that look,” James chuckled. “You want to destroy this place, don’t you?”

“To think, our people were once slaves!”

“You forget, once my family were slaves as well.”

“You Jadoorians have never been a logical people.”

“And you Imperials are? Haven’t you Centurions wasted most of your lives, hoping a Legatio would fall in love with you?”

“And didn’t Jason fall for me?”

“One Legatio, after waiting thousands of years.”

“If it weren’t for me, you would never have met Jason.”

“That I would have to agree with,” James said as Paz and his team came back from the labs. “Did you find anything?” he asked the lead technician.

“A map, showing the location of all the other abandoned stations. Most of them are located in the Great Eastern Ruins,” Paz replied.

“Are they anymore ruinous than what we’ve seen so far?” Philip chucked just as he fired off an energy spear at Gladius’ statue, knocking of a large section of its nose.

“You just couldn’t help yourself,” James smirked.

“Anyway,” Paz coughed, as particles of stone clouded the arena. “The Mordelium continent was once completely covered by a giant metropolis.”

“Impossible. How could there be so many people to fill such a city?” Philip demanded.

“Many parts of the city were unpopulated, taken up by automated factories and recycling centers. There were also were large parks, a few taking up hundreds of square miles. A third of the land was a giant mirrored landscape of the sun farms, which provided power for the great metropolis.”

“Did this city have a name?”

“All sorts of names. It might have been one city, but it was never controlled by any one government, or person for that matter. That was what the Great Wars were fought over. In the end, most of the city was destroyed except for those distant corners in the northwest and southeast.”

“And those are the ruins you’re referring to?” James asked.

“Yes. The western ruins were the original power base for those who eventually became known as the Dominus.”

“Then we should find their underground city there,” Philip insisted.

“If only it were that easy. We might find the remains of their original base there, but I doubt we’ll find the actually city. Too many people knew where their base was, especially after the Mother fled for Ares.”

“So Mordel didn’t even exist when we Centurions were created.”

“The war was still going on, back then. Why else would the Dominus want the perfect soldiers? No, wherever the city is hidden, it must have started out as one of the many secret bunkers one of the other factions used as their base.”

“Then how did your people ever learn of Mordel?” James asked.

“From Kaal, the Lahorians’ so called god. Before our great empire was destroyed, we did capture and interrogate him. By that time, the Dominus had moved most of the survivors of the war to their new city of Mordel. Kaal knew of the city, but not its location. None of the Grau we have captured over the years have known, just in case of they were taken and interrogated.”

“How could they leave the city and not know where it is?”

“There is such a thing as autopilot. Most likely the Dominus make sure the Grau have no control of their ships until they’re well on their way to Ares.”

“Then why go to the Western Ruins in the first place?” Philip asked. “They surely wouldn’t leave any evidence behind.”

“To move their entire operations and all their slaves to a new location would have been a major undertaking. Trust me, they couldn’t have managed a clean getaway,” Paz said confidently.

“Then why did we come here in the first place?” James asked.

“To data mine their computers and obtain a complete map of their bases in the western ruins. Given how long they’ve been abandoned, it would have been very hard, and time consuming, for us to search for the compounds without some idea of where they were located.”

“So we’re off again. How long will it take us to reach these ruins?”

“The Great Western Ruins are on the opposite end of the continent, so it will take us some time I’m afraid.”

“How long?” James asked before Philip’s temper got the better of his friend.

“Three to four weeks, depending on sea conditions,” Paz replied.

“That’s not too long,” James told Philip, as he felt the Demon’s impatience growing.

“You’d better be right about us going there. If this turns into a waste of our time, I will be most irate with you, Paz,” Philip said through gritted teeth.

“It is the only lead we have at the present moment,” Paz replied nervously. “I’m sure we will find something that will help us narrow our search.”

“See that it does,” Philip warned, as he stormed out of the arena. “I want this place destroyed before the Argos leaves.”

“That would be unwise, lord. Such destruction would surely be detected by our enemies,” Paz tried to warn.

“Don’t,” James warned, before Paz tried to press the issue. “This place is a shameful reminder of how the Centurions were created, and why they were so cursed. This place must be destroyed for the sake of Philip’s honor.”

“It still would be a mistake,” Paz insisted in a low whisper.

“You have such great knowledge and technology yet you do not understand the heart of a Centurion. For two months we’ve been searching for Jason and, for all that time, Philip has wanted to do something to strike back at those who took Jason away from us. Destroying this base might be an empty gesture, but it is at least something Philip can do. Believe me, he’ll be much easier to deal with on our voyage to the western ruins if you let him let loose some of his frustrations on this place.”

“Very well, Admiral, you command the Argos after all. I will insist we travel to the ruins submerged the entire time, just to cover our tracks. That will slow us down, you must understand.”

“That we can deal with, once we’ve calmed Philip down. I don’t think any of your people really want to deal with a rampaging Demon.”

“True enough,” Paz sighed.

           

Chapter Twenty-Three

“The Isle of Man, your lordship,” the Togo Fleet Commanders said as Geoff entered the bridge, well rested.

“Is there anyone alive?” Geoff asked, as he looked at the dusty brown hills covered with flying red banners.”

“There could be, but they’re most likely hiding. The last battles of the wars were fought here. If there were any survivors, this is where they would be.”

“Why so many banners?” Geoff asked.

“To mark the places where the last great leaders of men fell. Since then, womankind have ruled here ,if you can call the Dominus women.”

“But they were once women, like those found in Ares?”

“Once, back when men ruled, women were treated little better than cattle here in Mordel.”

“And you Togos?” Geoff asked.

“Who do you think runs High Command.”

“Women lead your military?”

“Yes, and it saved our lives after the Dominus won the war, I must say. Since we are ruled by a matriarchy, the Dominus saw our people as kindred spirits. It was only after our leaders learned of the cruel experiments and corrupt rule, which the Dominus inflicted on their male slaves, that we parted company with them. Our leaders see themselves as the mothers of our people and protect us like any mother would protect her own child. The Dominus, on the other hand, are still trying to reap their revenge against man for all the cruelties they were forced to endure. By the time we raised the Great Barrier, we knew we could never trust them or let them spread their dogma across Ares.”

“I guess we of Domus haven’t been much better.”

“You do not rape your women. When a Centurion asks a woman to bear his Legatio child, he offers her his wealth in return for such an honor. The many wives of the Legatio live much better than many of the noblewomen found in other kingdoms. Even when they pass the age where they can bear children, do not their Centurion sons welcome their mothers into their homes and treat them well? Compared to how the men from Mordelium treated their women, the Empire would be a place of refuge and safety.”

“So you are saying the Dominus were justified for what they did to their men?”

“Yes. They would be even more justified if they treated their pure blood women any better than their men did. But, since they are the only way for them to obtain more human slaves, they treat them just as badly as in the old days, as breeding stock instead of human beings.”

“What about the Grau, and those you called the Animani, that we saw on the island we fought on.”

“From what we guess the Dominus maintain strict control over their numbers. If they let them breed freely, their sheer numbers would pose a direct threat to Dominus control, especially the Animani,” the Fleet Commander said.

“Why the Animani in particular? Except for their near albino appearance, I didn’t notice anything special about them,” Geoff replied.

“That’s because what makes them special lies entirely in their heads. They all have about the same personality, because they all have the same, shared mind, or soul if you will. What one knows, they all know. They are the greatest repository of knowledge in the world. Not even our greatest computers can match them. They are a sad people though, for they were born without the mates the Dominus originally promised them.”

“Why did the Dominus deny it to them? I know the Centurions have the Legatio.”

“And you’ve seen how well that relationship has worked out.”

“I always wondered why that was so,” Geoff sighed.

“Because the Legatio were never originally meant to be the mates of the Centurion.”

“You mean they were meant for the Animani?”

“Yes, originally. The Mother did have a few Animani test subjects at her research outpost. When she allowed one to bond to a Legatio, that Legatio eventually turned into what was called an Avatar… an individual capable of wielding the combined mental might of the entire Animani people. As soon as the Mother realized what was happening, she had all her test subjects destroyed. Still, I doubt she was able to prevent the rest of Animani-kind from learning about it.”

“That’s all well and good, but what are we going to do here?” Geoff asked.

“I was going to suggest that we send out several expedition teams to search the island for any surviving structures or underground compounds that might still contain life.”

“That sounds very time consuming,” Geoff grumbled.

“If we had the Argos with us, we could have used its gravity probe to do the searching for us. But, as we don’t know where the Argos is, we have to do our best with what we have,” the commander replied patiently.

“Can my people be part of those teams?”

“Of course, Lord Geoff. I was hoping you would make such an offer. Seeing how you fought on the Grau island, you and your people could provide excellent security for my men.”

“Keep me informed if anything comes up,” Geoff said as he left the bridge. Going back to the conference room that served as quarters for him and fifteen of his men, Geoff found all of them waiting for him.

“We are ready whenever you are, sir,” Argil said, placing a fist over his heart.

“Good. I will be counting on all of you. Be sure to keep your eyes open. If there is any clue to were Jason has gone, I don’t want anyone to miss it.”

“We won’t, sir,” all the men said, giving Geoff their salute as well.

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

Being connected to all of the other Saints, Varrus already knew of the disaster that had occurred along the second defensive line. When the army of the dead and it’s cursed mist reached Field Marshal Darius’ men, the mist had been so thick that it made the soldiers blind and easy prey for the undead soldiers who came behind. In the end, it turned into a total rout. Darius and his officers had to flee Sol by boat, down river into Yelding and the ocean beyond. Varrus just hoped Darius could reach Aquanos before the mist reached the Gate of Domus.

So many men were lost, so many taken up by the curse, adding to the number of cursed dead that was creeping ever closer toward the Empire. Varrus didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know if anything could be done to stop the green mists. The high walls and thick stone doors of the Gate might keep the enemy out, but it would leave the kingdom besieged and unable to take in more refugees by the land route.

There was the third defensive line along the border with Dorsa and Qul Tos, but Varrus didn’t think there were enough survivors to put up much resistance, especially against an enemy they couldn’t see.

Knowing duty would force him to report this new failure to the Senate, Varrus paced in his study, trying to think of any excuse to delay doing so until he could come up with a plan to defeat the growing threat.

Not knowing what else to do, he barged into the chambers of the Togo ambassador, hoping his technologically advanced allies had some idea about what they should do next. “Pardon me for coming here unannounced, but our situation has just gotten worse.”

“We know,” the dark skinned ambassador whispered in a defeated tone. Our Zephyrs observed the battle, and are now trying to rescue as many of your people as we can.”

“Do your people have any idea what we’re up against?”

“No. We sent a sample of the mist to one our isolated research labs. We lost contact with them two days ago, and sent in a team to find out what happened. What we found was a blackened crater where the lab had been. It seems one of our people activated the lab’s self-destruct, so I can only assume the mist broke through our containments and was infecting the personnel. We found a patch of mist several miles away, traveling on a path that will let it rejoin the army of undead that is marching toward us. I’m sorry, Lord Varrus. Even with our science, we have no idea how to defeat this enemy.”

“Surely you can suggest something.

“The Jasper Mountains stand above the mist. The only weak spot is the Gate. I can send a team of engineers to seal the stone doors and reinforce them. That might keep out the mist for a while, but we must close the doors at once,” the ambassador said, knowing how his answer would upset Varrus.

“What about the people still trying to get through? Thousands are arriving every day,” Varrus demanded. He surely didn’t want to be the one to suddenly cut off the people’s escape, while the mist was still hundreds of miles away.

“If you want those doors to stand a chance at holding back the mist, my engineers need to get started at once. I know, your lordship, that you were wishing for better news but, at this moment, this is all my people can offer you.”

“I understand, ambassador. I just wish it didn’t have to be me to condemn so many.”

“You have a man of great influence out among the people. High Priest Julian is his name. Have him lead the people away from the Gate, to the east, across the Great Desert of Flames and to our sacred valley. There they’ll find a reprieve from the danger that threatens all of us.”

“But we never planned to send the people east. We have no way-stations set up, no soldiers guarding the rout, and no supply depots in place. What would the people eat or drink, for that matter?”

“They must take what they can and flee east.”

“Many will refuse. Most will barricade themselves in the cities, hoping the walls will keep the mist out.”

“But you know it won’t. You cannot save those not wishing to be saved. You can only save those with the wisdom and courage to do what is necessary to survive,” the ambassador replied.

“Too true. I will tell Julian what it is he must do, and why. As for the Senate…”

“Cannot Sin disband the Senate?”

“Jason had that power, but I do not think the Senate would accept such an order from young Sin. I do not think the Legatio and Famulus will protest too much. It is what the representatives from the other kingdoms might do that worries me. Already, many of their people are here within the Empire. They could cause much trouble and chaos if they thought we were abandoning their people.”

“Once the Gate is sealed, word will spread quickly enough,” the ambassador pointed out. “If there are any key people that are still outside the Empire, you should get them aboard the nearest ship and take them to Aquanos.”

“That means most of the kings of the East. They’ve been doing their best to keep their people calm during this mass migration. If we bring them here, the refugees might divide into factions and fight among themselves.”

“As I said, you can only save those who want to be saved. Bringing the kings here, though, will help ensure you do not end up with a civil war in your own Empire.”

“True enough,” Varrus sighed. “I will have Sin declare martial law, and disband the Senate. How soon until your engineers reach the Gate?”

“They can be there by nightfall.”

“Then I must warn Field Marshal Lukas of what he can expect,” Varrus said. “Can you give me three days, so that one of my messengers can reach him?”

“Three days, but that’s all I dare give you. Given how the mist broke through our own containment laboratory, my engineers need all the time I can give them to make your fortress as secure as possible.”

“I know, and I’m grateful for what help you are giving us.”

“You just wished there was more we could do,” the ambassador replied knowingly.

“Anything that any of us could do,” Varrus whispered, feeling he had once again failed Jason.

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

Warren gazed out beyond the coasts of Uul to the green ocean. Having conquered Uul in just two weeks, the Priests of Kaal had already taken possession of the churches of the Holy Mother, and were now converting them and the people to the proper worship of Kaal.

Still, Warren was in shock when he saw how many Jadoorian refugees were now living in Uul. According to them, an iron god had risen out of the ruins of the Jadoorian royal palace and laid waste to the city of Meltor. It had even destroyed the massive cathedral where the High Priests once ruled. To have come so far and done so much in the hope of claiming the kingdom for himself, only to find out it now lay shattered, left the High Inquisitor feeling robbed of his victory. What made things worse, was that he didn’t have Harper to take his anger out on anymore.

It wasn’t just Jadoor. The entire west was on the edge of ruin. First Rapa, and now Dorsa, were being claimed by the growing green mist from which no one seemed to survive. If it weren’t for the mountains that separated Uul from the other half of the Federation, what remained of the Horde would have succumbed to its curse as well. He knew, from his spies, that the mighty Centurions were defenseless against it. That is why Warren was eager to board ship and sail for Jadoor. Not only did he want to see the destruction of his homeland for himself, but he wanted to put more miles between him and the mist.

Turning to one of his fellow inquisitors, Henry, Warren asked about the ship.

“There are many ships in the harbors, but most of their holds have been befouled by the countless Jadoorians who were crammed aboard them. Give us some time to clean them out, and we’ll have a proper fleet to take us back home, master.”

“What’s left of it,” Warren grumbled. “He was sure it hadn’t been an iron god that had destroyed his beloved city. If anything, he’d bet it was the Togos, the most despised enemy of the Lahorians, who had destroyed Jadoor at the request of the false gods who ruled the Domus Empire. They seemed to have the same advanced weapons as those of the redheaded Kaals who had so mysteriously appeared, and then disappeared, while the Horde had marched across the Desert of Flames. Having used up many of those marvelous weapons to break through the Centurion’s defensive line, most of the Horde had gone back to using swords and spears. Not so for Warren or his other surviving Inquisitors. Warren had ordered his most devout followers to gather the still working weapons and keep them hidden, just in case the Priests of Kaal thought of disposing of their foreign allies. Warren, for his part, wore a body shield with an energy gun hidden under his robes and a shock staff in his pouch.

“How much longer must we wait?”

“Not much longer sir,” Henry replied.

“Long enough for you to provide me with a little entertainment?” Warren asked as he grinned at the younger man.

“Whatever you wish,” Henry said, not flinching a bit as he began to remove the brown robes of a Priest of Kaal.

“Then let us enter our worship together,” Warren chuckled as the Inquisitor knelt before him.

 

Chapter Twenty-Six

Wearing identical black suits and ties, Jason and Trevor left the Evergreen Lodge aboard a rail car. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Trevor asked as he held Jason’s hand in his lap.

“I can’t stay hidden forever, and you have a company to run.”

“All true, but are you really ready to become one of the Lords of Mordel?”

“I was Emperor.”

“That’s not the same as being a member of the Company of Lords.”

“Company… so it is arranged like the Domus Senate?”

“From what you’ve told me about your Senate, it is very much like our Company of Lords. It’s just as factionist, with each group trying to gain supremacy over the other. The High Lord is always a Grau, someone the Dominus can trust, not unlike you making your lover Varrus the head of your Senate. If we could just unite ourselves against the Dominus we could actually gain greater freedoms for the entire city. The High Lord, and his fellow Grau ministers, always make sure we’re too busy fighting amongst ourselves to really change things.”

“Thanks, that makes me feel like I was one of the Dominus.”

Laughing Trevor pulled Jason closer to his so Jason’s head was resting on his shoulder. “I didn’t mean to, love. Dirk told me why you were such a dictator. The Legatio were corrupt, or so Jacob claims. What you did was out of benevolence. You tried to make the Senate better by including the Famulus and people from the other kingdoms, but you ended up with the same situation we have, a house divided, leaving our true rulers free to do whatever they wish. In your case, you did what you felt was best for your people. In the case of the Dominus, they do what’s in their own best interests, for that is what they’ve always done.”

“Thank you, but that does not erase my doubt over what I did as Emperor. I knew the day would come when I would not be able to protect my people any longer. I had hoped the Senate would be strong enough to take the reins of government when that day came. By the time I wrote my final will, I knew the Senate was still not ready, not with all that still needed doing with me gone. All I can say, is that I tried my best to do right by my people. There is nothing I can do for them now,” Jason whispered sadly.

“To do one’s best is all that can be asked. I’m sure that, one day, all your people will understand that. You’re wrong, however, in believing there is nothing more you can do for them. For their sake you have to survive, so that one day you can return to them.”

“You want me to go back?” Jason asked, surprised.

“I know it is what you want. It won’t solve all your problems, however. Until the Dominus are dealt with once and for all, they will always pose a threat to you and your people, my people as well, for that matter.” Reaching into his coat pocket, he took out a pair of reflective glasses. “Here, you’ll need to wear a pair of these for a while.”

“Is the light so much brighter on the top level?” Jason asked as he put on the glasses.

“It is. Down here in the Hunting Grounds the light is kept dim compared to the highest level. The shadows of dusk better suit our predatory nature. On the Command Level it is as bright as high noon, and quite warm. Given your time on the deepest levels, and here in the Hunting Grounds, I don’t think your eyes are quite ready for so much light all at once. Once we’re inside Tower One, you can take the glasses off, but until then I suggest you keep them on.”

