The Centurion Cycle - 9. The Centurion Book IX From Red Sun to Blue Star
Field Marshal Lukas looked over the wasteland beyond the Gate in amazement as the deadly green mists began to disappear. If only the countless undead had gone away with the same ease. For, as far as Lukas could see, the undead wandered the blacken land. “Give me a crossbow,” he ordered. Taking aim he sent a bolt right through one of the creature’s eyes, causing it to fall to the rocky ground, finally dead. “Bring the archers and crossbowmen up on the walls. It’s time we forced our enemy back from our borders.”
“It will take us some time to reopen the gate after the Togos sealed it,” one of Lukas’ generals warned, as banners were raised and war drums sounded, summoning the archers to the walls.
“Where are they? I’ve not seen one of their kind in some time.”
“They pretty much left after the Gate was sealed,” another officer replied.
“Send a messenger to the capital and see if they can contact the Togos. I want to send out our heavy cavalry and sweep the area clean of these cursed wretches.
As you wish, Field Marshal,” the general said with a salute and went searching for a Saint.
Wakened in the middle of the night, the Qopo merchant, Dodofan, was escorted under heavy guard to the Imperial Palace where Varrus sat on a marble bench in front of the Imperial Throne. With Jason and in gone, Varrus’ mood had definitely soured.
Having received the news from the Gate, Varrus had been surprised to learn that none of the Togo engineers remained to unseal the Gate. In fact, he didn’t know if there was a single Togo in all the Empire. How could they have all disappeared without it being noticed? If Geoff was still around to run the Empire’s network of spies, Varrus was sure he would have the answers he needed. But as Geoff had taken most of the Winged Guard, as well as all his best agents, the amount of information reaching the palace had slowed to a trickle.
“Dodofan, at least you’re still here,” Varrus said with a sigh of relief, when two Centurion guards brought the merchant before the Chancellor.
“What can I do for you, your lordship.”
“Where have all your cousins gone? As far as I can tell, there’s not a Togo in the entire empire.”
“The Togos have never been ones to tell lesser races what they’re planning to do, or what their true objectives are.”
“But you did notice that they left.”
“Of course. I am not blind, after all. None of my people have seen a single one of their flying machines in over a week. They must have gone back to their own lands, deep in the Desert of Flames.”
“But why would they leave, after supplying us with so many of their weapons?”
“Do you think they would risk their own lives to fight the Mordelians?” Dodofan laughed. “They want you to fight off the undead and the Dominus for them, until all of you have worn each other out. Only then will the Togos enter the fight against both the Dominus and your empire. Ares will then be cleansed of all impure races, so we Qopo and Togo can rebuild our once great nation.”
“Yet, they didn’t take you with them, did they, merchant?”
“I am nothing to them,” Dodofan slumped. “We refused to fight when Kaal and his Lahorian worshipers invaded the Togo Empire and destroyed most of their cities. We will not fight in their wars, or be their slaves. We will stay with our ways and with the Togo protecting us.”
“What of the Easterners we sent across the Desert of Flames?”
“The Togos wish to rebuild their Empire. They aren’t so numerous that they can complete such a task on their own. Through the centuries, we’ve sold them many slaves but they need more. That is what is to become of those fools who follow your so called High Priest.” Dodofan snickered.
“Warn Julian,” Varrus told the captain of his guard.
“It is already too late. By now your people are deep in the desert where no one can come to their rescue. The Togo Empire will be rebuilt on the ruins of your own lands. Together, Togo and Qopo will cleanse Ares of your filth.”
“Have this merchant sent to the dungeons. I want every Qopo in the city arrested and removed from the capital and Aquanos. Find Celia. She has much to answer for,” Varrus demanded, his face red with anger.
Having quickly learned to travel at night and rest during the day, Julian sat in a large tent, his head pounding from the fumes emanating from nearby tar pits. When the flap of his tent opened, he saw a veiled Isilian enter. Only when the tent was once again closed did she remove her blue veil, revealing her identity to the High Priest. “Princess Celia, where have you been all this time.”
Not looking into Julian’s eyes, she let her fingers touch the thick sliver necklace about her neck, an oval of turquoise built into its clasp.
“I’ve been with the Togos, down in their marvelous city. Atlantis is quite amazing. I think your people will be happy there,” Celia said with fear, not wonder, in her voice.
“Is something the matter, your highness?” Julian asked concerned.
“No, nothing’s the matter, even though these are dangerous times we live in,” Celia said, her hazel eyes darting around the tent. “The Togo asked me to bring you a gift. They know the refugees would not have traveled so far into the desert if it weren’t for their faith in you. That is something the Togo wish to honor.” Reaching into her blue robes, she pulled out a similar necklace to the one she was wearing, except its clasp was made of gold.
“The Togos should know be better than this. I have no interest in pretty bobbles.” Julian moved Celia’s hands aside when she attempted to put the necklace on him. “If they wish to honor me, they should bring food and water. What rations we have won’t last much longer.”
“They know your situation is desperate,” Celia said as she nibbled on a nail.
“So they have been watching us. Why hide, when they know we’re at our limit.”
“Because it suits their purpose.”
“I do not like the sound of that,” Julian said
“Here, let me help you,” Celia said as she again tried to put the necklace around Julian’s neck.
“I want answers, not jewelry. What is going on, your highness? Why are you so scared?”
“Do you think I want to do this? The Togos are giving me no choice. You don’t even have a choice in this matter. You’re trapped, Julian. Even if you could get the people to turn around, you would never reach the safety of Isil without running out of supplies. I bet the people would tear you apart even if you did tell them the truth.”
“And what is the truth?” Julian demanded.
“The Togos want you and your people as workers, to help them rebuild their ancient civilization.”
“Workers… you mean slaves.”
“Better to live as a slave than die as a martyr,” Celia insisted as she offered the necklace, or was it a collar, to Julian again.
“Get that thing away from me,” Julian said as he slapped the collar from Celia’s hands.
“You must put it on Julian. I told you the Togos wish to honor you. If you agree to serve them life won’t be so bad for you. You can even make sure your own people are well cared for.”
“As slaves… the people will think I betrayed them.”
“The people will believe whatever you tell them. How else did you manage to get them to travel so far?”
“I did so in Jason’s name.”
“Now you can do it in the name of the Togo. You have no choice, Julian. If your people cause the Togo more trouble than they think you’re worth, everyone will die.”
“Do you think Domus will stand for this? Do you think they won’t find out? They will hunt your friends down until we’re finally freed.”
“If that is what you need to tell the people in order to get them to obey, so be it. Know, however, that the Centurions will be far too busy saving themselves to worry about a few million Easterners. The Dominus have come and, once they and the Centurions have worn each other out, the Togo will finish the job, removing both threats once and for all.”
“But how can this be? They’re helping us to find Jason.”
“They want Jason for the same reason they want you… as a puppet they can control to keep their slaves pacified. Even we Isilians will be forced to yield.”
“What of the Qopo?”
“The Qopo?” Celia laughed. “Who do you think were buying all their slaves?”
“Did your father know this?”
“My father knew none of this. He, too, now wears a collar around his neck,” Celia said as she pulled on her necklace.
“Tell me, are my only choices slavery or death?”
“Yes, Julian. Those are your only choices. Already, the Togos have your camp surrounded. You might outnumber them, but your people would never make it out of the desert should you chose to flee.”
Closing his eyes, Julian reached out to make contact with his fellow Saints. When he opened them again his expression was hard. “Very well, I will surrender the people to the Togos. You won’t be going back to them, however.” Having heard Julian’s mental summons, two Saints appeared in his tent. “Fly the princess back to Domus. Her husband, Lord Varrus, wishes to question her personally.”
“You can’t send me back to the Empire. The Togo won’t let you.”
“You want to know what I think? I believe the Togo need me more than they need you. After all, I speak for all the people they wish to enslave. If I surrender myself to them, I don’t think they’ll bother worrying about you.”
“Then get this collar off me, first,” Celia said as she tugged harder on the stone clasp.
“Can it ever be removed?” Julian asked as he brushed the sand off the gold clasped collar. “Take her and do whatever you can to see that she reaches Domus safely.”
“What will become of me?” Celia wept as she was lifted back onto her feet by the two guards.
“That is for your husband to decide. Pray that Varrus remembers Jason’s fondness for you. That might be the only thing that will save you,” Julian said as he snapped his collar into place. All around his neck, and along his spine, he could feel a mild stinging sensation. He did not doubt for a moment that the Togo could make him feel a lot more.
An hour later, a Togo Zephyr landed in the middle of the field of tents, uprooting many of them. Making his way through the gathered mob, Julian stood outside the rear of the craft as its ramp was slowly lowered. Exiting the Zephyr, two-dozen men in black body armor and helmets with tinted visors surrounded Julian.
“Kneel,” one of the Togos holding a shock staff demanded.
“I kneel only to my god,” Julian said as the pain around his neck and spine increased ten-fold.
“You have a new master now. Kneel before us and tell your people to do the same.”
“No,” Julian shouted, the pain so great his eyes closed tightly while his open jaw locked into place.
In the end, he collapsed from the pain. He therefore didn’t hear the screams and wails of his people as Togo soldiers rounded them up and placed a slave collar around each neck. Those who dared to fight or give them too much trouble were quickly killed. With millions of refugees fleeing for their lives, it took the Togos days to round the last of them up. Those they didn’t collar were either too old or sick to bother with. They left those people to the cruel mercy of the desert.
Dressed in a gray uniform and body armor, Jason looked at his reflection in the mirror trying to come to terms with the fact that, once again, he was becoming a warrior.
Walking up from behind, Logan placed a gray tactical helmet on Jason’s head. Not only would it protect him from any explosion, but the helmet and it’s lit up visor included all his communication equipment, including a tactical display which would show his location anywhere in the city, It also helped him aim the machinegun strapped behind his back with its armor piercing explosive micro-bullets. “Here you go, now you look ready for war.”