“I understand. Living most of my life trapped in a tower, I found the sun quite blinding, especially during the winter.” Seeing a line of other cars waiting on the magnetic track ahead of them, Jason saw well-armed Dalf guards protecting the ramps that would lead to the highest level. Before their car reached the checkpoint, however, the track shifted, letting them circle around the line of cars and taking them on a clear path to the next level. “How did you do that?”

“This is my personal car. As the leader of the Dalfs, I’m allowed unhindered travel between the Hunting Grounds and the Command Level. Not that we have anything to hide from my own people. I just don’t see the point of wasting our time waiting to be searched. I do have my pride to protect.”

“I thought it was something like that,” Jason chuckled.

“Don’t you have your own pride to protect?”

“What little pride I have left,” Jason replied, as he placed a hand over his stomach.

“You could join the Animani. They would be more than happy to provide you with one of their cores.”

“And become lost in their greater over-mind?”

“The most loved member of their gestalt.”

“You’re just thinking of what such an alliance would give you,” Jason said half jokingly.

Trevor kissed him. “No. I’m actually thinking about the sex. The idea of giving an orgasm to over fifty thousand men at once is very tempting.”

“First, it was your pride; now it’s your vanity.”

“I never said I was perfect,” Trevor growled, as he pressed Jason down on the black leather seats.

“Here?” Jason asked, his face blushing.

“It will still be a while before we reach Tower One. The roads on the Command Level might be broad, but they’re also quite crowded. That is why so few cars are allowed. This is a police vehicle so we have all the proper permits. I also have ways of ensuring our privacy.” Trevor said as he reached for button on the consol, causing a barrier to rise and separate the front of the car from the rear passenger compartment. Pressing another button the windows went from transparent to opaque. “Now where were we?”

“You just can’t ever get enough. Not even Philip ever had so much sex with me in such a short time.”

“These past two week have been sort of our honeymoon. Can you blame me if I want to make the most of what little time we have left?”

“So we won’t see each other much once we reach Tower One?”

“Oh, we’ll see plenty of each other. As mates we’ll hardly ever be apart. The formalities of business, however, will require we keep our clothes on most of the time,” Trevor said as he removed Jason’s tie. “By the way, Thomas has offered to be our sponsor when we decide it’s time to have children.”

“Sponsor?” “Jason asked as he unbuckled his belt and pulled his pants down to his knees.

“Sorry, I thought you knew. As Dalf we are capable of conceiving life but we do not have the ability to carry a child all the way through a pregnancy. It is one of those deficiencies the Domus engineered in most Mordelians, in order to control our numbers. As soon as we conceive a child, it will have to be removed from my body and placed inside a Grau sponsor if we wish the child to actually be born.”

“Which we will,” Jason insisted as he felt the last of the buttons on his shirt come undone.

“I always took you for a family man. Jacob tells me you have several boys already.”

“Six with one on the way.” Jason grinned.

“Seven, you forgot Brutus.”

“You’re right, I did,” Jason sighed.

“Don’t worry about that. I too would forget, if I had a child I had never been told about and seen only a few times.”

“I don’t think Brutus likes me.”

“He just doesn’t know you, is all. As I said, don’t worry about it,” Trevor said as he silenced Jason with a well-placed kiss.

By the time they started to get their clothes back on, the car was waiting outside the front doors of Tower One… a black glass monolith that almost reached the domed roof of the top level.

“I thought you said we would have plenty of time.” Jason chuckled as he buttoned his shirt back up.

“I like taking my time when I make love to you,” Trevor replied. “Are you saying you don’t enjoy my efforts?”

“No, Trevor, I quite enjoy our lovemaking.”

“Does that mean I’m the best you’ve ever had?”

“No, but you are the most eager.”

“And that will never change my love. Who is the best lover you’ve ever had?”

“I don’t know. That’s a very hard question for me to answer. Each of my lovers expresses his love to me in their own special way. Philip is the most passionate, Varrus is the most sensitive, and James is somewhere in between them both.”

“What about that half Grau friend of yours, Louis?”

“I really can’t describe what it’s like making love to him. It’s more mental than physical.”

“Being part Grau, it would be. Do you enjoy making love to him?”

“I do, especially with the visions. Louis has a way of taking away all my fears and worries and replacing them with a calm, warm comfort that I find too rare in my daily life.”

“Do you think he would mind joining us in the bedroom sometimes? I’ve never slept with a Grau, myself. Could never find one I could trust. I would really like to know what it actually feels like.”

“I’ll ask him. I don’t think he would say no, as long as you promise not to turn him into a Dalf.”

“No worries there. I can’t turn him into a Dalf, even if I wanted to. He’s a Grau. Even as a half blood, his animus is superior to my own.”

“Does that mean Thomas is not Jacob’s mother?”

“Thomas was surely the sponsor. As for who helped you conceive Jacob, I’ve always assumed it was a Dalf. I can’t tell you who, though. Most likely, he was a Dalf specifically bred for that purpose, and therefore was an experimental test subject kept in the confines of the Central Pillar.”

“I will have to ask Thomas about this. I would really like Jacob to know his other father.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Jason,” Trevor warned as he helped Jason straighten out his tie. “Such a creature would surely have been brainwashed to be the obedient servant of the Dominus. He might not even be aware that he helped create Jacob, and would have no sense of loyalty to his son. Still, asking Thomas about the details of your son’s birth wouldn’t hurt. Just don’t expect any happy family reunions.”

“I understand, and know you’re trying to protect me. The reason I brought Jacob with me was so he could learn about his own people.”

“And he is. My son Dirk is showing him all sorts of tricks.”

“Just as long as he doesn’t get Jacob into trouble.”

“Jason, a Dalf is always looking for trouble. It’s the main reason we were given the job of policing the upper levels,” Trevor said in a chiding tone. “I don’t have the time to list all the trouble you and I could get involved with.” He said the last part with a wolfish grin.

“You’re terrible.”

“That doesn’t mean you don’t love me.”

“I like you, Trevor.”

“And you love me,” Trevor insisted.

“I am becoming very fond of you. Let’s leave it at that.”

“Very well, but you still love me,” Trevor said, before pulling Jason into a final deep kiss. “Shall we go now or are you up for another romp?”

“Let’s go,” Jason said, trying hard not to blush.

Leaving the car. Jason was quickly blinded by the flash of lights being aimed at his face. Remembering his tinted glasses, he ducked back into the car and picked them up off the floor where they had landed during their tryst. Quickly putting them on, he got back out of the car and found he could finally see the rows of men of all sorts holding rectangle shaped devices up to their eyes as flashing lights continued to go off.

Feeling someone grab his hand, Jason saw it was Trevor wearing a wide grin on his face. “Smile Jason, you look as frightened as a hunted rabbit. Don’t worry about the photographers. They just want to take your picture.”

“Is that what those things are?” Jason asked as he forced a smile on his face.

“Would you rather stand here all day, while they try to paint our portrait?”

“No,” Jason replied.

“Then just smile and wave. You’re a celebrity.”

“A what?”

“A person with a certain amount of fame. You are the Angel of Ares, survivor of the Pits of Omega, and Mate to the Rex of all the Dalfs. The people are hungry for you, Jason. They want to know what you look like, and read about your amazing life on the news subscriptions. I’m sure the Rats will have a field day with you. They’re the ones who run the Information Bureau. They also serve as the Grau’s eyes and ears in Mordel, giving them all sorts of useful information.”

“So they’re spies,” Jason said with distaste.

“And propagandists for the Dominus. Sometimes the bureau provides information that’s useful to us, but most of the time they just spout the same lies the Dominus have been telling us since the city was founded. That we should all be grateful for all the things they’ve done for us. Now come on, smile and wave for the photographers. The sooner we’re inside, the sooner we can start acting normal again.”

Still holding Trevor’s hand, Jason followed his mate as he led him up the black marble steps and past the glass doors that led into Tower One, the command center for Dalf security and home for the elite who led it.

As soon as Jason took a few steps inside, he felt a cool breeze hit his sweating face. It had been steaming hot outside the building, but inside Tower One the air was comfortable and the light filtered through tinted glass. Taking off his glasses slowly Jason found he could see normally again.

“The first ten levels are the shopping areas where we sell all sorts of goods to the best clientele. Above that is the headquarters of Central Security where we run our policing operations. The top floors are the living sections where we will be staying,” Trevor explained as he led the way toward the glass elevators.

“I’ve never seen such a high tower,” Jason said as they rode up on the elevator.

“It’s amazing what you can do with armored glass and steel. You couldn’t build something like this with just stone and mortar.”

“I know and it scares me. How can my people stand a chance against such power.”

“You have the Togos helping your people, don’t you?”

“They are, but I don’t know if even they can stand against the Dominus.”

“They built the Great Barrier, didn’t they? You can’t imagine how much that barrier has frustrated the Dominus and their plans.”

“Can’t they just destroy it?”

“No. If they did, your Ares would turn into the same wasteland Mordelium has become. Whether they like it or not, the barrier has to stay in one piece. Otherwise, what’s the point in invading at all?”

“I’m sure they’ve found a way. That island for instance.”

“That island took them hundreds of years to build, and even longer to transform into a proper base. Rumor has it that the base has been destroyed.”

“Good. That gives me one thing less to worry about,” Jason said as the elevator doors opened to a five-story lobby, its center taken up by waterfalls coming from all four sides. Just like the entrance, the floor was made of black marble.

“Welcome to your new home, Jason,” Trevor said, as he massaged Jason’s shoulders from behind.

“It’s beautiful,” Jason whispered. Hearing shouts, he looked up to see Jacob and Dirk waving down at them from the third floor. “Hello, you two,” Jason shouted back at them.

“Come, I have a surprise for you,” Trevor said, a tense eagerness growing in his voice.

“What is it?” Jason asked as he followed Trevor up the stairs.

“You’ll see. It’s in our bedroom.” Where the lobby had been done in black, Trevor’s bedroom was entirely white. Except for the steel that supported the furniture, everything was the same perfect white, from the carpet on the floor to the fan hanging from the ceiling. Even the two Animani standing in the middle of the room where dressed in white.

“Hello, Jason,” one of them said in the voice of the Animani-Prime.

“Prime,” Jason bowed respectfully.

Walking forward, the Prime placed a hand over Jason’s heart. “It is good to see that you have recovered from many of your injuries. Except here, and here,” he said, moving his hand from Jason’s heart to his head. “Only time and love can heal such wounds. We do, however, have a gift for you that might help.

Seeing the Prime wave a hand toward the balcony that overlooked the central lobby, Jason pulled the curtains to one side and stepped out past the sliding glass doors where he found a pair of metallic wings spread out on a stand. “These are for me?” Jason asked as the Prime joined him on the balcony.

“Yes. The metal they are made from is one of the strongest yet light alloys we’ve ever developed. We’ve made many pairs for Hawkmen whose wings have been lost due to misfortune, intentional or accidental. Never have we made a pair with such care as these, however.

“Even the feathers are metal,” Jason whispered as he touched their cold smooth surface.

“Those feathers are special, and will protect you should the need arise. Some you can throw, and they will cut through anything. Some have tiny, but potent, explosive charges inside them. Most, however, are small shield generators that will protect you from energy blasts should one be aimed at you. The material is extremely flexible, and can moved in any direction you wish. You can even cocoon yourself inside them where you’ll be safe from fire or shrapnel in case of an explosion.

“I do not know how I will repay you, Prime.”

“Just promise me you won’t try flying until a Hawkman teaches you how. Until you develop the proper instincts, these wings won’t react like your old ones. Here, let me help you put them on.” Pressing a red button on what looked like a belt, the wings went limp forming a kind of metallic cloak. The wings were divided into three pieces: the wings themselves, which were connected to a pair of mesh like strips of metal which, in turn, were connected to a collar of the same metal, but with a gold clasp. Once Jason was wearing both the necklace and belt, the Prime pushed the red button again. He stepped back as the wings came to life in an imbalanced and awkward sort of way.

When Jason felt the wings come to life, he took a sharp breath. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought that the wings were as much a part of him as his arms and legs. “They feel so…” Jason began to say, only to be cut off by the smiling Prime.

“So real, Jason? The mesh like strips to which the wings are attached are lined with special sensors which link up with the nerves of your spine, just like your old wings. So you can control your wings and the sensors will let you feel every sensation you might have felt with your old wings.”

“I barely understand half of what you said, but I see that it doesn’t matter. It works. That’s all I need to know, to understand how indebted I am to you and your people.”

“We are the ones in debt to you, Jason. We are finally having children, as it was always meant to be. More than that, we’ve finally met you, the one the Dominus denied ever having since the day we were created. Soon, the Dominus will learn the mistake of that, but not too soon I hope, not before you are ready.”

“Ready for what?” Jason asked, as he struggled to get the wings to obey him. He would definitely need the aid of a teacher, if he was going to master his new wings.

“You’ll know when the time is right,” was all the Prime would say. He then reached for the belt and pushed the red button once more causing the wings to go limp again. “Come, I’ve kept you to myself long enough. There are many others who wish to welcome you to your new home.” Having said that, the Prime led Jason back into the bedroom.

“Like the new gift?” Trevor asked. Having joined him in the room, Louis, Jacob, Chad, and Hector all noticed the new glow on Jason’s face.

“I’m not ready to fly yet, but just to feel them again, instead of their aching loss, is a gift I can never repay.”

“Don’t worry about flying, Jason. Right now, I’m trying to negotiate with the Hawkmen to provide you with a proper teacher,” Trevor replied with a wink.

“You look so happy, papa,” Jacob said as a tear rolled down his face.

“I actually feel happy,” Jason agreed with a laugh.

“Finally, a real laugh. That’s what we’ve been waiting to hear these past two months,” Hector grinned.

Trevor arched an eye brown as he gave Jason a wink. “I think this calls for a celebration, don’t you think, my love?”

“But the car…” Jason stammered. He had been with Trevor long enough to know the man’s lustful gaze.

“I mean all of us celebrate,” Trevor replied, his grin getting wider.

“I could go for that,” Chad said, grinning himself.

“You would go for anything as long as Jason is involved,” Hector snickered as he elbowed his friend.

“What about you, Louis?” Trevor asked the telepath.

“May I, Jason?” Louis asked politely, doing his best to hide his own boiling desires.

“Well, we can’t do it here. Not enough room on the bed.”

“Of course not here. We’ll do it in the den,” Trevor said as he opened a pair of double doors, Beyond them was another room, larger than the bedroom, with most of the space taken up by a shallow pit. It was lined by a single, large round mattress with pillows lining the steps.

“Looks like a Centurion common sleeping room,” Chad remarked.

“Don’t you mean orgy room?” Hector laughed.

“It’s sort of used as both,” Trevor replied, kicking off his black shoes as he entered the room.

“Let me help you remove this,” the Prime said as he as he undid the gold latch holding Jason’s collar in place.

“You too, Prime?” Jason said surprised.

“Do you wish otherwise?” the Prime asked.

“No, I just never knew you wanted me this way.”

“All my people do. As leader, it is my duty to let them live that experience through me. If you do not wish it to be me, another can just as easily take my place.”

“You really desire this?” Jason whispered.

“All of us desire it. We have a great deal of affection for you. We also have the burden of guilt on our shoulders, given what we did to you.”

“You had no choice. The Dominus would have slaughtered your people if you refused to perform the operation.”

“But we were the only ones who could have performed it. The Grau have neither the knowledge, nor the skill. If we had refused, the Dominus would have killed the children you have blessed us with, but they would not have killed us.”

“I would not have your children die because of me,” Jason replied with a slight sternness in his voice.

“And that is why all my people love you. Since we were created, we’ve been use to sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others, expecting nothing in return. Then you came. Not only did you give us children, but you sacrificed that which was most important to you so our children might live. That is a debt we can never repay, dear Jason.” Saying this, the Animani caressed Jason face with his pale fingers.

Jason nodded. “If this is what you really want.”

“It is what all of us want,” the Prime replied. He then removed his white and sliver robes revealing his hard, bare body. Putting a hand behind Jason’s back he pulled him toward his muscular chest and kissed him ever so gently. When their lips parted Jason licked the sweet essence of the Prime’s anima from his lips.

“Come on, you two. Don’t stand there all day,” Louis shouted from the other room.

“Of course,” the Prime chuckled. “We wouldn’t dare keep you all for ourselves.”

“I wish you had a name,” Jason said as the Prime began to slowly undress him.

“I am the Prime, the first of our kind. That is the only name I’ve ever needed.”

“Is that the reason why you are the most individual of the Animani?”

“Yes,” the Prime whispered as he removed Jason’s coat. “Before the others were created, there was no overmind. There was only me, which gave me a chance to form my own identity. The same was true of the first generation of Animani. Eventually our numbers grew to the point that any created after us immediately became lost in the greatness of the overmind.”

“In the dreaming chamber, back on the Grau island, I felt the power of the overmind.”

“You are the only one, not of our kind, who has,” the Prime said, as he dropped Jason’s tie to the ground so that his skilled fingers could begin removing Jason’s shirt. “You’ve not lost everything Jason. A part of your old self still flows in your blood.”

“So the Nosferatu believed.”

“We can help it grow strong again,” the Prime whispered.

“But, will that mean I will become lost among the minds of your people.”

“No. Even now, your light shines like the sun while we are but dim candles. Since the dreaming, you have been part of the overmind, a pearl in the ocean of our thoughts. You are part of us, but not of us. As we help you become stronger, you will be able to shape and form us into that which you desire as the overmind’s Avatar.”

“Do you think I want the greatness and power you are offering me?” Jason said heatedly.

“In order to protect yourself, and those you love, you must,” the Prime said calmly as he stood up. He had pulled Jason’s trousers down and removed his shoes, leaving Jason with only his jockstrap. “Shall we join the others?”

Jason hesitated. “I’m not ready for what your people want to give me.”

“We know. It has already been set in motion, however, which means you’re in greater danger than you think if the Dominus learn about what we’ve done to you. Luckily, the Mother destroyed all her research on the subject of Avatars, and never reported it to her sisters. She knew that they feared she would create a being capable of defeating them. That is why she fled to Ares when she saw how powerful her Centurions were. She knew the key to reversing the Dominus’ devolution would be found in her creations. She feared, however, that her sisters would never give her the time or the chance to prove her theory once they learned of the threat her creations posed to them.”

“Come on, you two. You’re missing all the fun,” Trevor shouted.

“Go, papa,” Jacob said from the bed where Dirk was already on top of him.

“Let’s at least give your son some privacy,” the Prime said with a chuckle, as he led Jason forward, closing the double doors behind them.

On one side of the pit, Hector and Chad lay naked, their wings wrapped around each other while their hands were exploring every inch of their bodies. On the other side, Trevor was resting his back against a pile of pillows, his legs spread wide, making room for Louis who lay between them, his mouth wrapped around Trevor’s long manhood.

“Shall we join one of the pairs, or would you rather we…” Jason whispered as he began to blush again.

“They seem pretty satisfied with the company they have,” the Prime said, letting a hint of yearning touch his voice.

“Alright,” Jason nodded, feeling incredibly nervous and confused by his antsy emotions. He had made love to many people in his life, but not even his first time with Alex matched the apprehension he was feeling now. He knew it had to do with the Animani. How he made love to the Prime would be felt by every Animani throughout the city. He was never one to approve of voyeurism. Knowing he would have such a large audience caused his stomach to knot up.

“You’re nervous. I can see that,” the Prime said sympathetically as the two of them lay down near a pile of pillows.

“I’ve never had sex with such a large audience.”

“Do not think of them as an audience; think of them as just one person. Me.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use the word ‘me’ before.”