“I look like I’m ready for something. At least the body armor is a lot lighter than what I used to wear.”
“It should also prove to be a lot stronger, but you shouldn’t have to worry about that. The Lizardmen are not allowed guns or energy weapons. They are armed with shock staves, but the armor you’re wearing is heavily insulated so no problems there. They won’t stand a chance against us.”
“I’m hoping to not have to fight our way out.” Jason sighed as he lowered his visor. At once a tactical display turned on, showing him the translucent blue outline of the rooms and halls surrounding him, red dots showing him where the rest of the team were, inside Tower One. Taking hold of his rifle, he saw a yellow ring and crosshairs appear on the visor, following his gun as he aimed it from one end of the room to the other. Once he was satisfied, he put the rifle behind his back. “How much time do we have left?”
“A good three hours. Since this will be official security business, we have access to the Central Column’s express elevators, so we won’t have to wind our way through the lower levels.
“But how will I get past Grau security?”
“You’re a Dalf, aren’t you? The scanners won’t read any different when you pass the security checkpoint. Since we’re expected, the Grau won’t be overly concerned with details. Anyway, your friend Thomas has made sure his lover, Scott, will be acting Grau representative when we deal with Slaav and his foremen. He’ll have the area cleared out, letting your people arrive unnoticed as long as CEMS does her part.”
“Her? I didn’t know CEMS was a woman.”
“She’s not, but as her ambassador, the Avatar, looks more like a man than anything, the people naturally look upon her as a woman, like a husband and wife.”
“Is that how you see them?”
“As a matter of fact, I do, though I don’t think they’ve ever had a lovers’ quarrel.”
“Are you two ready?” Trevor asked, poking his head inside the locker room.
“About as ready as I’ll ever be,” Jason nodded, as he followed Logan out of the room and into the sublevel garage where most of Dalf Security’s vehicles were kept when not on the streets doing patrols. It was a large team, twenty-seven of Trevor’s best and most loyal, coming entirely from his own pack. Leaving for the upper level of the city in three armored personnel carriers, they made their way to the heart of the city, the Central Column.
Stopped at the vehicle elevator, a Grau stuck his head inside each APC carrying an air senor, which made sure only Dalf pheromones were inside. Once they had finished their security sweep, they let the elevator descend down to the lower levels. A good one-hour journey later, the APC’s were allowed to debark on the top level of the industrial zone where the air and heat processing units were kept. Driving to the far western end, opposite the Central Column, they parked in front of a pipe, one and a half miles in radius, the main exhaust pipe for the entire city. Waiting for them at the gates to the pipe, were Slaav and a dozen of his personal guards.
“This is a complete waste of your time, Lord Trevor,” Slaav insisted as Trevor and his team stormed out of their vehicles. “We are not smugglers, as you well know.”
“Let my team perform its search unheeded, and let the facts speak for themselves.”
“If there is a black market problem, my own people should be allowed to handle it,” Slaav said as Scott appeared in his dress uniform.
“Dalf security has been most effective in breaking up illegal shops wherever they find them, yet the goods keep on flowing into the city. Since your people are in charge of industrial production, the Dominus are concerned that your people are, in fact, aiding instead of inhibiting such illegal trade,” Scott said in the cold smug tone for which his people were infamous.
“I swear my people are not involved.”
“Then who is… your slaves? I’ve seen the way you treat them. Shall I scan your mind and end this charade, or are you going to let Lord Trevor and his men do their work?”
“You cannot scan me… I’m a lord.”
“I can, if I feel justified. Do you think the Dominus will take the word of a snake like you over that of a leading officer, such as myself? Who knows, I might be reading your mind right now.”
“I will file a protest with the High Court,” Slaav said before he and his men hurried away in their own vehicles.
“You go ahead and do that,” Scott said. Taking out a data pad, he deactivated the monitoring systems the Slaav used to keep track of their slaves. “You’d better move fast, Trevor. Sooner or later, someone in central command is going to notice that the security grid is off.”
“Under your approval,” Trevor chuckled as his men poured through the gate
“Jason,” Scott called out.
Jason stopped just inside the gate. “Yes, Major?”
“There’s something you need to know. I was poking inside Slaav’s head just to make sure he wasn’t planning a surprise for us, when I did notice something you should know. Kristen is here.”
“Here? You mean they didn’t kill him?”
“Oh, they’re killing him alright. The Dominus just decided to send him here to die.”
“Where is he?”
“He’s right here, working in the exhaust vent. I should warn you that the chemicals and fumes inside the pipe are quite dangerous. You might not like what you see. I just wanted to warn you, is all.”
“But you will help me find him?”
“If you insist, but may I ask why? He did betray you, after all.”
“And he had a very good reason to. At least the Dominus spared his life.”
“I wouldn’t call this any show of mercy, Jason,” Scott said sadly. “The point I’m trying to make, is that Slaav will notice if this particular slave happens to disappear. If we take Kristen with us, I can’t promise that even the Animani can save his life. It will also be reported to the Dominus, hurting both Trevor’s and your standing in the city.”