“We are many, but one. Right now try thinking of us as just being one man.” The Prime kissed Jason along the line of his neck.

“I’ll try,” Jason said. Just as those words passed his lips, he felt an overwhelming wave of emotions fill his mind, desire, lust, love, and compassion, all of them equally balanced. Before he knew it, he had the Primes legs resting on his shoulders, and his manhood buried deep inside the pale man.

“That’s it, Jason. Feel our love for you. Let it guide your body and mind in this perfect moment,” Animani Prime whispered encouragingly, as Jason pounded away.

“It’s almost too much,” Jason gasped, his eyes vacant.

“Not more than you can handle,” the Prime said reassuringly.

“Am I part of the overmind?” Jason asked as he thrust hard inside the Prime.

“The overmind is becoming a part of you. You control it, you can shape and form it to your desires, and you wield its deep power to protect those you love. Never again will a Grau be able to read your thoughts, or control your mind. It will be you who will have that power over them.”
“The Dominus will seek to destroy me.”

“But you will soon be so much greater than they are. Until then, we must keep this a secret until the day comes when you are ready.”

“I… I…” Jason stammered as his emotions peaked, along with his orgasm. He then collapsed on top of the Prime, exhausted.

“There, young one,” the Prime whispered. He held Jason’s sweat covered body tightly to his own. “Forgive us for this burden we’ve placed on you, but we might not get a second chance.”

“You want your freedom.”

“We want all the slaves to be freed, including the misguided Grau.”

“I never wanted this. All I care about is going back home to my children, James, and Philip,” Jason said as he began to cry.

“They will never be safe as long as the Dominus rule this city. You know that, Jason. You’re the only one to whom we could give this burden. Greatness is not limited only to the ambitious. Did you enjoy our lovemaking?”

“It was almost too much for me,” Jason said as he wiped away his tears.

“As you grow stronger, you will gain greater control over it. You’ll see. Until then, you must keep this a secret, especially form Thomas.”

“I understand. Not even I fully trust him.”

“Worn out already?” Trevor asked as he approached the pair.

“Yes,” Jason said as he rolled off the Prime.

“Well, here’s something to get you going again,” Trevor said as he handed Jason a blue pill.

“What is this?” Jason asked, looking at the pills triangle shape.

“It’s a sex drug. It will keep you hot, hungry and hard for a good six hours.”

“You’re joking… six hours?”

“At the very least,” Trevor grinned as he took the pill from Jason’s hand and popped it into his mate’s mouth. “Now don’t chew it or you’ll be in for a big surprise.”

After swallowing the pill Jason laid back down among the pillows, as the others gathered around him. Within ten minutes his sex was once again erect, his breathing hard, and his skin lusting for the touch of another man’s flesh.

“See, it works,” Trevor laughed as he saw Jason squirm among the pillows. As he lay down next to Jason, Jason placed a hand on Trevor’s chest to keep them apart, if even for a moment.

“Promise me you’ll never give this drug to Philip.”

“From what I understand, he doesn’t need it,” Trevor chuckled as the others joined him around Jason. Soon Jason could feel eight hands and four pairs of lips caressing his body as he moaned with delight for the next six hours.

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

“You summoned me, great mistress?” the Animani Prime asked, as his face kissed the metal floor where he lay, prone.

Hera, leader of the Pantheon, and the greatest Dominus since the days of the Mother, looked through the walls of her tank at her chief surgeon and scientist with her one giant gray eye. “Well, Animani, what progress do you have to report on the core?”

“We’ve found a way to stabilize and store the Angel’s anima long enough to collect the proper dose, though on the lower scale of our projections.”

“That is not good, but not entirely bad. How many such doses have you prepared?”

“Given its short half life, we can only produce enough anima to supply a single dose at a time. I have brought such a dose with me, great Hera.”

“Then we must test it on one of our sisters at once, before your single dose goes bad,” Hera said heatedly. The Animani had been given a month to solve the problem of the core’s anima decay. The Prime’s report was a great disappointment. Though she was sure they would find a solution eventually, Hera’s plans could not be delayed any longer.

“To which of you do you wish me to give the dose?”

Though Hera desired the dose for herself, she knew others had greater need of it, especially her War Commander, Enyo, who would lead the invasion of Ares when the time was right. “Give it to Enyo,” Hera said, after much thought. Walking towards the Prime was a naked Grau servant. Bowing to the Prime, the Grau held out his hand to accept the injection gun. Once he had it, he stepped off the platform the Prime was prostrated on as it began to sink down to a lower level. The hole, where the platform had been then, closed by a metal iris. Only then did salt water begin to fill the circular chamber as the walls of the tanks began to sink down into the floor.

With his gills opened wide, the Grau swam through the salty water until he met a Dominus with white skin, dotted by brown markings. Doing his best to bow before the War Commander, the Grau swam slowly forward until he was behind the Dominus’ cone shaped head. Aiming the gun at the proper spot, he gave the Dominus the injection, swimming quickly away once the procedure was complete. He didn’t swim fast enough, however, to escape the tentacles of the War commander. Before he could escape, the Dominus grabbed him by his ankles and slammed him viciously against the walls of the tank. When Enyo was sure the Grau was dead she let go of him, letting him sink down to the deep bottom of the tank, a cloud of blood trailing after him.

“Was that necessary?” Hera asked her War Commander.

“He stung me.”

“How else was he to give you the injection?”

“No one hurts me and gets away with it, even if it is to obey one of your orders,” Enyo mentally sent back.

“Leave us, Enyo, and report to the medical room where the Animani are waiting for you. Once we see what you’ve become, we’ll decide what we will do with you.”

Swimming down one of the cavernous tunnels that led from the top level of the Central Pillar, Enyo entered a smaller but still very large holding tank. Once she was inside, another metal iris sealed the tunnel shut as water was slowly drained from the tank.

Before the tank was half empty Enyo went blind, as she lost the use of her massive gray eye. For a while she flailed about wildly, expecting to be attacked, but eventually all ten of her limbs went numb and then limp. All she was left with was the power of her mind, which she lashed out with at everyone in the chamber. Since they were all Animani, her attacks proved futile against the protection that the overmind gave them. Eventually, she lay slumped on the floor, struggling to breathe as the Animani scientists entered the drained tank with their equipment.

Believing she was about to die in darkness, she let out an inhuman scream as a ray of light broke through her prison of flesh, letting in a wave of fresh air.

“Be calm, Lady Enyo. We will have you out of there very soon,” one of the Animani said, as more of the shell that had been surrounding her was sliced away. When the opening was large enough, a pair of hands reached in and helped lift her out of what had once been her formidable body.

Leading her to a stool, they had her sit down as they performed tests on her new body. It was while they were carrying out these tests that Enyo looked down at her body. The first thing she noticed was that she had four dusty gray arms, two of them strong and muscular like a man’s, the other two thinner like a woman’s. Looking down at her chest she saw that, too, was flat like a man’s, but her stomach had the curve of a shapely woman. She had the sex, hips and thighs of a woman though they were completely hairless. Her calves, on the other hand, were bunched up with muscles, once again more like a man’s than a woman’s.

“Let me see my face,” Enyo demanded.

“Yes, mistress,” one of the Animani replied quickly, handing her a mirror.

The first thing Enyo noticed about her reflection was the three eyes. Two grey, almond shaped, eyes in their normal places, while the third eye was round and in the middle of her forehead. This eye glowed with a brilliant white light.

As for the rest of her face, it was ash gray like the rest of her body. Her head was covered with a tangle of thick and dark matted hair. She had a square, dimpled chin and high cheekbones that made her face look like that of a man trying to pass as a woman. Her skin was rough, like a man in need of a shave. She could even see the short white hairs poking through her skin.

Slamming the mirror against one of the Animani’s face, knocking the man and the shattered mirror to the grated floor, she stood up and looked at the others with rage in her eyes. “What have you done to me, you fools!?” she screamed at the top of her lungs, causing the Animani to cover their ears against her piercing voice.

Entering the tank, Animani Prime dismissed the others as he looked calmly at the raging Dominus.

“You, you did this to me,” Enyo shouted, as she lifted the Prime with all four of her hands. “Why shouldn’t I tear you apart for what you’ve done?”

“Because it was not me who choose you for this experiment, but Hera,” the Prime replied calmly, offering no resistance.”

“But surely you knew what would happen.”

“No, Dominus. If you must have the truth from me, I must tell you that I did not. If Lady Hera had allowed us to perform more experiments before testing it on your greatness, then we might have been able to better predict its results on you. Lady Hera, however, demanded quick results as you well know.”

“What you say might be the truth. Are you saying I should take my revenge on Hera?”

“No. Hera is the mistress of us all. No one should dare confront her. Look at what you’ve become, Lady Enyo. You’ve regained a semblance of your long-lost humanity. You are no longer confined to the tanks. You can walk on two feet once more.”

“But what am I? Am I a man or a woman?”

“You seem to be both, mistress. An effect of the Angel’s anima. Though we didn’t know if Jason’s anima would have such an effect. The anima of a Centurion has long been known to cause such changes in women.”

“So you did know this would happen?” Enyo said her temper rising.

“We didn’t know enough to be sure. Look at it this way. You now have the power of both sexes. You can create as a woman, or destroy as a man.”

“So why shouldn’t I destroy you?”

“For your own sake, Mistress Enyo. Who would you have explain your transformation to the Pantheon. I, with all the knowledge of my people, or you alone?”

“I should kill you, but to kill the Prime of the Animani would only be seen as an act of madness on my part. You are one of Hera’s favorites. She would take revenge on me for killing one of her most trusted servants.” Slowly, Enyo lowered the Prime back down to the floor. “What do you plan to tell the Pantheon when you give your report?”

“That the experiment was a success. You’ve regained most of your humanity, and more, for you are surely stronger than any normal man or woman. You also have the power of your third eye.”

“What of my third eye?” Enyo demanded.

“I do not know what its use is yet, but from the data already collected it holds great power. It might be possible that one of the Grau can teach you how to direct such energies as a weapon.”

“I will want the best of the Grau to teach me,” Enyo said, liking the idea that her new body was the perfect weapon.

“I will also see that training is provided in the use of more mundane weapons, spears, swords, and energy guns.”

“Yes, I would like that very much,” Enyo said with a growing smile.

“Now, my lady, if you will follow me I will be able to give my report to the Pantheon.”

“You better speak well of me, Prime. I will kill you before I let them destroy me,” Enyo warned.

“I will speak only the truth,” the Prime replied as they headed for the elevator that would take them back to the top floor.

Once again before the Pantheon, the Prime prostrated himself before Hera. Her attention, however, was entirely on Enyo. “So this is our future, neither as man or woman,” Hera said, a hint of anger in her transmitted thoughts.

“She is strong, my mistress,” the Prime said, his face pressed against the metal floor.

“I can see that, Animani, but is she any match for a Kraken?”

“I can wield two heavy blasters if I wanted to.” Enyo threatened.

“And you’ll get your chance to when we send you to Ares, lord.” Hera chuckled.

“Lord?” Enyo spat, insulted.

“You are no longer a woman, anymore than one of our Grau. The laws of Mordel are quite specific on the subject. Anyone who is not fully a woman is a man. You should be happy we’re granting you the title of lord, and not casting you out of the Pantheon. You should be even more happy that we won’t order your destruction, Lord Enyo, but give you a chance to prove yourself on the field of battle.”

“Send me into battle at once, then.”

“Not yet, dear Enyo. As the Prime said, you need proper training before we can hope to use you at your full potential.”

“Then give me Thomas. He’s one of the best Grau we have.”

“No, not Thomas. This alliance between Lord Trevor and the Angel worries us greatly. Thomas is our best agent to keep an eye on the pair and make sure they don’t cause us further trouble. Janik can teach you what you need to learn.”

“Janik is a toad,” Enyo spat.

“He is loyal. That’s all that matters.”

“You mean for him to spy on me?” Enyo demanded.

“Until we figure out how useful you can be, the Pantheon will want regular reports on your progress. Work hard, remain loyal, and you will be rewarded. Try to betray us and we will send you to the mating pools where we will use your body to nourish our children.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Enyo shouted as she glared at Hera.

“You’ve served the Pantheon for a long time, Enyo. Surely you know how things work. Since you are no longer one of us, you can consider whatever protection your status gave you null and void.” Hera then paused to see if Enyo would protest further. When the new lord remained silent, she ended the audience. “You’re dismissed, Lord Enyo. If you succeed, you will be just the first of many of our sisters to follow on your path towards greater humanity.”

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

“There is something different about you,” Louis whispered as he and Jason headed for Trevor’s office.

“There are a lot of things different about me,” Jason said, deflecting the question.

“Not your body, but your mind. Have you been practicing those tricks Kristen taught you?”

“I’ve been trying to.”

“Well, you’re getting very good. I can’t read your thoughts anymore.”

“Does that bother you?” Jason asked.

“It worries me,” Louis replied honestly. “How can I protect you, if I don’t know whether anything is wrong?”

Stopping in the hallway, Jason turned Louis to face him. “It’s a sacrifice we have to make, especially with so many Grau about.”

“I know you don’t want them poking in your mind, but I didn’t think that I couldn’t.”

“When we’re safely back home, I’ll let down my guard. Right now, too many people are depending on me to take any sort of risks.”

“I understand. We’re all in enough danger as is. I’m going to miss it, though.”

“I’ll be able to explain everything to you, eventually. Right now, the fewer people who know, the safer we’ll all be.”

“I wish I could keep you safe on my own.” Louis sighed as they began walking again. “Any bad dreams?”

“No dreams,” Jason lied. Since having sex with the Prime, he had the same dream every night. He was shining as bright as the sun, connecting himself to an endless numbers of smaller lights with his rays, as if he were building a great web.

“Well, here we are,” Louis said as they reached the door to Trevor’s office. “Trevor has a surprise for you, of course, but I can’t say that it’s a good one.”

“That sounds bad,” Jason said nervously. His hand was already on the door handle; all he had to do was turn it.

“I’m just saying I wouldn’t have done it without talking to you first.”

“Are you going to tell me what Trevor has done, or are you going to make me see for myself?”

“You’d better see for yourself. Just don’t get too angry at Trevor, or Thomas for that matter. They only mean well.”

“Now I’m sure I’m not going to like it,” Jason sighed. Opening the door he stepped inside the large office where Trevor and two other men were waiting. All of them were dressed in dark suits. Where there had been one desk, there were now two, which faced each other. It seemed Trevor was wasting no time in bringing Jason into the company’s leadership.

“Jason, there you are. I have some people I want you to meet.”

“Oh?” Jason asked. Looking at the other men, he couldn’t quite make out their faces due to the dark glasses each one was wearing. They both were quite large and muscular and had shortly cropped gray hair.

“The man to my left is Oscar, the head of my personal security unit. The one on my right should be familiar to you. He is to be your personal bodyguard.”

“Oh?” Jason asked as he stared at the slightly shorter man.

“Go ahead and introduce yourself,” Trevor told the man.

As the man slowly took off his glasses, Jason suddenly realized what face he was looking at, sending a shiver down his spine. At that moment, he wanted to do nothing but run out of the room before any of them could see the tears that were building in his eyes. “Logan…” Jason gasped.

“Yes, your lordship,” Logan said nervously. “And no… I’m not the man you remember, though I wear his face. I’m a clone, a duplicate of your old friend. I even have a few of his memories, thanks to Thomas.”

“I don’t understand. How can this be?” Jason said, as he sank into the chair that Louis had quickly placed behind him.

“When Huron tried to take the Labyrinth Keep, by attacking its rear door, Thomas was there watching it all just to make sure it didn’t succeed.” Louis began to explain, while Jason just stared at the copy of the long dead blacksmith. “He saw Logan fall to his death and, while Philip’s Spawn were revenging your loss on the Huronites, he took blood samples from Logan’s body and sent them back to Mordel. The Dominus believed that having a copy of your old friend on hand might one day prove useful. That changed when you surrendered yourself to the Grau, willingly. They cast him out of the Central Pillar where Trevor’s people found him begging for food. He spent some time in jail before Trevor learned of him, and his significance to you. Hoping to make a gift of the clone to you, he brought him to Tower One and made him one of the Dalf. Since then, Oscar has been training him hard so that this new Logan could stand by your right side as your protector.”

“But he’s not Logan,” Jason cried.

Stepping forward, the clone knelt on one knee in front of Jason. Removing a chain from around his neck he held out the gold and platinum ring the chain held. “Do you remember this ring, Jason? You asked me to give it to Geoff ,when you said you couldn’t marry me.”

“How did you get that ring? Everything I had was taken by the Grau.”

“Thomas gave it to me, along with the memories associated with it. He was there when I proposed to you. He wanted to make sure you said no.” Logan chuckled. “Because he was there, he was able to show me how much the real Logan loved you, loved you more than anything really. Those same feeling are also a part of me. Though we’ve just met, you’ve been a part of my heart since the day I was created. Will you take this ring back, in memory of your dear friend?”

“I will,” Jason whispered as he accepted the ring. Unlike the real Logan, this one spoke softly compared to the boisterous original.

“Will you accept me as your bodyguard?”

“It won’t be easy for me,” Jason said as he gave Trevor a quick glance. “But, I will, only because I think that is what Logan would have wanted.”

“Thank you, Lord Jason. Only you can understand how happy that makes me.”

“Just call me Jason, Logan.”

“If that would please you.”

“It would help me accept this more easily if you did.”

“Then I will, Jason,” Logan said as he squeezed both of Jason’s hands.

“So you’re not going to kill me?” Trevor asked nervously.

Standing back on his feet, Jason gave the Dalf a hard look. “You should have told me, Trevor.”

“But that would have ruined the surprise,” Trevor replied sheepishly.

“If your kind of surprises involve scaring someone half to death, then I can do without them. Don’t worry, Trevor, I’ll forgive you eventually. It’s Thomas who needs to be worried. ”

“Well, you’ll get your chance at him soon enough,” Trevor replied. “By order of the Pantheon, Thomas has been assigned the post of liaison officer here at Tower One.”

“He’ll be living with us?” Jason asked through grating teeth.

“I’m afraid so. The good part is that he’s bringing his son Brutus along with him so you two can have a better chance to get to know each other.”

“I would like to get to know him,” Jason agreed before letting out a sigh. “I get the feeling he doesn’t like me very much.”

“Now you’ll have a chance to fix that,” Trevor said as he waved a hand toward the seat opposite him. “Ready to take your proper place as a Lord of Mordel?”

“I might as well,” Jason nodded, before adding. “I really don’t know what use I will be.”

“Consider this a learning experience. As we go about the day’s events, you can learn how things are done here. You’ll get to meet other important people in the company, and I can tell you who to be wary of.”

“Sounds like what Varrus did for me when I was getting used to being king of Qul Tos. Will I have to learn how these computers work?”

“It would really help if you did,” Trevor said, afraid of what Jason’s response would be.

“Then we’d better start with that first,” Jason said, as he sat down at the desk facing Trevor.

“Logan can teach you. I have so much work left over from when we were at the lodge, I don’t think I will ever catch up.”

“I’m sorry,” Jason apologized as Logan joined him at his side.

“Don’t think about it. The time was well spent, my love.” Trevor grinned as he blew Jason a kiss.

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Out on his sixth expedition, Geoff looked through his protective goggles at the barren hills surrounding him and his team. “Found anything?” he asked the lead Togo through his breathing mask.

“There are some ruins buried under this hill, but we don’t know if we’ll find anything valuable,” the Togo replied.

“I’ll let you decide whether to bring in the heavy equipment. You’re the expert, after all.”

“Let me run a few more tests; then I can tell you,” the Togo replied as he headed back to his work crew.

Geoff didn’t need to be told that the tests wouldn’t show anything, just as the last five hadn’t. He was about to tell the crew chief to give up, when he saw something moving near the closest ridge. Blinking his eyes a few times to make sure he hadn’t imagined it, he saw what looked like a crab, or maybe a spider, walking in the team’s direction. As it got closer, Geoff saw that it wasn’t a real crab, but something made with metal and wires.

“Mbeki, get over here,” Geoff shouted.

“What is it, lord?” the crew chief asked. When he saw what Geoff was pointing at, his breath began to quicken. “Attack spiders… we have to get out of here.”

“Why, there’s only one of them,” Geoff said. Expanding his shock staff he sent a well-aimed energy spear at the mechanical creature, destroying it in a cloud of sparks. “There, problem solved.”

“Fool, that one was only a scout. Soon this place will be swarming with those machines, each one programmed to kill. We have to get out of here.” As if on cue, a dozen of the spider-like machines appeared on the ridge where the first one had been.

“I get your point. Order your team back to the Zephyr. My men will buy you some time,” Geoff said as he summoned the other Saints to him. Together, they formed a protective arch against the approaching enemies that were swarming over the ridge, first a dozen then hundreds.

“Blasters,” Geoff ordered as he collapsed his staff, placing it back on his belt. He took out the heavy blaster that hung behind his back. Not even wasting time to aim he set the rifle to rapid fire and began shooting, swinging his aim from left to right to cover the entire ridge.

Soon, he couldn’t see the ridge due to the smoke and sparks from the destroyed spiders. However, while they were destroying the machines by the dozens, a few were slipping through their concentrated fire and creeping ever closer to them.

When the spiders got to within fifteen feet of Geoff’s men, they leapt off the ground, grabbed hold of their targets by their heads and quickly self destructed, destroying themselves but also blowing away the faces of their targets, killing the Saints instantly.

“Curse you, Mbeki, you should have warned me about this,” Geoff said as he batted a spider away with his wings. Hearing the engines of the Zephyr come to life, Geoff ordered his men to begin an orderly retreat back to the plane.

By the time the ramps slammed shut, Geoff had lost eight of his men to the vicious machines. Going to the crew chief, he lifted the man off his feet and slammed him against the bulkhead of the plane. “Why didn’t you warn me,?” he shouted at the man.

“I did try to warn you, Lord Geoff, but neither of us had time to dally about the details,” Mbeki said as the Zephyr lifted off the ground.

Hearing several loud thuds from beneath the Zephyr, both Geoff and Mbeki let out deep groans as the planed shook violently from multiple small explosions, throwing both men to the floor.

Mbeki cursed at the pilot in his own language as the Zephyr accelerated its ascent into the air. “Will you let go of me? I need to talk to the pilot,” Mbeki demanded, as he tried to free himself from Geoff’s grip.

“Just so long as you understand that I lost good men buying your people time to escape,” Geoff said before letting go.

“I promise you, lord, you will have your revenge,” the crew chief said as he got back onto his feet. When he came back from the cockpit his shoulders were slumped.

“Well?” Geoff demanded from where he was fuming on a bench.

“I have good news and bad news.”

“Tell me the bad news first,” Geoff replied.

“The spiders destroyed one of our fuel tanks, so we can’t get back to the Argos.”

“What do you mean we can’t get back? I thought the Zephyrs could travel thousands of miles.”

“And if our mission involved such distances, extra fuel tanks would have been attached. Since we only needed to travel 300 hundred miles each way, we only filled two tanks. It’s a matter of efficiency, you see. More fuel means more weight, which would cause us to burn our fuel faster. Our supply of fuel is not limitless…”

“I get the point. Now tell me the good news,” Geoff said, as he rested his head in his hands and leaned forward.

“We can’t get back to the Argos without getting re-supplied, but we have been able to track down the base which is controlling those spiders.”

“So it is to be revenge, after all,” Geoff chuckled. “Take us there.”

“We are already heading there, sir. Three other Zephyrs will rendezvous with us in about twenty minutes.”

“Have you warned them what we will likely face?” Geoff asked, not taking anything for granted. “We have some body shields on board but they won’t prove much use against those spiders. The shield might save you from most of the explosion, but the force would still knock you off your feet. Then you would be helpless as the robots swarm over your body. Eventually the shields would fail, and you would die anyway.”

“But, we could take out more of them before that happens. Issue the body shields to my men. It might not be good protection, but it’s at least something.”

“Very well, sir.”

Twenty minutes later, the captain turned on the monitor screens in the passenger cabin. On the screens was a large hatch built into the flat and dusty plain. Surrounding the hatch, however, was a carpet of the killer spiders.

“Is this Zephyr armed, or would that have been too inefficient?” Geoff asked Mbeki sarcastically.

“We do have weapons aboard, but not in the numbers or quantities to fight an all out war,” the crew chief replied. “We are armed with several anti-infantry bombs which might be effective.”

“Use them,” Geoff ordered.

“As you command, sir. The other Zephyrs have joined us, so we will be able to coordinate our attacks with them.

Climbing higher so the bombs would have maximum effect, eight bombs were dropped from the Zephyr’s four wings. Half way into their decent, the bombs’ outer shells blew off, releasing a cloud of three-inch sized bombs that rained down on the spiders below. By the time the smoke cleared, there was nothing moving on the ground.

“Alright, sir, you have about an hour before the closest swarm can reach us.”

“Is that enough time?” Geoff asked.

“That depends on how large the complex is, and what’s guarding it.”

“Is there any way we can communicate with those inside.”

“There is the equipment which is controlling the spiders. We could tap into that for you. Whether they have the means to reply is another question entirely.”

“Do it,” Geoff said, as he bit his lower lip. He wanted revenge, yes, but if there were actual people living down there it would be understandable that they would see him and his team as invaders. Getting more of his men killed would be a poor way of honoring those who had already died.

Descending quickly, the four Zephyrs landed at the same time, with their ramps down. As soon as the wheels touched the faded dirt, Geoff and his men stormed out, rifles charged and ready. All together, there were a hundred Saints and forty Togo technicians. Going to the hatch, the Togo code breakers quickly had it open, revealing a long metal ladder built into the wall that disappeared into the darkness of the shaft.

“Send in a probe,” Geoff ordered.

Removing a small spherical object from his belt, a Togo tech activated the probe and sent it down the shaft until it reached the bottom, which showed a dimly lit corridor.

“Any life signs?” Geoff asked the tech.

“No life signs, but there are strong energy readings. Air is thicker there too, so you won’t need your breathers once you are down there,” the technician replied.

“How deep is this shaft?” Argil, who had been on one of the other expedition teams, asked.

“About one hundred meters, so I don’t suggest jumping.”

“But using the ladder would leave us very vulnerable,” Geoff grunted. “Are there any hidden weapons or defenses guarding the shaft?”

“ If there are, we can’t detect them,” the tech replied. “I can send the probe deeper down the corridor. If anything comes your way, I could warn you in advance.”

“It seems we don’t have any choice.”

“Not that we have time we can waste,” Argil agreed.

“I’ll go first,” Geoff said as he headed for the ladder.

“No you won’t, sir. The leader never goes first. I will go,” Argil said as he placed a restraining hand on Geoff’s shoulder.

“Just don’t get yourself killed,” Geoff said in a pleading tone.

“Hey, it’s me,” Argil said with a wink, as he moved quickly down the shaft.

Sending eight men after Argil, Geoff began the descent himself, making it safely to the bottom just before the technician controlling the probe shouted out a warning over the communicators. “You have trouble coming, and I mean big trouble. Cyborgs, by the look of them. Not sure if your blaster rifles will have much effect on them.”

“What about my blades?” Geoff asked, as he drew out the new assassin blades from his belt. As he squeezed their handles, the blades began to heat up until they glowed a brilliant white.

“Those blades can slice through almost anything,” Mbeki said over the com. We have more such weapons aboard the Zephyrs. Want us to drop them down to you?”

“You’d better,” Geoff said, as the rest of his men put their rifles behind their backs. “What are cyborgs anyway?”

“Part human, part machine,” Mbeki replied. “You could try to reason with them, but I doubt it. By now their brains have rotted away, leaving only their programming.”

“More good news,” Geoff said as he and his men moved inside the corridor, while swords were dropped down the shaft. Soon, the corridor was as bright as a sunny day in Ares, and just as hot, as all of Geoff’s men armed themselves with the burning swords.

“Damn, they’re armed with energy weapons. We just lost the probe. Sorry, your lordship,” the tech cursed.

“Everyone make sure your body shields are on,” Geoff warned as the sound of mechanical buzzing, followed by loud clangs, grew louder and louder.

Seeing red dots glowing on himself and each of his men, Geoff prepared himself for the volley of energy bolts he was sure were about to come. Instead, he heard a deep mechanical voice speaking in a language he couldn’t understand. “Mbeki are you getting this?”

“Yes, it’s speaking in ancient Jadoorian. We have a device that can translate for you.”

“Well, tell me what their saying.”

“Friend or foe. Friend or foe,” Mbeki replied. “They’re repeating that over and over.”

“How do I say friend?”

“Leof,” Mbeki quickly replied.

“Leof, leof,” Geoff shouted to the cyborgs still hiding in the shadows.

One by one, the red beams stopped aiming at Geoff and his men.

“Get down here with the translator, Mbeki,” Geoff said over the com.

“I’m coming. Don’t let your guard down. Just because you’ve said you’re their friends doesn’t mean they actually believe you.

By the time Mbeki reached the bottom of the shaft, the cyborgs were in full view. To Geoff, they looked like dusty, armored knights with their visors down, showing no signs of human flesh. In the middle of their armored heads glowed a red light.

When the cyborgs spoke again, Mbeki was there to translate. “It says we are not Jadoorians. It’s asking me if I am a Rapan?”

“What are you going to say to it?” Geoff asked.

“I’ll tell him the truth,” Mbeki said, before speaking in the cyborgs own language. Mbeki chuckled after the cyborg replied. “It is happy to see me. It wants to know, however, what I am doing with Mordelians.”

“Tell it that we’ve come to fight the Dominus.”

“That should please it,” the crew chief replied, before he translated Geoff’s message for the cyborg.

“What did it say?” Geoff asked when the cyborg replied.

“He says you are unfit to fight as you are. You must be made stronger, if you wish to defeat the Dominus.”

“Is it suggesting what I think it is?” Geoff asked nervously.

“If you’re asking if he wants to turn you all into cyborgs, you’re most likely right.” Mbeki said stoically.

“Tell it we understand his offer, but will not take him up on it.”

“He says he insists,” Mbeki said nervously as the hatch atop the shaft slammed shut.

“Tell him no,” Geoff said as he took up a fighting stance.

“It says if you refuse their help it must take you to Central.”

“Central what?”

“The Central computer would be my guess,” Mbeki replied.

“Great, another damned machine,” Geoff cursed.

“Will you go with them, or do you wish to fight?” Mbeki asked.

“Can you get in contact with our people on the surface?”

“Just barely… it seems the locks have been scrambled. By the time our code breakers solve it, the spider reinforcements will be almost on top of them.”

“Tell them to fall back to the Zephyrs. We’ll have to solve this on our own,” Geoff grunted.

“Does that mean you will fight?” Mbeki asked.

“No, we’ll go with them. Hopefully, this computer will be more reasonable then these rusting hulks of metal.”

Following their cyborg escorts, they boarded a rail car, which took them deeper into the underground complex. Once they came to a stop’ they were led down a heavily guarded corridor, stopping once more when they reached a thick, armored door. After a long silence, the cyborg spoke again to Mbeki.

“He asks that you sheath your weapons.”

“Is it a request or a demand?” Geoff retorted.

“Do not try to verbally spar with these things. They lost that ability thousands of years ago. Consider whatever they ask a demand, unless you wish to fight them.”

“Very well,” Geoff said, as he and his men sheathed their blades causing the corridor to darken considerably.

With a loud hiss of hydraulics, the armored door swung slowly to one side, letting Geoff and his team enter a round room with an octagonal shaped table at its center. Hanging over the table like a chandelier was a white sphere, which pulsated with a glowing yellow light.

Once they got near the table, a plug popped out of one of its many panels. This time it was not the cyborg who spoke but the sphere itself.

“What does it want?” Geoff asked.

“It wants access to my translator it seems,” the crew chief replied.

“So are you going to give it to this machine?”

“It seems like a harmless request,” Mbeki replied. “Wouldn’t you like for it to speak in your own language?”

“It would be better than always having to ask you what they’re saying.”

“My point exactly,” Mbeki replied as he plugged his translator into the Central Computer.”

For several moments the computer tried out several different languages, none of which Geoff could understand, until the machine started speaking in Centurion. “Do you understand me, Mordelian?”

“Yes, but I am not a Mordelian. I was born a Tosian, if you must know.”

“We have never heard of your people. Tell us of your history,” the computer requested.

“You might know them better as the Famulus,” Mbeki said.

“We know Famulus. We didn’t think any of their kind still lived. How did this come to happen?”

“The Mother’s rebellion was a success. The Famulus slaves, and many of your Jadoorians escaped to Ares. The Jadoorians recreated their nation on a large island off the mainland. They are a primitive, but powerful nation.”

“So it should be,” the computer replied coldly. “What brings a Togo and these Famulus to this place?”

“We wish to strike back at our hated enemy, the Dominus. That is why we came here. We hoped you would know the location of their hidden city.”

“The Togos didn’t always hate the Dominus. Why else did they exile their Rapan cousins, who wished only to aid us in our fight?” Central replied.

“The Dominus wish to conquer Ares. That fact alone makes them our enemy.”

“And you think you and a few freed slaves can do what we could not? We are the Jadoorians, once the greatest people in all Mordelium. You cannot defeat such monsters, as weak as you are, so why have you refused our offer to make you stronger?”

“We are not as weak as we appear,” Geoff said, speaking after a long silence.

“You appear to be Mordelian… altered men, but your Togo companion insists you are Famulus. This does not compute. If you are Mordelain, you are our enemy. If you are Famulus, we can be allies, but only if you let us make you stronger.”

“We do not wish to be cyborgs. We wish to remain as we are,” Geoff insisted.

“That is illogical. Our cyborgs are superior to you. Why can you not see that?”

“Why did the surviving Jadoorians here turn themselves into cyborgs? Aren’t they also considered altered men?” Mbeki reasoned.

“Their blood is still the blood of a Jadoorian that has not been altered. They are therefore pure. These Famulus are not pure, but tainted as the Mordelians are. Why should we ally with them? They are weak, while we are strong.”

“Yet your surviving people remain hidden here. When was the last time the Jadoorians dared to strike at the Dominus they so hate?” Mbeki replied.

“We are only waiting for the order to be given,” the computer replied.

“Given by whom?” Geoff demanded.

“By the Council of Eight.”

“So, where are they?” Geoff asked.

“They are in this room with you.”

“You mean the cyborgs?” Mbeki laughed. “Central, haven’t you realized after so many eons, that the living minds inside your cyborgs have died and turned to dust long ago?”

“They are cyborgs and therefore immortal. It doesn’t matter that their human remains are gone.”

“But without a human mind how can they give the order to attack? How can the Council of Eight even function?” Mbeki laughed again at the computer’s foolish logic.

“When was the last time the council held a meeting,” Geoff demanded.

“In the year 1628 of the Great Wars,” Central replied.

“And how many years have passed since that last meeting?” Mbeki asked.

“Four thousand three hundred and thirty one years.”

“Does that not worry you, Central, to go so long without being given an order?” Mbeki pressed.

“I do not control the council; the council controls me. If they do not wish to meet, I cannot force them to.”

“Computer, can’t you understand that the reason why the council hasn’t met is because all of your cyborged Jadoorians are already dead? They’re not even cyborgs anymore. Without their human minds, they’re mere machines, robots who can only obey your commands,” Mbeki said in a raised voice.

“I do not understand. This is not logical. I see the council before me. I can even communicate with them.”

“With their programming, not their minds,” Geoff replied.

“You have failed your people, Central. You have no purpose anymore,” Mbeki said, knowing how that would affect the computer’s logical programming.

Almost at once, the light in the sphere grew brighter causing Geoff and his team to shield their eyes. A bolt of energy shot out from the sphere, hitting one of the cyborgs in the head. As the light faded the cyborg crashed down on the concrete floor. “I shouldn’t have been able to do that. My programming prohibits me from attacking a member of the council,” Central said, showing as much shock and surprise as a computer could. Soon, everyone was blinded as the sphere destroyed seven more cyborgs.

“Have you gone insane, Central?” Mbeki demanded.

“No. If the council is dead, then my programming leaves me only one choice. I must form a new council, with fresh minds. Since I cannot use Jadoorians, I will have to use your Famulus.”

With a single movement, Geoff drew out his blades. “No you will not.”

“Do not resist the gift I’m about to bestow on you, Famulus,” Central replied as the armored door slammed shut.

Jumping onto the table, Geoff sliced through the metal pole that held the sphere as if it were butter. When the sphere hit the center of the table, it shattered into countless shards of glass.

“Did you think I was so small? I am everywhere, Famulus. You can’t destroy me so easily.”

Finding it hard to breath, Mbeki’s eyes went wide with panic. “Central is removing all the air from the room,” he said as he put on his breather.

Following his crew chief’s example, Geoff quickly covered his mouth and nose with his mask. “Our air won’t last forever. We’ve got to find a way out of this trap. Can you get in contact with the zephyrs?”

“Just barely,” Mbeki replied, after speaking on the com rapidly in his own language. There seems to be some confusion. They think you ordered them to return to the fleet.”

“But you know I gave no such order.”

“I know, which means Central did. With the translator and our voice patterns he could have mimicked your voice,” Mbeki explained.

“Well, order them to come back and blow the hatch open if they have to.”

“They don’t have the fuel to do that. Anyway, by now the attack spiders will be all over the hatch. Our zephyrs don’t have enough bombs left to get rid of them. The Fleet Commander has been informed of our situation, and is sending a dozen heavily armed zephyrs to rescue us.”

“Will they arrive in time?” Geoff asked. Looking at his tank, he saw it was already half empty.

“No. It will take them two hours to reach the hatch. Given how deep we are in the complex, it will take them even longer to reach us. I’m sorry, Geoff, I should have let you fight them sooner.”

“The computer might still have the information we need,” Geoff said as he felt blood running down his ears and nose from the loss of air pressure.

“We can only hope,” Mbeki said. He shivered, as the air turned freezing cold.

One by one, Geoff’s team members began collapsing on the floor, either due to lack of air or due to the pain caused by the lack of pressure. Soon, only Geoff remained standing. As he, too, began to pass out, Geoff thought he heard Central speak to him. “You are a strong one, after all.” After that there was only darkness.

 

Chapter Thirty

“Jason, are you alright?” Trevor asked as he sat across from his mate. Jason was ghostly pale and seemed to be in great pain.

“Something has happened, something I didn’t believe could happen to me anymore.”

Leaving his chair, Trevor hurried to Jason’s side. “Do you need a medic?”

“No, a medic can’t fix this. It’s my Saints. Some of them have died, I’m sure of it.”