“I can’t abandon him here.”
“Then what do you suggest we do?”
“We tell Slaav that we killed him. We say that Trevor knew of Kristen’s betrayal and couldn’t be stopped from killing him.”
“But how would he recognize a man he’s never seen? No, to even admit we saw Kristen would make the Dominus suspect that you were down here with us. Since you’re supposed to be Trevor Rex’s great prize, I do not think the Dominus would believe he brought you down here on a standard security raid. They are not fools. They know this pipe leads to the surface. If they think you might try to use the vent in order to escape, they would kill you and damn the consequences it would cost them among the people. You cannot save him, Jason, nor can we put him out of his misery. Are you sure you want to go in there?”
“We’ll figure something out,” Jason said as he headed up the ramp leading to the waste processing center.
Grabbing Jason’s arm, Scott pulled him back. “No, Jason, there’s nothing to figure out. If you find Kristen, it’s to only say goodbye, not to save him. I won’t let you put everything at risk over a Grau killer.”
“Won’t many Grau die in the revolt?”
“That’s different. The Grau will have the choice not to fight. Believe me, Jason, the one Kristen killed, Erik, never had a choice. He could only do what the Dominus demanded of him. His fate would have been much worse than Kristen’s if he had dared to challenge his mistresses.
“Then why are you helping us?”
“Do you think I would be aiding you, if I didn’t think the risk was worth it?” Scott laughed. “Thomas can be quite an insistent lover at times. He’s used to getting his own way.”
“I’ve noticed. Annoying, isn’t it?” Jason chuckled.
“So, you agree. No desperate rescue attempts. Say your goodbyes, and tell him you forgive him if you have to, but we can’t take him with us.”
With a jerk, Jason pulled himself free as he started running up the ramp. “I’m sorry, Scott, but that’s just not the kind of person I am,” he whispered as he entered the massive complex.
“There you are, Jason,” Trevor said when he finally saw his husband. “Put on one of these pressure suits.”
“Where are the slaves?” Jason asked.
“They’re inside the shaft. Don’t worry. They won’t notice us. Poor fellows, the only reason why the valves inside the shaft aren’t automated is so the Lizardmen and Dominus have someplace to put undesirables.”
I know,” Jason said. Dropping his rifle, he started putting on the suit. “I know someone inside there.”
“Are you sure he’s still alive? The mortality rate in there is horrific.”
“It’s one of my servants, a Saint. If anyone can survive in there, one of them can.”
“Maybe,” Trevor said, a hint of nervousness in his voice. “Jason, you don’t need to come in there. In fact, I would feel better if you remain here. No reason to put you at risk.”
“Kristen’s in there,” Jason insisted as he zipped the suit up.
“The Grau killer? No, Jason, most certainly I can’t let you in there.”
“Because I’ll insist we save him?”
“Yes. Jason, even if we do find him and bring him back to the upper city, a man like him disappearing will be noticed. I can already see the satisfied grin on Slaav’s face when he tells the Dominus I helped a condemned man out of the vent. It would put everything we’re working for in danger. I love you, but I can’t allow you to put everything at risk over a single man.”
“But I promised I would protect him,” Jason shouted, torn between loyalty and rage.
“You don’t understand, Jason. A man like Kristen, a former slave who rose to become a top Dominus informant; do you have any idea what it takes for someone born so low to rise so high? I’m sure your Kristen never told you about his days as a slave informant, when he betrayed everyone he loved and those who trusted him, to curry the favor of our mistresses. He is not a good man, and definitely not one I want around you.”
“He saved me once. How can you say he won’t do so again?”
“Maybe, once in his life, he showed courage. But, after all that the Dominus have done to him, there’s probably not enough left to be saved. We’re trying to save an entire city, Jason, not just one person. Your Kristen is not someone we can, or even should, save. Not if it means putting everyone else at risk. Stay out here. Don’t put yourself through such pain when you know there is nothing you can do.”
“But I have to. I promised.” Jason whispered.
“Not all promises can be kept,” Trevor said as he covered his head with a breathing mask. “Stay out, Jason. It’s not an order, but I’m begging you. For the sake of everyone, don’t go inside the shaft.”
“Please try to find him,” Jason pleaded as the suit fell down to his knees. “Tell him I forgive him… for everything.”
“I will try,” Trevor promised before stepping inside the airlock.
With his legs weakening beneath him, Jason sank down to the concrete floor, tears running down his face. He had promised to save Kristen, but to do so would mean breaking all the promises he had made to Trevor and the other allied clans. They were all depending on him to lead them to freedom. He couldn’t betray them, with so many lives at stake. Yet, he didn’t think he would ever forgive himself for abandoning his former servant and dear friend.
Even wearing the protective suit, the heat inside the shaft was incredible. Trevor was just glad the suit was resistant to the acidic fumes that filled the long miles of pipe. “Leon,” he called out over the com to the head of his special response team.
“Yes, Lord Trevor?” the man replied in a deep voice.
“Have you seen a winged slave?”
“You mean Hawkmen? I’ve seen one or two so far. I’ve also seen a few Dalfs.”
“What I am looking for is a Saint, like Chad and Hector.”
“To be honest, they and the Hawkmen look about the same to me, especially in here. Not one of them has a single feather on them, just flaps of skin covered with burns and sores.
“The one I’m looking for is named Kristen.”
“Oh, him,” Leon replied with a grunt. “You’re not trying to save him, are you?”
“No, but I promised Jason I would deliver a message to him.”
“Just so long as you don’t try to rescue him. Whatever good blood we have between us and the Grau would disappear in a flash if they were to think we helped a Grau killer.”
“I know, and I’ve told Jason the same, but I promised I would find him, none the less. He’s fairly upset about the whole matter, and I don’t want to have to lie to him.”
“I understand, sir. If he’s somewhere in here, we’ll find him. Of course, he might already be dead.”
“Jason is quite certain that he’s not.”
“Then, we’ll just have to find him.” Leon replied as he relayed the search to the rest of the team.
“Any word from CEMS?”
“Yes. It seems Jason’s friends are traveling in a large capsule, floating down by parachute. Not sure how we’re going to be able to hide something that big.”
“Let’s hope they’ve already come up with a solution to that.”
“They’ve got a pretty good hacker with them. CEMS has convinced him to leave the security systems to the expert. She thinks he’s a cyborg.”
“A cyborg, but Jason’s people don’t have that kind of technology.”
“Neither do the Togos, from what I remember. Human augmentation, either by genetics or electronics, is an anathema to them. I very much doubt that’s ever changed.”
“Has CEMS identified anyone else aboard?”
“About fifty other life signs, as well as a strong radioactive source. CEMS thinks they’re carrying a nuclear weapon with them.”
“So they’re not going to make this easy for us, are they?” Trevor sighed. Having no way to communicate with the people above, Trevor had no way to tell them about their plans to take the city. It wasn’t hard for Trevor to imagine what the men from above had been planning… a lightning rescue, followed by the destruction of all of Mordel. It was what Trevor might have done in their place. Jason, however, had sworn to remain until everyone was freed. The Dalf lord would just have to find a way to convince the men from the surface to do the same.
“How soon until they reach the bottom of the shaft?”
“If they don’t run out of parachutes, another twenty minutes, sir,” Leon replied.
“The fumes are actually eating through their parachutes that quickly.”
“Three so far sir.”
“Well, let’s hope that four is all it will take,” Trevor replied nervously.
Catching a small flicker of motion behind a series of smaller pipes, Trevor drew his knife, not wanting to risk damaging the shaft. “I see you, so you might as well come out.”
Appearing hunched over, his skin bleached white and marked with sores by the acidic fumes, a winged man wearing a pair of protective goggles and a facemask left his hiding place.
“You’re Kristen, aren’t you.”
Falling down on the hot metal floor, Kristen begged for mercy. “Please let me go. I’ve heard your men talking about Jason. I must see him.”
“I can’t allow that. Jason knows you’re here, but I won’t let you see him,” Trevor said sternly over Kristen’s hacking cough.
“Please, I beg of you.”
“Jason forgives you, Kristen, but I certainly don’t. I have a good idea about how you ended up as an agent for the Dominus. You should, therefore, know why I do not trust you, nor ever will.”
“Please, I must see Jason, just one last time before I die.”
“You’ve betrayed Jason once, and your own people countless times. You even killed a Grau. You have treason in your blood, killer. I would kill you, but your death would look too suspicious,” Trevor said as he sheathed his knife.
That was what Kristen had been waiting for. From his crouched position, he lunged at the Dalf, knocking him backwards. Before Trevor could respond, Kristen had the knife up against his throat, a narrow cut in the protective suit.
“You will take me to Jason, now,” Kristen said in a cold voice. “One of the Grau came by a few weeks ago, saying Jason might succeed in finding me down here. They wanted him to find me… a perfect spy in his close circle of friends. How else am I to earn a permanent reprieve from this hell hole?”
“You’re just what I always took you for. You’re willing to betray anyone, just to save your own neck. What makes you think the Dominus will keep their end of the bargain?” Trevor coughed as burning fumes started to enter his facemask.
“Oh, they will. I will give them just enough information to see me as useful, but never enough to think they don’t need me anymore. That was my mistake the last time. Once they had Jason, they thought they had no use for me. Since Jason survived the removal of his core, they think they might need me again. Of course they weren’t willing to free me from this death trap. Jason wouldn’t have come all the way down here, if he didn’t believe my life was in danger. Still, I’m surprised. I didn’t know Jason already had his own private army. Goes to show, you should never underestimate the young man.”
“If you kill me, Jason will surely kill you. He’s just outside the airlock and he’s well armed.”
“Now, why would he do that? If you give me the pass-code for the airlock, I promise to make your death quick and painless. Believe it or not, but I do love Jason. I wouldn’t have betrayed Erik if I didn’t feel something for the young man.”
“I don’t believe you. When Erik found out Jason was an Angel, you knew you would soon be forced to come back to Mordel. That wouldn’t have made you happy, giving up all that freedom.”