“But how can that be? You are no longer an Angel.”

“The Prime believes otherwise,” Jason whispered as he rested his head against Trevor’s body while his mate stroked his short hair.

“You need to rest,” Trevor whispered as he looked down at Jason with a worried expression.

“I can’t, not with my Saints in danger.”

“How many died?”

“I don’t know. It all happened so fast. At least six, probably more.”

“And more of them are in danger?”

“Yes, I’m certain. Something is happening to them, something terrible.”

“Anyone dear to you.”

“All my Saints are dear to me, but Geoff more than most. He was the captain of my bodyguard before I was taken.”

“Is he one of the ones who died? Or is he one of the ones in danger?”

“He’s in danger. Something is being done to him, something unnatural.”

“Do you know where?”

“No. I can’t see into his mind, but I can feel his pain and terror.”

“I’m sorry, Jason. Tell me how to take away this pain.”

“Get me out of this city so I can save him.”

“I can’t do that, Jason, not yet at least. We would all end up dead if we tried.”

“Did you say Geoff?” Logan asked, as he left his post where he stood watch over Jason.

“Do you remember him?” Jason asked, his vision blurred by his tears.

“Yes, he was with me near the end. It was you who suggested I try to woo him.”

“I never learned how that went.”

“Not all bad. He disliked me at first, when I told him my father had been a miner.”

“That would do it,” Jason nodded.

“Before the attack though, I think we were starting to like one another. If my original had survived… well I wouldn’t exist then.”

At that awkward moment an Animani stepped inside the office. “We sensed we were needed,” the Animani said as he stared directly at Jason.

“Do you know what’s going on?” Trevor asked, not at all wondering how the Animani had known to come.

“We have some idea. Jason and his Saints are not so much different from us.”

‘But how can he still be connected to them? His core is gone.”

“Yet Jason still lives,” the Animani replied mysteriously. “Come with me, Jason. We’ll need some privacy.”

“Take him to the main conference room. There’s a sofa there,” Trevor offered.

“Jason, there isn’t much time,” the Animani warned as he took Jason’s shaking hand.

Once inside the conference room, the Animani blackened the windows and made sure Jason lay comfortably on the sofa. He then knelt besides Jason with one hand holding his and the other atop Jason’s head. “You are progressing very fast, Jason. Soon, you’ll be able to feel the connection to your Saints all the time. Right now, you wish to help one of them, yes?”

“Yes,” Jason nodded.

“Then let us help you save him,” the Animani said, as he smiled down at the troubled man. With our power supporting you, you will be able to communicate with your Geoff and help him as well. Now close your eyes, and return to the center of the web you’ve been building.”

Closing his eyes, Jason formed the image in his mind, only now it was different. Instead of one web, there were two. And, while the second one was much smaller than the first, the threads that held it together were stronger and more real than the threads of light that connected Jason to the Animani overmind.

“Go to the second web, Jason, and find the point of light that is your friend,” the Animani instructed as he continued to gently stroke Jason’s head.

Closing his eyes tighter as he concentrated, Jason joined the second web and felt his way around its many thick threads until he found the one he was sure was Geoff.

“Talk to him, Jason. He will hear you now,” the Animani whispered.

“Geoff,” Jason called out with both mind and voice. “He’s been sedated,” he told the Animani.

“Then wake him.”

Letting out a sharp gasp, Jason almost sat up in panic when he saw through Geoff’s open eyes. So many machines surrounded his body. His legs and arms were connected to tubes and wires. Nothing was as terrifying as the high-pitched whirling of a drill that was burrowing into his skull.

“Stop the machines, Jason. You have the power,” the Animani said in a commanding tone.

“I don’t know how,” Jason wailed, his heart beating frantically.

“Yes, you do. Use us as your sword, Jason. Destroy the machines if you have to. You must do it before it’s too late.”

Feeling Geoff’s horror and pain, Jason released the power of the Animani through his connection to Geoff’s mind, letting it explode from him in a wave of energy that destroyed every machine in the room, knocking out even the lights. Sensing Geoff struggling against the restraints that bound him to the operating table, Jason used the Animani’s gift to cut Geoff free.

“Jason, is that you?” Geoff whispered in the now dark and silent chamber.

“Yes,” Jason sent back.

“Where are you? Are you nearby?”

“I’m in the city of Mordel, but I don’t know where that is.”

“Don’t worry, Jason, we’ll find it even if we have to tear this half of the world apart.”

“Please Geoff, you must free the others. I don’t know if I can do what I did again.”

“I don’t understand how you did what you did, myself. We’ll have a lot of catching up to do after we rescue you.”

“Promise me you’ll be careful, Geoff. I can’t bear the thought of losing you.”

“I’ll be more careful, I promise. There is something I need to see to first, so this never happens again. I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear your voice.”

With Geoff safe, the need that had driven Jason to reform his bond to his Saints began to weaken. “I can’t keep this connection much longer, Geoff. Is Philip with you?”

“No, he’s with James. They’re both looking for you, as they promised. When they left without me, I had no choice but to form my own rescue team and go after you myself.”

“I understand. I know what drives you. Whether you want to believe it or not, you have always been a good man.”

“Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been returning back into my old murderous self.”

“I know, but I’m telling you it doesn’t have to be that way. Think of your son and your men, and you’ll know you’re not a monster.”

“Thank you, Jason. I needed to hear that, especially from you.”

“Goodbye, Geoff. I can’t keep this up any longer. Know I love each and every one of you,” Jason said as his voice faded from Geoff’s mind.

“And we love you, Angel,” Geoff replied, getting no response but silence.

Opening his eyes, Jason sat up wearing a sad expression on his face. “What is happening to me?” he asked the Animani who still knelt beside him.

“You are becoming the Avatar. The one we’ve been waiting for to free our people.”

“Couldn’t you have picked someone else?” Jason asked with a forced chuckle.

“There is no one else but you, Jason, a true Angel if there ever was one.”

“But I’m no longer an Angel.”

“Do you think the Dominus could so easily take away what you are? This is your destiny Jason, by your prophecies and ours.”

“I didn’t know your kind believed in prophecies.”

“We believe in only one. There was another before you, not with your great potential, and he was killed as soon as the Mother realized what was happening to him. In that brief moment before he was killed, all we Animani had a vision of what could happen in time. Eventually, a true Angel would come into the world, and the Dominus would bring him to Mordel. All we had to do was ensure your survival from the cruelest of fates, which we did by sacrificing our own lives. It was a small sacrifice to pay, given that none of us ever truly dies so long as one of us lives. You survived both the operation, and the pits of Omega, so we can give you the power you will need to fulfill our prophecy.”

“But what if I fail?”

“Then it was never meant to be. If you fail, then our people will fail with you, for the Dominus will never risk us giving another person such gifts, ever again.”

“You are risking everything on me?”

“You’re the only hope we ever had,” the Animani replied honestly, before standing up. “Come, let me take you back to your quarters. Trevor was right to suggest that rest would do you some good.”

“Will one of you come to me soon? I would like to make sure Geoff and his men escape safely. I would also like to talk to Philip. He must be worried sick by now.”

“When you are stronger,” the Animani promised.

“I never asked for this power, but now that I see what it can do I’m glad to have it.”

“We know. You have a gentle heart, Jason, so we do not fear that what we’ve given you will ever be misused.”

“I hope I will prove myself worthy of that trust,” Jason said, as the Animani helped him off the sofa so he could be taken back to his rooms.

Chapter Thirty-One

Constantly wiping his forehead to keep the blood from dripping into his eyes, Geoff blindly searched the room for the other operating tables he knew had to be there. One by one, he found his men. All of them were still sedated by whatever drug the cyborgs had given them. Removing the tubes, wires, and restraints, from each of them, he sat in the darkness waiting for them to eventually wake up. As he had been stripped of everything, including his clothes, he knew he was in no condition to start a fight with Central and its cyborg slaves.

All at once, nine red lights appeared at each of the operating tables, followed by the groans of Geoff’s men. Going to the nearest one, Geoff saw it was Argil and, although his eyes were closed he seemed to move about with a sense of purpose. In the middle of his forehead, and those of the rest of Geoff’s team, was a glowing red electronic eye. Fearfully Geoff touched his own forehead and felt the shape of an identical device implanted in his skull.

Grabbing hold of Argil, Geoff shook the man violently as he tried to wake him from whatever trance he was in. Eventually, he resorted to slapping Argil with the back of his hand until he finally started blinking his eyes. “What’s happened? Why does my head feel like it’s about to explode.”

“There’s no time to explain. We need to wake up the other men. Help me.”

Touching the source of his pain, Agril’s expression turned to a look of panic as he felt the device. “That damned machine was really going to turn us into one of those cyborgs.”

“Yes, and it would have succeeded if Jason hadn’t saved us all,” Geoff said, not sure how he was going to explain what really happened

“You mean Jason is here? Where is he?”

“He’s not here. I don’t know how he saved us, to be honest, but it was through the bond. That’s all I can say for sure. Now help me wake up the other men. I’m pretty sure Central has realized something has gone wrong by now.”

Going to each man in turn, Geoff and Argil eventually woke each of them from their trance. Not that any of them were very appreciative about it. Once they realized what had been done to them, rage and fear was all they could think about.

“I think I found the door,” Argil said after a long search.

“Are you sure we should leave?” one of the other Saints asked. “Unarmed, we won’t stand a chance against those walking machines.”

“By now, the rescue team should have broken through the hatch and be trying to reach us. If we stay here, they might never find us. We can only hope that Central has sent all its cyborgs to defend the complex.”

“Which means they will be standing between us and our rescuers,” Argil pointed out.

“I have an idea that might solve that. It’s a gamble, but it just might work. We have to get back to the council chambers where we first met that damned computer,” Geoff said.

“This had better be a good plan, or that computer might try to kill us this time,” Argil warned.

“It’s the only plan I have,” Geoff said as he popped open the door. Seeing that the corridors were deserted, he pressed his men forward. As he suspected, he didn’t need any map to find his way back to the council chambers. Somehow, he knew the layout of the entire complex. When he reached the armored door it opened automatically. This time, as they approached the table, eight chairs began to rise from the floor. “Argil, stay by me while the rest of you each take a seat.”

Once they were all seated, the dreaded voice of Central spoke to them. “Greetings Council of the Eight. I, Central, am at your disposal.”

Disposal is right,” Geoff thought to himself before speaking to the computer. “Central, are there any remaining active spiders?”

“We have recently lost two thirds of our attack spiders. Those we do have are quickly coming here to defend this base.”

“Deactivate all of them,” Geoff ordered.

“If the council so agrees,” the computer replied, not a bit perturbed by the request.

“Do you all agrees?” Geoff asked his confused compatriots.

“Aye,” they all said one at a time.

“The vote is unanimous, Central. Deactivate all remaining spiders,” Geoff ordered.

“Yes, councilman,” Central replied.

“How many other cyborgs remain to protect the base?” Geoff asked next.

“There are three hundred still functional enough to operate.”

“Can you show me where they are located?”

“Yes, councilman,” Central replied as view screen began to rise from eight identical panels built into the table.

On the screens, Geoff could see more members of the Wing Guard fighting the cyborgs with blazing white blades, while body shields protected them from the robots’ energy weapons.

“Have the cyborgs disengage from battle,” Geoff ordered.

“If the council so wishes,” Central said again. This time Geoff and all those seated around the table voted with one voice. “The cyborgs will pull back to protect the council chambers,” Central said, once he registered the unanimous vote.

“No, Central, you misunderstand. The people you think are invaders are really our friends.”

“But they are Mordelian,” the computer insisted.

“They are still the enemy of the Dominus, who are our true enemies,” Geoff said sternly. “Order all cyborgs to cease fighting at once.”

“Pardon me for misunderstanding the council’s intentions, but I must asked for another vote to confirm this order,” Central said, sounding apologetic.

Once again everyone voted. “As the council wishes,” Central said with a hint of a sigh.

“Please have one of the cyborgs guide our friends to this chamber, or does that require another vote.”

“No, councilman, we now recognize the intruders as friends. No further vote need be taken.”

“Thank goodness,” Geoff sighed.

“How did you know the computer would follow your orders?” Argil asked, softly, while they waited for their people to arrive.

“Just a hunch I had. Central intended for us to become the new council. I was betting that it had already adjusted its programming to acknowledge us as such, before it tried to turn us into cyborgs.”

“That was a pretty big gamble.”

“I don’t think it was, actually. While I was sitting in the dark, it came to me that I was a councilman and that you weren’t. That’s why I asked you to stand by me instead of taking one of the seats. Whatever has been implanted into our skulls it is giving us access to the computer’s memory.”

“So does the computer know where Mordel is?”

“It knows where it is most likely hidden. The old council never did get around to ordering an attack, so there’s no way of knowing for sure.”

“Can you tell me where the computer thinks it is?”

“I was just about to. According to the computer, the Dominus moved their main base from the far north after they found a better one here in the south. It’s just south of the mountains known as the Wall, and used to be the main base of the Jadoorian faction before the Dominus pumped poison gas into it. After all, they wanted to take the base in one piece.”

“How far is it from the ocean?” Argil asked worriedly.

“Pretty far, actually, right smack dab in the middle of the Wall’s mountain chain. I’m sure the Dominus have a secret port but, if there is one, it’s surely well guarded. Too well guarded to risk our fleet trying to take it.”

“Then how do we reach the city?”

“The plan Central devised, was to enter the city through one of its exhaust vents. All we have to do is find one.”

“I bet they’re well hidden,” Argil replied.

“Yes, but we were able to find this god-forsaken place, so I’m sure we can find these exhaust vents too.”

“How do you even know what an exhaust vent is?”

“My guess is, through the computer. I can even speak in ancient Jadoorian.”

“Show off,” Argil laughed.

“You should try it yourself, or have you forgotten that Mbeki handed over his translator to Central.”

“True, does that mean we can now speak and, even more importantly, understand Togoan?”

“I believe it does.” Geoff laughed.

“Good, now I’ll know when they’re making fun of us.” Argil laughed as well, just as Mbeki enter the room with the rescue party.”

“By the red sun are we too late,” Mbeki said when he saw the glowing red implants on each man’s forehead.

“No, you’re not too late but just on time,” Geoff said as he left his chair.

“Let me guess. You were the one who stopped the spiders and called off the cyborgs.”

“Me, and the rest of the Council of Eight. Whatever happened to you Mbeki?”

“That insane computer is not so stupid as to try and turn a Togo into a cyborg. It knew well enough that such a violation of my person would mean war. While you were taken to the operating room, I was dumped near the ladder leading to the hatch.”

“Lucky you,” Argil smirked. “Do you think your people can remove these implants?”

“Let me guess. You can access Central’s database?” Mbeki said as he reached up to poke the device on Argil’s forehead.

“That seems to be the case.” Geoff nodded.

“Then I think you’re stuck with them, unless you want to risk brain damage. With all those tiny wires now running through your brain, that is what would most likely happen if we were to try and remove the device. You shouldn’t feel too bad. Such a device does have its uses. Given time, we could adjust them to let you tap into almost any computer you want. You could find yourselves better than our finest code breakers.”

“Then I guess we’ll just have to learn how to live with them,” Geoff said before surprising Mbeki by calling the crew chief a nasty name in the man’s own language.

“I knew I would regret giving that computer access to the translator,” Mbeki sighed.

“I’m sure you’ve been calling my men and me a lot worse behind our backs.”

“Thank you for the warning. I promise you won’t have a problem with that, anymore.”

“That’s no fun. I was looking forward to sparring with your people.”

“Given how barbaric your people are, you would most likely use words that we wouldn’t ever dare use.”

“We do like winning, after all,” Geoff said as he gave Argil a sly wink.

 

Chapter Thirty-Two

While the Palace Square was surrounded by the white and gold armor of the Home Guard, Sin could still hear the shouts of those protesting the disbanding of the Senate in such a hasty fashion. He knew the war was not going well for his people, and that rumors were being whispered around the city after the people learned that the Gate was being sealed. While the Legatio and Famulus worried about cursed mists, the refugees of the Eastern Kingdoms believed their people had been abandoned in their great time of need. Many said, on both sides, that things would have never gone so badly during the reign of Emperor Jason. In the gardens where the Legatio Quarter once stood, many of the faithful were gathering around the foundations of a growing cathedral. Words of rebellion were gaining in strength and numbers. Sin knew something had to be done, before he had a riot on his hands. But Varrus had ordered the guards to keep the Regent confined to the palace.

Sin couldn’t stand for that any longer. He knew what he had to do, and understood he was the only one who could do it. The curse of Gideon had to be stopped; one way or another, or else all of Ares would become shrouded in green mist.

Knowing Varrus was distracted by the short return of Jason’s presence, Sin took this one chance to sneak out of the palace and out the city’s gate. He rode his horse hard to the first way station where a fresh horse would be waiting for him. If he road throughout the day and into the night, he would reach the Gate by noon on the third day. From there, he would have to find some way to convince the new Lord Commander, Field Marshal Lukas, to let him pass into the mist. If he couldn’t, he would just have to find his own way through the mountains. Through his bond with Jason, he just so happened to know of a way.

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

The Dominus stirred nervously in their massive tanks, having felt the powerful psychic blast that had come from somewhere within their domain. Kneeling before them were the leaders of the Grau, Scott and Thomas among them.

“Find this bright soul for us,” Hera seethed as the water in her tank pulsated with her power. Find him and destroy him before he can ruin us all.”

“Begging your pardon, mistress, but how do you know it’s a man. Not even we could tell that,” Dillon, head of the Grau’s Hounds replied as he wiped a bead of blood from his nose. If the fury of the Dominus grew any stronger, those before them would all suffer an aneurism.

“We know who it’s not. It was not one of our daughters. We have already examined each one. It’s not one of the Animani; they can’t focus their power that way. That only leaves you Grau, and the filthy wretches out in the city. We know, from your own agents, that the beast men have been trying to develop their own telepathic ability. For many years we have depended on you to make sure none succeeded. Tell us, Hound, have you somehow failed us? Or, have you gone and joined forces with our slaves?”

“I am a loyal Grau,” Dillon replied as he bowed even deeper, his nose pressed hard against the metal platform.

“You have three months, Grau. Find the source of this power, or we will have no choice but to purge the city of every living inhabitant, including those who call themselves our faithful servants.”

“Thank you for your generosity,” Dillon replied gratefully. Three months was far more than he expected. With the invasion of Ares fast approaching, the Dominus must be eager to maintain calm until they could abandon this forsaken land and move to the green lands across the ocean.

“You may now leave us,” Hera said as she disappeared deeper inside her tank.

After the platform had sunk to the level below, Scott and Thomas made their way to the private quarters they shared with Brutus. He bowed to both his elders as they made their way to the bedroom.

“You know how much danger gets me hot and bothered,” Scott chuckled as he began removing his uniform.

“You’re always in the mood,” Thomas laughed. Going to the bathroom Thomas wiped the blood from his face and brought a fresh damp cloth for his lover.

“So how are we going to get out of this one?” Scott sent telepathically to Thomas.

“We’ll think of something,” Thomas replied, as he pulled down the sheets.

“Jason must be warned. He must never do something like that again. I just can’t believe he was able to do it. My head is still ringing from the racket he made.”

“The Hounds will never find out it was him. Everyone else believes he’s nothing but a Dalf.”

“A very powerful and influential one, as Trevor Rex’s mate.”

“The wedding will be soon,” Thomas sighed as he flopped down on the bed.

“And you wished it was you under the canopy.” Scott sighed as he sat down next to Thomas so he could massage the man’s tense shoulders.

“I was kinda hoping he would but, as things stand now, I can barely get Brutus to see him.”

“It’s for their safety. This last thing you need, is to remind the Dominus of fond feelings for Jason. How in the world you can love someone you spent years tormenting is beyond me.”

“I’ve been tormenting you since we were children, haven’t I.” Thomas giggled as he laid down, Scott on top of him.

“Mercilessly so,” Scott agreed as he tickled the man’s sides. “Still, I wish we could marry.”

“Now you’re sounding like that brute, Alex.”

“What can I say? I can’t help but want you all to myself.”

“And how far are you willing to go to get me?”

“Haven’t I done enough?”

“You’ve been the best, but you know how stubborn Dillon is. He and his Hounds might just stumble on the truth.”

“So what would you like me to do about it?”

“I know he likes you,” Thomas said coyly.

“Well, I don’t like him.”

“Is it just because he’s covered in freckles?”

“No, it’s also because he’s a Hound. He would hunt down one of our own kind, if he thought it would help him succeed in his ambitions.”

“Then we just need to be very careful and make sure he starts seeing things our way.”

“First, you have me risk my life to sneak Jason out of the Omega Level. Now you’re trying to whore me out to that human leopard.”

“I meant it only as a complement. After all, you did end up getting me.”

“And I still think I’m getting the short end of the deal.”

“Invite Dillon over for dinner. I have an idea that just might work.”

“I smell trouble,” Scott said as he nuzzled against his lover.

“When am I not up to trouble?” Thomas laughed as the pair started to see how much trouble they could cause each other in bed.

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

Jason sat at the dinner table doing his best not to look distracted but, with the new Logan standing behind him, he was constantly turning around to make sure he was still there.

“Should I stand behind Trevor? That way you won’t have to strain you neck looking at me,” Logan suggested, as the servants brought in the main course.

“I’m sorry. This is just going to take me some time to get used to.” Jason replied.

“Think how I feel. I have the memories of some dead guy inside my head, but I have no idea how I’m supposed to live up to your expectations of me.”

You’re just like him, only you talk more like a Mordelian.”

“Am I just like him?” Logan grinned with a wink.

Jason blushed. “We’ll discuss that later.” Turning his attention back to Trevor, he saw the Dalf wearing an amused expression on his face.

“You two make such an interesting pair. Long lost friends, reunited.”

“You’re not jealous, are you?” Jason asked worriedly.

“Of course not. Logan is the perfect bodyguard for you. After all, it is only fair that I pick someone we both could enjoy. Isn’t that right, Captain?”

“Of course, sir,” Logan said respectfully.

“See, even my tastes can change with time. Fucking a big muscular man like Logan actually tickles me in an unusual erotic way. I even get pleasure just watching the pair of you make love. ”

Thinking of large men, Jason let out a sigh. “Where’s Alex.”

“Brooding most likely. He might act like a lovesick pup around you, but around most other people he has a mean streak,” Trevor replied.

“I should really spend more time with him.”

“You know that’s not what he really wants, love. He wants you all to himself, hidden away in some dark hole where he thinks he can keep you safe. He can’t understand how making our wedding public is the best sort of protection you can receive.”

“You don’t understand. It’s he who wants to marry me.”

“I know but, as I’ve already explained to him, such a marriage would put you at more risk, not less. Just like in Ares, Alex is known as a bit of a villain. I can think of dozens of people who would try to use you to get revenge against him.”

“Maybe if you made him a bodyguard?”

“Not in this lifetime. I might like your taste in men, but Alex is another kettle of fish altogether. What he does in bed is well known.”

“He would never try to hurt me.”

“Yes, you are that rare exception. You’re the only man I know, for whom Alex will take it up the rear. For some reason, he likes the pain of it when it comes from you. Everyone else he tends to torture.”

“That’s why he should spend more time with us. He needs to be around normal people, not those masochists who fawn over him.”

“Would you like me to hire him as my bodyguard?”

“But you don’t like or trust him.”

“True, but I’m willing to tolerate him for your sake.”

“I can go get Alex. I know where he’s been hiding himself,” Jacob said.

“You might as well bring him here,” Trevor said as he placed his napkin on the table.

“I’ll go with him, too,” Dirk said as he left the table.

“You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I do. I can’t have you worrying about the monster, and I don’t dare let him continue to brood after you. Who knows what desperate scheme he’ll come up with if left on his own. No, the best thing for us to do is keep him close so we both can keep him out of trouble.”

“That’s one thing you learn about Alex. He tends to bring trouble with him.”

An hour later, Jacob and Dirk returned with proud grins on their faces as they brought Alex with them. Dressed with a leather harness held in place by a large silver ring and straps, Alex didn’t look amused at having been summoned. “You’re sending the children to do your dirty work now, Lord Rex?” Alex said sourly.

“We had to send someone you weren’t likely to kill,” Trevor replied.

“I don’t kill pups,” Alex grunted as he stood with his fists by his waist. “So what do you want from me this time?”

“I was wondering why we hadn’t heard if you were going to attend the wedding,” Trevor replied as he began eating his cake.

“The answer is no.”

“Not even if Jason wants you to go?”

“Jason is well aware of my feelings about your coming nuptials. He doesn’t love you. He’s still hoping Philip will come rescue him.”

“We’re all hoping for that. Be as that may, Jason is now a Dalf, a very good one, just like Jacob. A lone Dalf is one of the saddest things to see. Jason needs me, and I need him. That’s all that you should really care about.”

“And we need you, Alex.” Jason spoke up. “I will always want you by my side, just as we always planned.”

“But not as your husband.”

“Philip will always be my husband, Alex. Even Trevor understands that.”

“But what will happen when Philip rescues you and finds out you’ve remarried?”

“I need this marriage Alex, not just for Trevor’s protection. With Jacob’s animus flowing inside me I have a need to be part of the Dalf pack. It’s not about love, or lust, but the desire to belong. I cannot deny this animal calling inside me, nor do I wish to any longer. I am no longer an Angel, Alex, nor even a Legatio. All that’s left is the Dalf in me and my continued love for Philip, you, and all my other dear friends. I want you with me and I know you want the same though in a different way.”

“So what is to become of me?” Alex whispered, knowing he couldn’t deny Jason anything.

“You’ll be serving as my bodyguard,” Trevor said as he finished his cake.

“Not Jason’s?”

“The Animani and I have gone to a lot of trouble to get Logan as Jason’s bodyguard. I’m not about to have him replaced by someone I still don’t trust.”

“But you’re trusting me to protect your life,” Alex grunted as he crossed his arms over the leather harness.

“You might be a brutal killer, but I think I can trust you not to do anything that would risk alienating Jason.”

“Jason?” Alex said in a pleading tone.

“You left the Urh syndicate, Alex, and not on the best of terms. You have countless enemies wanting to kill you, including Father Lars. You need Trevor’s protection as much as I do.”

“You think I can’t protect us both?”

“Alex, there’s more than us involved in this situation. There’s Jacob, Louis, Hector, and Chad. There are the Animani, who expect so much from me, and those in the Grau resistance who hope I will free them someday. Don’t you think I see the twisted irony of my situation? I’ve never wanted power. All I’ve ever wanted was to live a quite life with my family, and all those I love, but it’s only by remaining involved in the world that I can protect you and everyone I care about.”

“All I’ve ever wanted is you, Jason,” Alex said as blue tears rolled down his face.

Leaving his chair, Jason went to Alex’ side. “I can only give you what I can offer. I know you want more, but I can never be the man you want without becoming someone other than the person you love.”

As soon as those words left Jason’s lips, Alex had his arms around Jason’s, bending him over the dining table as they kissed deeply. “Bedroom, now,” Alex growled when their lips parted.

“With Trevor,” Jason replied calmly, their eyes locked.

“So be it,” Alex replied, as he helped Jason to straighten up.

“Logan, please take Alex to the showers and see that he’s washed up,” Jason said after he got a good sniff of Alex.

“I smell perfectly fine.”

“You smell like a brothel,” Jason insisted.

“The children did interrupt me while I was in the middle of something.” Alex said as he glared at Jacob and Dirk who only smiled amusingly back.

“How long had he been there?” Jason asked Jacob.

“Oh at least a week papa. We had to cut through the line to get to him.” Jacob replied.

“A week, and you were just in the middle,” Jason chided Alex.

“Can I help that I’m popular with a certain crowd?” Alex asked defensively.

“Anima addicts most likely,” Trevor smirked as he stood from the table. “Take him away, Logan.”

“If you will come with me, sir.” Logan was very muscular but next to Alex he looked quite small.

“Very well,” the tall Centurion sighed as he let the clone lead him away.

“This should be interesting,” Trevor laughed once Alex was gone.

“Can we come, papa?” Jacob asked eagerly.

“You most certainly cannot. I’ve still not gotten over the fact that I let you watch me and Philip all those years you were a wolf.”

“I found it most educational,” Jacob replied.

“He’s very good in bed, Lord Jason,” Dirk agreed.

“Stop embarrassing my fiancé,” Trevor laughed as he chided both young men. “You two can go off and have your own fun. This is an important matter Jason and I need to see to, and it will go a lot better without an audience critiquing our performance.”

“Yes father,” Dirk replied obediently. Taking Jacob’s hand in his the two young men hurried off.

“You know they’re going to try and sneak into the security room,” Jason warned.

“So, just as long as I don’t have to deal with their laughter in the background, I don’t mind. Those two have become quite a pair.”

“They do seem to be fond of each other,” Jason agreed as the two of them began to walk out of the dinning room.

“Maybe they should get married, too.”

“When Jacob is a little older, maybe.”

“By Dalf standards he’s old enough.”

“Still, he just lost Oktor. I don’t want to see his heart broken again so soon.”

“My boy would never break Jacob’s heart.”

“That’s not what I meant. I’m just worried. It’s a dangerous game we’re all playing.”

“So it’s death you’re afraid of. Dirk knows how to defend himself and he’ll do a good job doing the same for your son.”

“I hope so. I would like to believe we’ll all survive this insurrection we’re planning.”

“And here we are,” Trevor said when they reached the bedroom. “Are you sure you want me around for this?”

“I want both you and Logan here. I have to get Alex to see that, while he can’t have me to himself ,it doesn’t mean I’m the only person he should want.”

“This is sure to turn into a wrestling match. I wish I hadn’t eaten so much.”

“You let me handle Alex. He can be quite good in bed as long as he knows he doesn’t have to worry about his reputation. He only acts like a sadist because that’s what people expect of him.”

“If you say so,” Trevor replied, not sure if he was ready to believe Jason.

On entering the bedroom they found Logan busy drying Alex off. Noticing Jason’s entrance, Alex turned his big blue eyes on the pair and smiled. “So, just like old times, your bed is going to be a little crowded.”

“At least it’s a big bed,” Jason pointed out as Trevor took off his coat for him.

“If you haven’t noticed, I’ve gotten big as well,” Alex chuckled, a hint of embarrassment in his voice. “May I undress you?”

“You can undress Trevor,” Jason said to both men’s shock.

While Jason undressed himself, Alex walked over to Trevor, towering over the man. With a few yanks and tears Alex ripped the clothing off of the lord, leaving him only with his shoes on. “Would you like me to take care of those as well?” Alex asked as he looked down at Trevor’s feet.

“I think I can take care of that,” Trevor replied nervously, as he popped off his shoes and removed his socks.

Jason called out to his bodyguard once he was naked. “Come here, Logan.” Removing the man’s clothes while the others watched, he noticed Trevor giving Alex an accusing glare as Jason calmly undressed Logan.

“Jason has his way, and I have mine,” Alex grunted.

“Shall we?” Jason asked as he led Logan to the bed. He tried not to chuckle when he saw Trevor and Alex push each other out of the way like a pair of eager children.

Without too much of a fight, Alex and Trevor lay down on either side of Jason, while Logan sat on his knees at his feet. Touching Alex’s face, Jason saw the blue skinned man form a soft moan with his lips.

With a hint of fear in his eyes, Alex returned the gesture ever so gently, as if he were brushing his fingers against a soap bubble he was afraid would pop. Taking Alex’s wrists, Jason guided Alex’s hand down his neck, over his chest and stomach and on to his groin where his manhood was already hard. Wrapping his fingers around the hard flesh, Alex let out a deep sigh as Jason gave him an encouraging nod.

“May I give you my anima?” Alex whispered, as he wrapped one long leg around Jason’s body.

“If that is what you want, Alex.”

“I almost gave it to you that very first time we were in bed together. To be honest, it scared me.”

“Those were better times, weren’t they?” Jason said as Trevor moved in closer from behind and began massaging Jason’s back.

“The best of times. I actually had hope back then.”

“There is still hope for you, Alex,” Jason whispered as their foreheads touched.

“You know what I want,” Alex said, a hint of nervousness in his voice.

“I know, don’t worry about it. They won’t ruin your reputation.”

“It’s just I’m a little too big.” Alex blushed.

“Yet you seem to find those willing to take it.”

“None of them are you,” Alex said as he rolled around so his back was to Jason.

Waving Logan to lay in front of Alex, Jason slowly penetrated Alex with his sex, his blue friend’s breathing growing louder and more rapid as he began to pant.

“I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t seeing it for myself,” Trevor whispered into Jason’s ear.

“This is Alex as I’ve always known him; gentle, passive, and not able to even consider hurting someone he loves,” Jason replied.

Looking over Alex’s broad shoulders, he could see Logan licking the underside of Alex’s massive manhood. “He could really hurt someone with that.”

“And he knows it,” Jason said as he stroked the side of Alex’s body. Slowly sliding partway out he plunged deep into Alex, triggering a deep grunt.

“May I?” Trevor asked politely as he rubbed Jason’s rear with both hands.

“If you have to ask…” Jason laughed.

“I just don’t want to intrude.”

“Taking care of Alex has always required a group effort.” Jason replied a little too loudly.

“I heard that,” Alex snapped.

“I only meant it in the best way possible. All you’ve ever wanted was to be loved and respected.”

“I just wanted to be the best. Harder…” he pleaded.

“Was getting poked, myself,” Jason replied his own heart racing. Soon all three of them were moving in time with one another, the loudest moaner of them all being Alex who reached his climax first, his copious blue seed exploding into Logan’s mouth. He then quickly rolled around to face Jason and kissed him deeply, while his muscular thighs wrapped around Jason’s sex, forming a vise around it. After several hard tugs, Jason shuddered as his hot seed was planted between Alex’s legs.

“Logan, you know what to do,” Jason said as he tried to catch his breath.

“Of course, sir,” Logan grinned as he walked to the other side of the bed and lay down behind Trevor, wrapping his thick arms around the man’s chest.

“What is this?” Trevor asked stopping mid thrust.

“Can you take as well as you give, sir?” Logan whispered into the Dalf’s ear as he stroked his cock to full size before pushing it inside the man’s ass.

“Damn,” Trevor cursed, caught unprepared and unable to pull away from Logan’s firm embrace.

“Now, now, sir, you didn’t think I’ve not noticed what a nice ass you’ve got.” Logan chuckled as he pounded away, while Trevor remained frozen in place.

Turning around to face Trevor, Jason kept their heads close together as he whispered soft encouragements to his fiancé. Trevor never grinned during his pounding, but he did reach back to squeeze Logan’s thighs as they pressed against his legs.

“You should have let me take care of that,” Alex joked, while he watched.

“Never,” Jason replied. “But I will expect you to let him have you, eventually.”

“Letting you have me is one thing; your future husband is an entirely different matter.”

“You are his bodyguard now, Alex. If you expect to watch over his bed, you’re going to have to give in. Maybe I should just let him bite you and get it all over with.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Alex said in shock.

“Try me,” Jason dared. “I know you too well. You and Gideon never got along until you agreed to let him have you.”

“This is different. You just can’t give me away like this.”

“You seemed to not have that problem. Didn’t Jacob say there was a line leading to whatever brothel you were hiding in? Admit it, Alex, you never get along with anyone you haven’t had sex with.”

“I got along with you, didn’t I?”

“And didn’t you try to sleep with me the first chance you got? Since you’ve never been good at making good decisions, I’m just going to have to take over your life for a while until you learn better.”

“But Jason,” Alex pouted.

“My mind is made up. Once Logan is done with Trevor, you’re going to let Trevor finish up with you,” Jason said, cutting off further debate.

When Trevor did have Alex, the two of them were so loud that Jason and Logan left for the balcony to get away from the noise.

“Are you sure you can’t see into the future. Things went pretty much as you planned,” Logan chuckled as he held Jason in his arms while. they gazed out over the city.

“I knew how much Trevor enjoyed pounding you, so I knew he would like Alex.”

“And Alex?”

“And Alex is the way he’s always been, hard as ice on the dueling floor but a truly enthusiastic and warm lover. He and Trevor are like a pair of wild lusting animals.”

“Still, it was a gamble. One of them could have balked.”

“Yes, but Trevor and I have been talking about this for some time. His position as Rex doesn’t allow him to surrender to another Dalf, but since you’re not a Dalf, that didn’t stop you from getting him.”

“Did I ever have you?”

“Yes, the old Logan liked having it both ways.”

“Then why haven’t you ever asked me to?”

“I guess I’m not used to having to ask,” Jason said as he leaned against Logan’s warm body.

“Did Logan love you as much as I’m starting to?” Logan asked after planting several wet kisses on Jason’s neck.

“He loved me very much. Many have. Sometimes I think too many.”

“So, you see things the way Alex does?”

“No, I could never stop loving the men I love just to settle with one. I guess I just feel a little lost without Philip and James.”

“They will find you. I know I would never give up looking for you, if I had lost you. In fact, I did lose you and look what happened,” Logan laughed.

“I’m sure you’re not what the Grau intended.”

“Does that worry you? You’re afraid I might be one of their spies.”

“No, if you were, you would have already told the Dominus what Trevor and I are planning. I think the Grau had originally intended to use you to help bring me to Mordel. If Varrus hadn’t been captured by Lord Gladius, you would have been part of the bait.”

“And would you have fallen for it?”

“Most likely, I would have. You must understand, I knew there was no way to avoid my fate. All I could hope to do, was make the best bargain I could with the Grau. If that meant saving you, I would have considered it worth it compared to what would have happened if I resisted them for too long.”

“Good, at least I think that means you trust me.”

“Of course I do. The old Logan gave his life to save my life and the lives of countless others. This will be my only chance to repay the debt.”

“So what will you tell Philip when he finds you remarried?”

“I will tell him what I’ve always told him, that I love him.”

“And Trevor?”

“I care about him. He has this look about him that I find hard to resist. I can only hope, when the time comes, that he will choose to come with me to Ares.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Then we will have to say goodbye. I can only hope the decision will be easier for Jacob.”

“You mean if Dirk chooses to stay here with his father?”

“Yes.” Jason nodded sadly.

“So you might lose both a lover and a son. Can’t say I envy you but, if you believe you must go back to Ares to be with the men you love, what other choice do you have but to follow your heart. For me, the choice is very easy. My place is to remain at your side wherever you are.”

“Geoff feels the same way,” Jason whispered. As Jason’s chest began to shake from his silent sobs, Logan held him that much tighter, wondering if there was anything anyone could do to help this poor man.