“I’ve never been free. I was born a slave, and I will die as one. The best I can do is make sure I am a favored slave, whoever my masters are. Now give me the pass-code or you will find out how deadly the fumes in here really are.”
“No,” Trevor replied coldly. Behind him and Kristen, Leon was already in position, his rifle raised.
“Shall I end this?” Leon asked over the com.
“Jason forgave you, but I won’t,” Trevor said as Leon fired a micro-bullet into the back of the Saint’s skull, causing the rear half of his head to explode.
“You need to get out of here, lord,” Leon said when he saw the cut in Trevor’s suit.
“Looking like this?” Trevor asked, looking at the splatters of blood that covered him.
“I’ve recorded the whole conversation. We’ll turn it in with our report to the Dominus. We’ve even found the trolley system that Slaav was using to send black market goods to the upper levels.”
“What am I going to tell Jason?”
“Not the truth. It would hurt him too much.”
“He’s a Dalf. He knows how to sniff out a lie.”
“Maybe, but I think in this case it would be better to be caught in a lie than have to inflict the truth on your husband. Tell him it was a mercy killing.”
“You’re right,” Trevor said as suddenly the whole building shook.
“Damn, they’re early. That last parachute must’ve not held. Get out of here, sir, before you sear your lungs. My men will take care of this.”
“Be sure to find and deactivate whatever bomb they have on them.”
“I’m sure I’ll be able to convince them to hand it over,” Leon promised as he escorted his boss to the airlock.
“Well Jason?” Scott whispered as he broke off the mental link, having shown Jason what had occurred inside the shaft.
“It wasn’t Kristen’s fault. The Dominus made him that way.”
“Maybe, but all he ever cared about was himself.”
“He cared about me. I remember him telling about his own son, and how I reminded him of him.”
“You do understand his son is long dead. Kristen is much older than you might think.”
“He told me about that, that the Dominus extended his life.”
“An agent like him is very rare, Jason. It’s not anyone the Dominus trust to remain loyal once they reach your rich lands. Trevor is about to leave the airlock. What are you going to do.”
“I will believe him. Trevor is my husband, and deserves my loyalty.”
“You are married to more than one man.”
“Marriage is simple. Being totally bonded to someone like I am with Philip has no comparison.”
“So Philip will always come first.”
“Doing what is right for us all comes first. Kristen was a threat to that. Like many of my warrior lovers, Trevor took care of the problem before I was forced to.”
“Could you have?”
“I wanted to save Kristen, yes, but I never trusted him after the day I learned his was a Dominus agent. I wonder if anything would have changed, if I had not kept him out of the inner circles of my government. At least he would have believed I still had faith in him.”
“Trevor will need your help, “ Scott said as he studied the man hurrying to his husband’s side.
“You’re face, it’s burning,” Jason said as he pulled the breathing helmet off Trevor’s head.
“Take him to the decontamination showers,” Scott said. As Trevor was half blind, Jason was the one to pull on the chain, sending clean pure water onto Trevor’s chemically burned body.
Looking at Trevor, Jason could see his husband pulling out thick shanks of black hair. “Try not to think about it,” Jason whispered as he helped Trevor strip down naked.
“Maybe I should have stayed here with you.”
“I would have liked the company,” Jason nodded.
Raising a hand over Trevor’s lips, Jason silenced his husband. “I know, Trevor, and I’m sorry. You never wanted to hurt me, but Kristen gave you no choice.”
“You did this?” Trevor demanded, glaring through red puffy eyes at the Grau.
“Jason asked me to help him find Kristen.”
“So you know everything.”
“And you forgive me?”
“What is there to forgive? Maybe I should have been harsher on Kirsten when I knew he was a traitor.”
“That wouldn’t have changed him,” Trevor said as he wrapped a bare arm over Jason’s shoulders.
“I know, nothing would. I tried to give him his freedom, but he never stopped obsessing about losing it.”
“Your friends, they have a cyborg with them as well as one huge bomb.”
“They’re planning on destroying the city, aren’t they?” Jason sighed as he ran a hand through his black wavy hair.
“That seems to be their intention. You must convince them to give up the bomb, or else my men will have no choice but to take it from them.”
“I understand. Let me speak to them.”
“We’re waiting for them to exit the pod. They had a pretty rough landing.”
“I felt it,” Jason chuckled as he tapped into his visor’s surveillance of the other team members looking for the visual feed from Leon’s helmet. What he saw, was a two-story, domed structure, with the shredded remains of its parachute all around it. Coming out of a portal along its side were men dressed in black armor and facemasks, some holding blast spears while others carried rifles similar to the one Leon’s team carried. Both sides had their weapons aimed at each other, but none dared to fire.
“Jason?” one of the men in black asked, his voice muffled by his mask.
“That’s Geoff. Let me talk to him.”
“He’s one of the cyborgs,” Leon warned.
“Then he should be able to tap into our communications. Give him one of our frequencies. I’ll adjust Jason’s communicator to match it,” Trevor said.
“If you think that’s wise, sir,” Leon replied skeptically.
“Hello, Jason.” Geoff’s voice came over the com, once the adjustments were made. There was a metallic hollowness to Geoff’s voice that Jason found disturbing, but it was Geoff nonetheless. How he had learned to speak Mordelian was a question Jason would have to save for another time. Right now, he had to get the two sides to stop aiming at each other.
“Geoff, I never thought I would hear your voice again,” Jason said, trying to hold back his tears.
“Just proves how stubborn I am. Where are you? We need to get you out of here.”
“That’s one of the things I need to tell you, Geoff. I can’t go, not yet at least. I’ve made promises, and people are counting on me.”
“Your people back in Ares are counting on you. What have you promised these people.”
“The people you’re aiming your guns at are Dalfs, just like Jacob and I am now.”
“You’re now a Dalf?” Geoff said as tempers among the other Saints rose.
“It was the only way I could survive losing my core. The Dominus have it now, and they’re milking every drop of my anima they can. I mean to get my core back one day, but to do that I must remain here and help lead the revolt.”
“A revolt, Jason? All of Ares is plunged into war. I don’t even trust the Togo, anymore. Everything has gone wrong since you were taken. The Empire… the people need their Angel back.”
“But I am no longer an Angel, nor can I ever be again, unless I get my core back. But that is not why I must stay. You do not know how most of the people of Mordel suffer under the rule of the Dominus. If there is ever to be peace in Ares, the Dominus must be stopped here.”
“Let the Togo take care of that,” Geoff replied sternly.
“So you know,” Jason sighed, disappointedly.
“Know about what?”
“About the bomb your pod is carrying.”
“The Togos said they had a plan to deal with the Dominus once and for all but, believe me, Jason, I know nothing about a bomb.”
“Geoff, there are over five million people living in this underground prison. Most of them are guilty of nothing. Their only crime is being born in this pit of hell. I won’t let you or the Togo do anything to harm them.”
“And you’re say you’re not an Angel,” Geoff chuckled, before lowering his voice to a faint whisper. “Listen, the Togo have abandoned Domus, and have seized the people we sent east to escape Gideon’s curse, to serve as their slaves. Varrus has arrested every Qopo he could get his hands on, but the Togo don’t seem to care about their nomadic cousins. They only armed us so we could fight the Dominus who have already taken Mathannon and Jadoor. What’s worse, the curse has lifted but the undead remain. Field Marshal Lukas is already trying to rid the land of them, but it’s dirty work. I’ve demanded answers from the Togo admiral and his officers, but he swore on his life that his only orders are to see you rescued and the Dominus defeated. I should have guessed they intended to destroy the entire city if they could, and for that I apologize, but I don’t know where the bomb is. For all I know the entire pod is one big bomb.
“Still, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m here to get you out of here. Come to the pod, Jason. I know where Philip and James are, and can get you back to them. You can’t stay here if the Togo intend to destroy the city.”
“You know what I must do, Geoff,” Jason replied sternly.
“You must do what you’ve always done, what you believe is in the best interests of all.”
“How many Saints do you have with you?”
“Two wings, of twenty four each.”
“So there are only two Togos with you.”
“Yes, they are the techs who control the pod.”
“Bind them,” Jason ordered.
“That would break our agreement with them.”
“If the bomb has already been activated, we must have their cooperation to disarm it. We must know what the Togo are planning and what they would have done if this pod failed. Anyway, would you rather I have them killed?”
“No, of course not. It shall be done, your majesty,” Geoff said before breaking off communication.
Changing com frequencies Jason made contact with Logan. “Come back through the airlock, Logan. There is something I need to tell you and I want to do it face to face.”
“Of course, Jason, I’ll be right there,” Logan replied.
Once Logan had been through decontamination Jason went over to his bodyguard and whispered; “Geoff’s in there.”
“So I’ve heard. What do you think I should do?”
“I’m not going to hide you from him.”
“I wouldn’t want you to, but you know he won’t trust me or like the fact that I am your bodyguard.”
“Still, I want you two to get along.”
“Maybe once we get reacquainted with one another, but you must give us some time to sort out our feelings. From what you’ve told me, Lord Geoff believes he revenged my death long ago.”
“Just stand by my side,” Jason said as he saw the airlocks cycle. Coming out into the decontamination area were two Togo technicians their hands over their heads. Behind them were Geoff and Argil, their blast spears fully charged. Seeing the red metallic eyes on both Saint’s foreheads, Jason let out a shudder.
“Jason… I can’t believe what my eyes see,” Geoff said between the protective glass walls as the showers blasted on.
“Decontamination will take a few minutes,” Jason said, following Geoff as the moving walkway carried him through the showers.
“Philip and James are coming, Jason. I wanted to talk to them myself, but it seems you already have the situation well in hand.”
“Not really, Geoff. I won’t tell you what I’ve gone through, but I do want to know what happened to you.”
“Fell among bad company on the Island of Man, last outpost of the Jadoorian cyborg army.”
“Was that the danger I felt you were in?”