 

Chapter Thirty-Four

“Philip, it’s just not practical,” James said while the Demon paced the bridge of the Argos.

“I could push, you know,” Philip said, his eyes glowing white while lightning danced across his obsidian body.

“You can’t push the Argos, and we don’t have enough power to use the gravity drives to push us across that much land. We have no choice but to go around the continent to reach the area where you think Jason is at.”

“Didn’t you feel the same?”

“Yes, and I agree he’s somewhere to the south. But, Philip, we’re near the northern most point of Mordelium. Everything is to the south of us.”

“Which is why we should go by land.”

“And abandon the Argos? The Togo would never survive the crossing. I’m not sure that we would. All I’m asking for is a little more patience. At least we know Jason is still alive.”

Grabbing James by his coat, Philip lifted the Angel off his feet. “I’ve never doubted for one moment that he was still alive.”

“Neither did I,” James insisted. “But there is a difference between believing and knowing. Put me down so we can talk reason.”

“We’re picking up something on the sensors,” one of the Togo interrupted.

“What?” both men shouted as Philip dropped James.

“Aerial contact… unmanned drone, Togo design. I think it’s a messenger carrier. Shall I transmit the landing codes?”

“Yes,” James said as he straightened his coat. “Is it from Atlantis?”

“The identification code it’s transmitting indicates it’s from the Barrier Fleet.”

“Geoff. So he knew where to find us,” Philip chuckled.

“I wouldn’t know that, sir,” the officer replied.

“It’s the only explanation that makes sense,” Philip said as he slapped James hard on the back, causing the Admiral to bend over.

“How soon until the drone lands?” James asked.

“ETA, twenty minutes, but we should be able to download its data within five.”

It was a long five minutes. When the data were downloaded and decoded, it was a video feed from a high altitude spy drone, showing the white trails of a large fleet of ships traveling eastward away from land.

“Is that the Barrier Fleet?” James asked worriedly.

“No, sir. The data show those are Mordelian warships, moving at top speed toward the Barrier Ocean.

“The invasion fleet,” James sighed as he sank into his command chair. “How old are these images.”

“About three weeks old, sir. If the Mordelians have another way of crossing the Great barrier, the ships will only be a few days from the outer islands of Ares by now.”

“Why did it take so long for this message to reach us?” Philip demanded.

“It is a message drone, sir, not a Zephyr. It’s built to travel long distances without being detected, not for speed.”

“Can you figure out where the fleet originated?” James asked as he sat up in his chair.

“Checking the data right now, sir,” the officer replied.

“Well?” Philip asked after a short silence.

“The drone data included a likely location, sir, but there’s just nothing there, at least not on our charts.”

“It wouldn’t be a hidden city, if it were on your charts,” Philip muttered.

“What is there?” James asked, showing calm.

“A solid wall of cliffs in shallow water, a fairly dangerous area to be launching ships from.”

“A very unlikely area, which means it would be a good place to do it if you could find some way of avoiding any rocks. Given how stormy the seas are here, they would need incredibly good charts not to mention an excellent pilot.”

“Tug boats, sir,” the navigation officer said.

“What, lieutenant?” James asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Small boats with very powerful engines. They could guide the ships through the dangerous waters if one were willing to take the time and make the effort.”

“Considering how long the Dominus have had to plan for the invasion of Ares, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t go to such lengths. The ships would still need a port to sail from, however. Could they have built a cave large enough to hide an entire fleet?”

“Their entire civilization is underground,” Philip grumbled, his eyes focusing on the aerial view of the cliff side. Will Geoff be intercepting the invasion fleet?”

“No, there were over a hundred warships in the images. Geoff’s small fleet wouldn’t stand a chance. What does Geoff plan on doing, however? He can’t be seriously thinking of attacking the base head on.” James said as he scratched his chin. “What would you do, lieutenant, if you wanted to sneak into a heavily fortified base?” he asked the sensor’s officer.

“With all the solar winds and radiation interfering with sensors, I could get fairly close to the base aboard a Zephyr without getting caught. A ground team could land nearby and try to find some sort of vent. There has to be one. An underground city would produce a lot of gas and heat, which the Dominus would have to have some way of getting rid of. If they could find a vent, and if it was large enough, they could send a team down the shaft and into the city. That is, if they could find some way to bypass the security systems that will most likely be in place.”

“Then that’s probably what Geoff is doing,” James said with a satisfied smile on his face.

“Then why didn’t he say so in the message?” Philip demanded.

“I forget. You Centurions never believed in using spies.” James sighed. “Think about it, Philip. The drone isn’t a Centurion messenger who would die before talking to the enemy. If the drone had been captured, the Mordelians would have found the images on it. Do you think it would have been wise for Geoff to include his plan for attacking the city as well?”

“I guess not,” Philip grumbled. All this sneaking about wasn’t natural to him. As a Centurion, he had been trained to fight the enemy head on, knowing his superior skill and training could out match that of any enemy. The Argos itself had been designed, not so much as a warship, but one of stealth, able to sneak past enemy lines. “How long will it take us to reach this part of Mordelium?”

“Two and a half weeks at full speed,” the navigator replied. “Only, I do not suggest we move so fast. There’s bound to be sonar buoys and automated defenses the closer we get to the shores of Jadoor.”

“The shores of Jadoor?” James demanded.

“That part of Mordelium was known as the Jadoorian sector. During the Great Wars, the Jadoorians built a great wall on the boarders of their territory, hoping to keep the fighting at bay. Eventually however, the Dominus broke through and enslaved all the survivors. The Jadoorians believed, like we Togo, in remaining a pure race without altering our genetics. When the wars ended, they were probably the last pure race of man left on this side of the world. Our Elders guess that’s why the Mother used them for her genetic experiments when she created the Centurions. They were the closest thing the Dominus had to a clean slate to work with.”

“To think, you’re actually a Jadoorian,” James told Philip smugly.

“You’re more related to a slave, than I am to a Jadoorian,” Philip retorted. “How long has your family had its freedom?”

“For quite some time, actually, given my family’s military tradition. As far as I know, my family has been free since the founding of the kingdom.”

“Slave.”

“Jadoorian.”

“You’re a Jadoorian too,” Philip pointed out.

“I know, but you Centurions have always been so smug about your racial superiority. I just find it amusing to now know your people and mine started from the same stock.”

“Laugh all you want. It doesn’t change the fact that we are superior to you,” Philip grumbled.

“Shall I change course for Old Jadoor, Admiral?” the navigator asked after the bickering died down.

“Yes. I’ll leave the speed to you and the sensor officer’s discretion,” James ordered.

“We’d just better not arrive too late. I won’t have Geoff take all the credit for saving Jason,” Philip warned the officers.”

 

Chapter Thirty-Five

Julian looked over the Islian Plateau to the sea of sand beyond. Behind him were the remaining people of the East, who had followed him on nothing more than faith that he could lead them to safety from the spreading deadly mists. By now, Qul Tos and half of Huron should be covered by Gideon’s curse, condemning those who chosen to remain in the fortressed capital to a life among the undead.

Still, Julian had over a million followers behind him, trailing all the way back to Tal Sith. He didn’t know how he was going to keep such a great variety of people together, or how they were all supposed to survive in the Desert of Flames. The Togo had promised them a place of refuge, somewhere in that heat and sand, but they had yet to show themselves to the High Priest. He knew he should press on, that the mist would stop for no one, but he chose to wait. The Isilians themselves were not going anywhere. They believed they had a sacred duty to protect the west from Lahore. Not even a deadly mist could get them to abandon their posts. They did offer, however, to re-supply Julian’s followers and give what help they could. Isil had never been a rich land but, ever since its founding, it had kept vast stores of food in case their mountain homes ended up besieged by an enemy. With the Horde either retreating back across the desert, or holding up in the ruins of Jadoor, the Isilians were willing to part with some of their supplies. Julian knew, however, that this goodwill would not last forever. Eventually, the Islians would insist Julian move on or let the people return to their homes. But, at least for now, he and his followers could rest, even if just for a short while before taking on the daunting task of crossing the great desert.

Julian only hoped a sign would come to him before time ran out.

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

Calis sat in his tent watching Harper sleep. He found it strange that a foreigner had come to claim such an important place in his heart. He knew Harper had been the last of his father’s lovers, but he didn’t believe his father had loved the man in the same was as the Emperor loved the Jadoorian. It had been easy to like the man during his brief childhood. As his father’s last consort, Harper had been given the role of just one of Calis’ many guardians. Harper, however, had quickly become his favorite.

Harper had never tried to control him, or tell him what to do. If he saw Calis do something wrong he was always gentle with his corrections, unlike Warren and the other clerics of Kaal. Calis had learned very early in life that it was the priests who ran the Empire, and who could have him killed if he didn’t obey. Most of those priests were now dead, or had gone on with Warren to Jadoor. This suited Calis just fine. When he reached home with his small army of fanatically loyal men, he would purge the temples of any remaining clerics and replace them with men who would worship the Emperor, like the god Jason. After reading the reports on how few men remained to follow Warren, Calis didn’t doubt that the God, Emperor Jason, would make quick work of the former High Inquisitor, if the clerics of Kaal didn’t kill him first.

No. Since leaving the field of battle, Calis had felt a heavy weight lifted off his shoulders. He was finally free… free to do whatever he wanted. Why then, was all he seemed to want to do was make love to his gentle guardian. Yes, he was handsome, with foreign blue eyes, but so had many of the other Jadoorian who had fled to Lahore with Warren. Calis hated to admit the weakness, but he knew why he loved Harper so dearly. Out of all the men who had taken part in raising him, Harper was the only one Calis had never feared.

Feeling the wind pick up, Calis closed the flap of his tent and lay down beside his lover.

Being a light sleeper, Harper awoke to Calis’ touch. “What is it?”

“A sand storm, most likely. Nothing for you to worry about,” Calis said reassuringly, as he caressed his lover’s deeply tanned body.

“Are you sure it’s a sand storm? What if it’s another one of those flying machines the Kaals use?”

“We’ve not seen their like for many weeks, so why would they come now?”

“We did abandon the battle. Don’t you think that would anger your god?”

“They abandoned us first,” Calis replied as he opened his robe and rolled on top of Harper, more interested in love making than debating about the gods.

When the shouting began, Calis assumed it was his men complaining about the coming storm. However, when a dead guard fell into the tent, both he and Harper jumped though it did them little good. Entering the tent with blast spears in their hands were dark skinned Qopo. At least Calis guessed they were Qopo nomads. How they came upon the weapons of the gods was a different and worrisome matter.

“Emperor Calis,” the lead intruder said in a cold voice. “Consider yourself a prisoner of war.”

“Why are you attacking me? My people are not at war with the Qopo.”

“We are not the Qopo, your majesty, and you no longer have an Empire to return to,” the dark skinned man said with a wicked grin. “We are the Togo, the ones your ancestors believed they destroyed thousands of years ago. We survived, as you can now see, and our war with your people has never ended.”

Though naked, Harper stood protectively in front of Calis. “What have you done? What do you mean there’s no Empire?”

“What was done to us, we’ve now done to you. The Empire of Lahore is now nothing more than a blackened wasteland,” the Togo said, his men laughing.

“I don’t believe you. If you had such power, why wait until now to unleash it?” Calis replied.

“Because the land we have fought so long to protect no longer matters, so why can’t we destroy it before our true enemy arrives? Don’t worry, your majesty, we won’t kill you, at least not until we’re done with you. You have the crimes of your people on your hands, and we intend for you to face judgment for them.”

“He’s just a child,” Harper said defensively, much to Calis’ annoyance. “He might look full grown, but he’s only thirteen.”

“Yet you lay with him like a Centurion man,” the leader pointed out. “We’ll not be cheated out of our justice on such a small matter. Now, stand aside Jadoorian slave. Consider yourself freed.”

“My place is with Calis,” Harper stammered.

“Harper,” Calis sighed, knowing his lover was condemning himself.

“So be it,” the Togo replied as the men moved forward to put both in restraints for their journey to the secret city of Atlantis.

 

Chapter Thirty-Six

Sitting in the modified control core of a Dominus battle sphere, Enyo looked out at the shores of Mathannon, prepared to launch the invasion of Ares. Already, her Grau scouts had reported the presence of Daughters among the islands few inhabitants. They would prove most useful when it came time to fight the Centurions. Right now, all Enyo wanted to do was destroy something… something big. Only rarely had she been allowed to wreck havoc on the people of Mordel, during the few times they had dared to openly revolt. It had been over five hundred years since the last rebellion.

With her four new human hands, Enyo felt greatly limited in her control of the massive war machine. The last time, she had ten powerful tentacles with which to unleash the destructive power of the sphere, Seeing the harbor and towering city of Mathannon’s capital in the distance, Enyo began moving the machine in that direction. After all, now that the Mathannon priestesses were Daughters, they had no need for a city or much else for that matter.

As the war leader smashed building after building with the sphere’s powerful weapons, Enyo tried to imagine what it would be like to fight in a city filled with screaming people. By the time the city was nothing more than concrete rubble, the Grau commander, Nelson, was ready to report that all the Daughters had been collected. They were ready to move on to the next phase of the invasion, the conquest of Jadoor where the treacherous Mother had set up her own rebellious kingdom so long ago.

“Send the Daughters in first, no reason we should risk our own soldiers so early in the fight,” Enyo commanded.

“It shall be done, mistress,” Nelson said with a salute, fist over his heart.

Today had only been the first day of the invasion, and everything was still going according to plan. Once the islands were hers, she could wait while Gideon’s mists took care of most resistance on the mainland, She hoped that the high Jasper Mountains would leave Domus safe. Enyo wanted to exterminate the Centurions personally, since they were the greatest creation of the Mother.

 

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Geoff sat in the back of the armored personnel carrier, APC, as the Togo technicians performed another atmospheric reading. When the spy drones were unable to find anything resembling am exhaust vent, Geoff had ordered a ground search through the ruins of the Jadoorian Sector.

With the Togo’s insisting that their best chance of finding the vent was locating the trail of gases such a vent should be releasing, Geoff was forced to spend most of his time in the APC while data was collected. “Well?” Geoff asked after the twentieth reading that day.

“We never promised this would be easy, sir. With such fierce winds in this part of the world, any gas being released would be quickly carried away. We’re doing our best to locate a heat pattern, but we’re almost sure the Dominus would have taken steps to prevent such detections, especially given how cold it is outside.”

“So you’re saying we’re just wasting our time out here?” Geoff demanded.

“No, sir. With twelve different teams searching for the vent, we have already covered a great deal of territory. As we narrow our search we should eventually find the vent.”

“If there even is one.”

“There has to be, sir. No city the size of Mordel can exist in a closed system. They have to have some way of getting rid of all their waste gas and heat, or else the city would die.”

“I don’t like feeling useless,” Geoff fumed.

“You’re not being useless, sir,” Argil said from the seat opposite the captain. “Without your implants we wouldn’t have been able to penetrate the Mordelian security perimeter. That alone, should prove they’re trying to protect something here.”

“You know I want to get these implants out of my head. How can I face Jason like this?”

“I think his majesty will be too happy to see you to really care about them. The Togos never developed something so advanced. It goes against their religion, I believe.”

“I still don’t like the idea that I have a machine inside my head.”

“You’re not the only one,” Argil said, tapping his own skull.

“Just wait a second,” Geoff frowned. “We’re getting near another mine field.”

“Can you deactivate it?” the Togo tech asked as the APC came to a halt.

“Just give me a moment,” Geoff said as streams of data flew past his line of sight. “I’ve reset the mines to go through diagnostics. You have about an hour to clear the field. Not that I actually understand a word I’m saying.”

“The computer in your mind does, and we do, so that’s all that matters,” the Togo said as the APC moved ahead again.

“I’m glad you find no reason to explain it to me,” Geoff grumbled as he leaned back in his chair.

“What’s that haze on the ground?” Argil asked as he looked out a viewport.

“What haze?” the technician asked as he looked out as well. “I don’t know. It’s too low for our instruments to read. All the sensor equipment is on the roof.”

“Should we go out and check?” Geoff asked, eager for a chance to stretch his legs.

“We’re in the middle of a minefield, sir,” the tech replied as if speaking to a child.

“And I took care of it or we would have already blown up by now.”

“You’re in charge, sir. If you wish for us to check out this haze, all you have to do is say so.”

“I’m telling you, so stop this damn contraption,” Geoff ordered as he headed for the airlock. “We’ll, aren’t you coming?” he barked at the tech.

“If you insist,” the Togo sighed, as he picked up a sensor reader and put on a pressure suit, making sure to take his time in hopes that Geoff would just drop the idea.

“Well?” Geoff asked after the tech had taken an air sample.

“It’s not what I expected it to be,” the Togo said with a shrug.

“What does that mean?’

“I mean that, whatever this haze is, it’s made up of fluorocarbons, very unusual ones.”

“I don’t even know what a fluorocarbon is.”

“It used to be used as a coolant, long ago before we learned the chemical would eat away at the planet’s protective atmosphere. That is what’s so unusual about these molecules; they’re a lot heavier than the air around it. I think we might have found our heat source.”

“But this haze stretches out for miles, why didn’t our spy drones pick it up?”

“First of all, we weren’t looking for fluorocarbons. Second, I told you this stuff was used as a coolant. It’s able to absorb large amounts of heat energy without heating up itself. That’s why our heat sensors couldn’t pick it up.”

“So what does this mean?”

“It means the vent must be somewhere in this mine field.” the tech replied.

“Good, that’s very good news.”

“Not so good, sir. These vapors are quite toxic. The closer we get to the vent the more deadly the atmosphere is going to be, even for one such as yourself.”

“So, I’ll just wear a pressure suit.”

“Some of these gases might be corrosive, and could eat through the suit.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?” Geoff asked, his voice strained.

“I suggest we go back to the fleet, so that our engineers can build some sort of capsule for you and your team to travel in.”

“But we haven’t even found the vent yet.”

“But I think I have,” the tech replied, pointing to the far distance where the ruins of a massive domed structure stood.

“You think it’s there?”

“It’s the only standing ruin in this area large enough to hide something as big as the vent we’re looking for. Here, let me reprogram your eyes so you can see if there’s a gas plume.”

“Wait a moment. Reprogram my eyes?” Geoff balked and grabbed the tech’s wrist before he could plug the computer jack into his brain. “You know how much I hate it when you put that thing in me. I have no idea what you might try to brainwash me with.”

“You do want to find the Emperor, correct?”

“Yes,” Geoff grumbled as he let go of the man’s wrist.

“Good, so do we all,” the Togo said as he inserted the jack into Geoff’s skull. “Downloading the program now. Tell me what you see.”

“Everything’s getting all rainbow like.”

“That’s the spectrometer kicking in. Now look at the dome. Do you see a gas plume?”

“I see a multi colored disk, sort of like a circular cloud, spinning in a reverse vortex. It’s not very large, the wind is quickly blowing it away.

“Just as we guessed it would,” the Togo said as he took the computer jack out, returning Geoff’s sight back to normal. “We should probably get out of here before the mine field reactivates.”

“We most certainly don’t want to be around for that,” Geoff chuckled. Now that he knew where the vent was, he was sure it would only be a matter of time until Jason was back in his arms.

 

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Popping out on the other side of the underwater tunnel, Sin gasped for air only to find the cave was filled with green mist. If only Lukas had allowed him down to the mist by the Gate, he could have saved days on his journey. Now that he was finally in the mist, Sin didn’t know quite what to expect, having hoped to find Gideon waiting for him.

Making his way out of the cave, Sin found himself in the narrow mountain pass, just as Jason remembered it. Where old man Rondus’ cabin once stood, were patches of green grass that wild goats were slowly chewing on, unaffected by the mist.

Sin, too, seemed completely unchanged by Gideon’s curse’ though he could feel the power of Jason’s anima coursing through his veins with renewed strength. For now, at least, Jason’s blessing was stronger than the curse, just as Sin had suspected. It took him five days to make his way out of the mountains and onto the rolling fields of Qul Tos. There, he found the cursed dead plowing fields and building houses, going about their old lives at a slow but steady pace. With the hordes of undead besieging the Gate, these pastoral scenes seemed greatly out of place. But then, again, this was the kingdom of Jason’s birth and the land where Gideon and he shared their greatest happiness. If Gideon’s spirit had any power, it would be here.

Knowing this, Sin focused on the maps he had memorized. Finding the main road, he traveled north towards the kingdom’s capital where he hoped to find Gideon high above the city, in the very bedroom where his curse began.

 

Chapter Thirty-Nine

“Do you Jason Argot, son of General Agamemnon and Queen Eleanor, accept Trevor Rex as your mate and king?” the winged Hawkman asked on the steps of the High Court, the center of law and justice for most of the citizens of Mordel.

“I do,” Jason nodded, his voice magnified by the microphone he was wearing so the large crowd that had gathered around the courthouse could hear his words.

“Then accept the mark of the Dalf King,” Phifer, lord of the Hawkmen, said as he stepped back.

Grinning at Jason’s half naked body with his sharp teeth, Trevor pulled Jason close to him as sharp claws extended from his nails. “With tooth and nail I claim you as my mate and subject.” Raking his clawed hand over Jason’s right bicep he drew blood, tinged with green animus. He then opened his mouth wide as he bit Jason over his collarbone, letting his sharp teeth dig in deep.

“So are you marked2 so are you bound,” Phifer said as he offered Jason a gold goblet filled with white anima to heal his wounds. After taking a deep swallow3 the bleeding wounds on his body quickly began to heal while leaving clear scars, stained green by Trevor’s animus.

“We will need to talk later, Trevor Rex,” Phifer told to Dalf King in a low whisper before raising his voice for Jason. “As for you, young man, I would be greatly honored if you would let me teach you how to fly again.”

“I would like that a great deal,” Jason nodded as he rubbed the mark on his arm.

“Not hurting is it?” Trevor asked as the two of them turned to wave at the gathered crowd.

“No, just trying to get used to it,” Jason said as he smiled at the thousands of Mordelians shouting for joy below the courthouse.

“This is only the beginning, dear Jason. Soon we will be meeting with the other Rexes2 to discuss our next step.

“Congratulations, Lord Rex, and to you too, dear Jason,” Thomas said with Scott and Brutus on either side of him.

“So, the Dominus sent you to spy on us?” Trevor laughed.

“Of course. They’re not fools, after all. They know the danger this alliance places them in. I would tread carefully until the Dominus get over their momentary collective fit.”

“They have nothing to fear from us. Their war in Ares is going according to plan from all the news reports.”

“Like the official news reports would say anything different,” Thomas winked. “The curse of Gideon continues to spread throughout Ares but, so far, it has not been able to cross into the Domus Empire where the Dominus expect to face their greatest resistance.”

“I understand War Leader Enyo is in command of the invasion.”

“Who else would they send,” Thomas said with a shudder. You can expect levies to be called for soon, once the invasion of the mainland begins.

“How do they plan to get rid of Gideon’s curse?” Jason asked.

“By using your anima core, I’m afraid. They’re equipping the Zephyrs with sprayers that will spread very diluted amounts of your anima all over Ares, destroying the mist.”

“That still must take quite a bit of anima.”

“The Dominus have ordered the Animani to milk every drop Jason’s core produces,” Scott explained.

“We will get it back Jason, I promise,” Trevor swore.

“And go through another horrendous operation? I don’t think I ready for that, yet.”

“You might not be ready for it, but that day will eventually come,” Thomas replied. “For now, just try to enjoy this moment. The Dominus won’t dare try to kill you on the day of your wedding.”

“Not this wedding, at least,” Jason sighed as he followed the rest of the wedding party to the waiting armored cars. Taken back to Tower One, there was a grand reception held in the main lobby where the leaders of the other clans came to pay their respects.

Approached by a man with sliver scales for hair, Jason bowed to the King of the Lizardmen, the clan that ruled the industrial levels of the great city. “Greetings Jason, mate of Trevor Rex. You have my people’s respect for having escaped the trap the Dominus set for you. Mind entertaining an old king, and tell me how you managed such a feat?”

“If such secrets were well known, what chance would any slave have at escaping?” Jason countered. Most of the human slaves in the city were under the control of the Lizardmen, and work in horrible conditions in the underground factories of the city. Most likely, the slaver feared his own slaves would see Jason’s escape as a sign of hope that could one day lead to a revolt.

“As you wish, Lord, but you should know that the Dominus are reopening Omega Level. A new breed of Nosferatu has been cloned from the bodies of the dead, and will soon continue mining operations in that cursed place.”

“I am surprised the Dominus didn’t hand over responsibility to your people, Lord Slaav.”

“We do not care for the cold or the darkness of the mines. We have a very keen sense of smell, and cannot abide the stench of Dead Eaters.”

“You must make sure your slaves bathe regularly, then,” Jason replied dryly.

“The food we give them leaves them with a pleasant scent, but not as pleasant as yours, Trevor’s mate.”

“Ah Slaav, keeping my husband company? How would you like some ice juice?” Trevor said when he came to Jason’s rescue.

“No thank you, Lord Trevor,” the lizard king said with a shudder. “We do not like cold things.”

“Of course, you keep the industrial levels unbearably hot, don’t you? I understand the Dominus have increased your daily quota in order to support the war effort. Things must be very hot on your levels if you’ve been forced to increase production. Now, if you will excuse me, Lord Slaav, there is someone quite important I want to introduce my mate to,” Trevor said as he hooked arms with Jason, leading him away.

“Thank you. I can’t stand slavers.”

“And I’m sure we can’t count on the Lizardmen to support our planned rebellion anyway, so insulting him is no loss for us.” Trevor chuckled as he walked toward a towering metallic figure. “Jason, I would like you to meet the Avatar, he is the ambassador from CEMS.”

“Cems?” Jason asked, having not heard the term. Looking up at the android, Jason could see the robot’s red eyes focusing on him.

“The Central Environment Management System, CEMS for short. We control the water, air filtration, waste management, and power systems for all of Mordel.”

“That sounds like a big task.”

“CEMS was here before the Dominus took over the city,” Trevor whispered.

“So the Dominus didn’t build Mordel?”

“No, our old masters, the Jadoorians built the city as a bomb shelter during the Great Wars. When the Dominus invaded and took control of the city, we had no choice but to keep the city alive.”

“CEMS is a self aware computer. So is Avatar, here. If they didn’t agree to serve the Dominus, than all the Jadoorian slaves would have died. CEMS could never allow that; it’s built into her programming. Tell Jason what you told me,” Trevor pressed.

“It seems there is some unusual activity on the surface of Modelium. Someone seems to have hacked into CEMS security protocols. It’s nothing serious that would attract the Graus’ notice, but it has led CEMS and I to decide that an opportunity to rid ourselves of our false masters, once and for all, is now before us.”

“It could be Philip,” Jason whispered.

“It just might be. Too bad he didn’t arrive sooner. He could have come to the wedding,” Trevor laughed.

“That’s a horrible thing to say. But if Philip is knocking on the city’s door, how will we get him past all the Grau security.”

“The main air vent and heat exchange systems on the surface lead down to the industrial levels of the city”

“Where the Lizardmen will be sure to catch them, unless we do something about it,” Trevor pointed out.

“We can handle the automated security systems. We just need your people in position to meet whoever is coming down the vent.”

“How will we get down to the industrial levels?” Jason asked.

“Police inspection,” Trevor replied. “Since we Dalf run security on the upper levels, I’m sure my agents can cook up some charge about black market goods being sold illegally from the Lizardmen’s levels. They do control the flow of all manufactured goods for the city. We probably won’t even have to lie about it, even with the Dominus pressing for higher quotas. The Lizardmen have expensive tastes.” Pointing to where Slaav was opening his unnaturally wide jaw to swallow a live, fat rat whole, Trevor shuddered. “At least we Dalf kill our prey before consuming it.”

“We are placing our trust in you, Lord Trevor. If the Dominus learn we are helping you, they will forget how complex our programming is and try to take full control of us,” the Avatar warned.

“You can trust us,” Jason swore.

“And you can trust CEMS. Though the Dominus are not aware of it, our time observing them has added to our complexity, to the point where we have learned how to lie. We are not lying to you, however, Jason, mate of Trevor. Will you swear you will not abandon us until we are all freed?”

“Free all of Mordel?” Jason whispered. The best he had hoped for, was escaping with Philip and anyone who wished to come to him, not to expel the Dominus who had ruled this city for thousands of years. He did not need to decipher the android’s emotionless face to know CEMS aid in getting his rescuers into the city was dependent on him promising to remain and fight the Dominus until one side succeeded in defeating the other. It was not much of a choice, really. Agree to remain to the bitter end, or have his friends cut down by Lizardmen guards. “I swear, I will stay.” Jason nodded as he offered the android his hand.

 

Chapter Forty

With the royal palace and the Temple of the Mother both in ruins, Warren set up his government in the Merchant guild-hall. Prime Minister Diana, and what few ministers who were left in the city, tried to save what remained of the ancient kingdom.

Time had not been kind to the Prime Minister. Not only did she have to watch in silence as her former lover slowly went mad from the poisonous whisperings of Lord Amplexor, but Aidan’s anima had done more than make her a Saint. It had stripped her of much of her womanhood, flattening her chest and leaving a heavy shadow on her once smooth face.

Still, Diana had remained loyal to King Aidan, doing her best to fund his petty wars when the kingdom didn’t have a copper coin to spare. Then Gladius appeared, on the day the bells of the Temple rang to mourn King Aidan’s death. Diana knew exactly how Aidan had died, and why. Quietly assembling an army of her own, and using Guild funds, she had planned to revolt against the Son’s of the Mother. But before she could, both men left with the armada for the island of Peths and were never heard from again. For a short while, that gave Diana hope that she could restore Jadoor to its former glory under the leadership of the Merchant Guild.

Those plans were put in disarray with a massive floating battleship exploded over the royal palace and rained destruction on the city of Meltor, followed by the landing of Imperial marines who quickly took control of the entire island. The Centurions, however, did not stay long for soon they had a bigger enemy to contend with, the Horde of Lahore.

Diana never did learn what happened in that great battle on the edge of the desert of Flames. She assumed the Centurions had actually lost, since it was the treacherous High Inquisitor and his Lahorian allies who now ruled Jadoor.

Still, Warren needed funds if he was to rule ruined Jadoor and the Merchant Guild was the only effective way of raising money to run the kingdom. So Diana remained as Prime Minister, while Warren declared himself the Priest King of Jadoor.

For the sake of the common people, Diana gave her full effort to the rebuilding of the kingdom. With the deaths of both Aidan and Amplexor, she knew she would never live to see such a colossal task finished. Already, her heart felt like a cold lump in her chest, and her once beautiful black wings had lost their luster. She was dying, like the few remaining Saints who had served King Aidan. When the Mother came to take Diana in her arms, it would be with some relief that her labors would finally be over.

She was just thinking how she could do with a long nap, when one of her militiamen came bursting into the guildhall, a look of panic on his face. “Koor has fallen,” he shouted, causing Warren to jump to his feet.

“What do you mean, Koor has fallen?” Warren demanded. “The Centurions have all retreated behind their mountains.”

“Monstrous women have risen from the sea and taken the city,” the messenger said as he handed Archbishop Galen his report.

Galen, another one of Aidan’s dying Saints, slowly took the scroll with a shaking hand. “The Daughters of the Mother have sacked Koor. Those calling themselves the Dominus demand our immediate surrender. What heresy is this?” Dropping the scroll, Galen clutched his chest as he went into a coughing fit.

“This is not heresy. This is prophecy,” Warren whispered. He had read the sacred text that only the High Priest was supposed to have knowledge of, so he knew the truth. He had wondered why the Jadoorian navy had Mathannon blockaded, but all he had been able to get from the captains and admirals was that the island was suffering some sort of women’s plague. He should have known the true reason, that the animus core of the Mother had finally cracked, letting the mad priestess of Mathannon consume the transforming ichors.

Warren also knew the Dominus. They were the Mother’s fellow goddesses, from whom she had fled with her Jadoorian slaves and her Centurion and Legatio creations. The ancient prophecies also spoke of their coming. Warren had never guessed that both bad omens would occur at the same time.

What made matters worse for Warren, was that he knew he couldn’t count on his remaining Lahorian warriors. The moment the priests of Kaal saw one of the Dominus’ redheaded servants they would bow down to their gods and kill any who dared resist them. The Prime Minister had her militia, but against the power of the forces now against them there was little they could do.

Knowing his own survival was at stake, Warren forced a wide smile on his face and shouted in the Lahorian tongue. “Praise be to the gods. Kaal and the Mother have returned.” In response, the clerics of Kaal unsheathed their daggers and raised them above their heads, shouting the same.

“What madness is this? Koor is the largest port in the kingdom. If it’s been destroyed, all trade in Jadoor will cease and the Merchant Guild’s treasury will quickly become emptied,” Diana shouted.

“Heretic,” Warren accused, more out of habit than anything. “All you Saints are heretics, betrayers of the Mother and the god Kaal.” Taking out his own dagger he pointed its tip at Diana and the archbishop. He then went back to speaking in Lahorian. “Seize the heretics and bind them. We shall surrender them to the Daughters of the Mother as proof of our faith.”

Not to Diana’s surprise, not one of her guards drew his sword to protect her, though several of the Priests of the Mother protested loudly when their most senior leader was seized.

“Put them in the back of a wagon and take them to Koor with the message we humbly surrender to the true gods of Ares,” Warren commanded, hoping that would appease the Dominus and allow him to remain as Priest King of Jadoor. It wouldn’t be the first time he changed his beliefs to suit a change in power.

 

Chapter Forty

The undead were almost shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets of Qul Tos when Sin finally entered the city. As he feared, many people had believed the mighty fortress city would prove a defense against the spreading green mist. They had been proven wrong, to their great regret. Still, none of the dead seemed to pay Sin any mind. Sin remained fearful, however. The dead went about their business in a slow, steady fashion with such empty expressions on their green faces that they looked more like a mockery of their former selves than anything normal.

On passing through the palace and into the Labyrinth, Sin spent three days lost in its mist filled tunnels. Eventually he reached an altitude higher than the mist could climb, and was able to see clearly once more. He moved faster through the remaining maze of chambers and passageways, always climbing higher up the shear mountainside.

Then, just as Sin feared he would, he reached the elevator shaft. Looking up at the opening to the final passage, thirty feet above him, he knew there was nothing he could do but wait. If the true spirit of Gideon were up there, he would eventually come to fetch him. Sitting down on the cave floor, Sin kept his eyes looking upward as if the elevator would come down at any moment.

 

Chapter Forty-One

Julian waited as long as he could for a sign but, after two weeks of draining the resources of the Isilians, he could wait no longer. He had to move on, even if he didn’t know where it was he was supposed to go.

Now, at the bottom of the Islian plateau with a sea of people behind him, he held the royal blue and silver banner of Qul Tos above his head and aimed it towards the desert that waited for them. “The time has come for our final test of faith. We must cross the hot and endless sands to the promised sanctuary that waits for us all . Do you all still believe that this is the path Jason has chosen for us?”

“Yes,” one brave man shouted before all the others agreed as well.

“Then take this final journey with me, dear friends, and do not lose faith. For though our god is not here, himself, his kindness and wisdom still lies in our hearts.” With that Julian began to march forward into the deep desert, the faithful following after him.

 

Chapter Forty-Two

Hearing the rattle of chains, Sin woke from his doze to find the elevator platform slowly being lowered down. Quickly standing, he stretched to unlock the kinks in his muscles. He didn’t know how long he had been sitting on the cave floor, cross-legged, but his entire body ached from lack of movement. By the time the elevator reached the bottom of the shaft, Sin was completely awake, his heart pounding. He knew what had to happen. He just didn’t know if he had the courage to do it.

Slowly stepping onto the elevator platform he steadied himself as the chains began to raise him up to the final tunnel. Reaching the top, he wasn’t surprised to find no one there. Gideon was where he had to be, the place where everything began. Moving through the tunnel, Sin felt his mind being flooded with the swift passage of his memory of his entire life. He was the creature fate had not foreseen, one of two great mistakes his father Philip had made. Now, both could finally be corrected, and the great danger they represented taken away.

Entering the stone Labyrinth Keep, he climbed up the steps to the south tower that looked down over the cliff’s edge at the city far below. On reaching the proper floor, Sin found the bedroom of Philip and Jason already open, a green light pouring out through the doorway.

Bathed in that light, the anima inside Sin reacted with equal force, until the veins of his body glowed with a purple light that pushed away the power of Gideon’s curse. There, lying on the black silk sheet of the bed, the spirit of Gideon slept, a deep frown on his face as he tossed and turned.

Drawing Jason’s gold dagger, which had once been held by Agamemnon himself, Sin approached the restless spirit and lay down on the bed next to him. With one arm, Sin embraced the cold body and pulled Gideon close to him.

Opening his fiery green eyes, emerald tears ran down Gideon’s face. “End it,” he whispered in a pained and pleading voice.

“For the both of us,” Sin swore as he stabbed the spirit where his anima core should have been. From the cut of the dagger, green mist poured out while the rest of Gideon began to fade and become insubstantial. Taking in one final breath Sin then turned the dagger on himself, cutting into his own core.

As he felt his life leaving him, Sin rolled onto his back while Gideon’s green mist swirled around him, streaming into the wound in his gut and into his anima core. Two great mistakes were canceling each other out; the unforeseen sacrifice by the all-knowing Dominus. Uncle Jason had almost lost his life so Sin could live. Now Sin was finally repaying the debt, giving life to one already dead.

As he and Gideon slowly became one, the grayness of Sin’s skin changed to a healthy brown and his thin, skeletal body began to fill out with muscle and flesh. On his back he felt a sharp pain, as a pair of white trimmed brown wings freed themselves from his body. With a blink, his eyes changed from blood red to a rich brown. Releasing his final breath as Sin, his next breath was taken as Gideon Helios, boyhood friend of Jason and son of the Demon, Philip. They were not two spirits sharing one body but now a single mind and soul.

“Well, this is going to take some getting used to,” Gideon said as he looked at his body. Leaving the bed, he looked down at the city where the green curse of his former life was already dissipating in the mountain wind.

Though the cursed mist was now gone, those who had been touched by it remained undead. No longer under Gideon’s control, they would soon turn into flesh eating monsters.

Knowing he couldn’t remain in Qul Tos, Gideon stretched his brown and white wings and jumped off the balcony, flying toward the southwest where he was sure the Centurions at the Gate were preparing to battle the monsters of Gideon.

Countless miles away, a man who had been dear to both Sin and Gideon began to sob. “It is done,” Jason whispered, in joy and grief for what had been lost and gained this day.

Copyright © 2011 JMH; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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