“Must have been. I know your core is gone, but somehow you were able to reach me and the others. Made me so glad, it woke me up before the implantations went too far. Still, it’s not all bad. I actually understand what a computer is, now. I can even talk to them. Had a long discussion with some woman named CEMS.”
“The Central Environmental Management System. It was through her exhaust vent you came down. Tell me about the Togo. Why have they betrayed us?”
“Well it seems they don’t really see anyone other than Togo and Qopo as human beings. In their eyes, that makes us nothing more than animals. So their code of honor doesn’t really extend to their treatment of us. They want their rivals, the Dominus, dead, and they believed our connection to you was their best chance of ever finding Mordel.”
“What about Philip and James?”
“The Saints I left with the rest of the Togo fleet should be trying to send them a warning, even now. I doubt the Togos will let them join us down here, however. Our people are very much outnumbered, but they will fight to the death for you.”
“You know I don’t want that. Tell them to do what they can to warn Philip, but not at the cost of their own lives.”
“I’ll tell them to try to make it to the zephyrs. My cyborgs can tap into their flying computers and escape.”
“How many are there like you?”
“There are ten of us. I only brought Argil with me. He’s been helping me a lot, lately.”
“We all need help in these trying times,” Jason agreed, as Geoff left the decontamination showers and was handed a gray Dalf Security uniform.
“Thanks. Who’s your friend in the mask? Is he your new bodyguard?” Geoff chuckled as he started to get dressed.
“I should go,” Logan’s muffled voice came from behind the visor.
“No, stay,” Jason insisted before looking back at Geoff. “A lot of things have happened since I’ve come here. I lost my core, my wings, and for a long while my courage, but not everything has been a loss. I’ve made friends among many of the enslaved people of Mordel. I’ve even taken on a new husband.”
“A new husband? That was fast,” Geoff said a little sharply.
“I’m a Dalf now, Geoff and the Dalf’s have their own way of doing things. When the Alpha picks you to be his mate, you cannot deny his call. I tried to, but that was back when I was trying to feel sorry for myself instead of doing something to help everyone who is a prisoner here, including myself. It’s a political marriage, Geoff, something I was raised to accept. I needed someone with enough power to stop the Dominus from throwing me back into the slave levels, and Lord Trevor needed someone with the reputation to unite most of the animus clans.”
“So you’re really planning on leading a civil war down here?” Geoff chuckled. Jason having a new husband had been a bit of a shock but, given his situation down here, he probably didn’t have much of a choice. “Is the man who refuses to show me his face your husband?”
“No, Geoff. The man standing next to me was a gift, given to me by those who call themselves the Animani, the precursor to the Centurions and Legatio. You might consider him a second chance. Go ahead, Logan, take off your helmet.”
As Logan removed his helmet, Geoff jumped back, tripping over his unfastened pants. “This can’t be.”
“What trick is this, Jason?” Argil demanded.
“It’s no trick, Sir Argil. He is a copy of the old Logan, what they call a clone. He even has a few of Logan’s old memories. I almost fainted when I saw him for the first time and, even though he’s not exactly the Logan I knew, I’ve come to care about him just as deeply.”
Flooded with loss and guilt, Geoff covered his eyes with his arm. “Get him out of here2 Jason. I can’t even bear to look upon that thing.”
“He’s not a thing, Geoff, but a person. Since he is my bodyguard, you two are going to have to work together.”
“He’s a blacksmith, Jason,” Geoff insisted.
“The old Logan was. This one was trained to be something different. You are still the Captain of the Winged Guard, Geoff. That is why the two of you must work together.”
“If you so command it, my Emperor,” Geoff replied stiffly as he finished dressing.
Leaving Logan’s side, Jason went to Geoff and touched him gently on the face. “This was never going to be easy, for any of us.”
Not able to hold back, Geoff grabbed Jason tightly. “I will do anything for you, Jason. This is not what I expected to find, but it’s much better than it could have been.”
“It could have very easily been worse,” Jason agreed as he hugged Geoff back.
“What do you want us to do with these two?” Argil said interrupting the moment as he pointed a blast spear at the two naked Togos.
“Well, what do you two have to save for yourselves?” Geoff demanded.
“You can still get away, Jason. The Elders always wanted you to escape… valuable propaganda to use against the Mordelians. As for us, we were willing to die to see this cursed place destroyed once and for all.
“Where is the bomb?” Jason asked with forced patience.
“Where you’ll never find it.” The leader, Mbeki, laughed.
“Get Scott here,” Jason told Logan, who put his helmet back on.
Coming with his gray cloak billowing behind him, the Grau major nodded to Jason as his eyes focused on the two Togos. “They’ve been trained to resist my mental probes. I can break through their defenses, but it will involve some level of pain.”
“You wouldn’t dare let this animal defile our minds,” Mbeki shouted at Jason.
“If you will give up the bomb, I won’t have to,” Jason countered.
“Why not tell them, commander?” Mbeki’s lackey said as he eyed the redheaded Grau nervously.
“You were ready to die to see Mordel destroyed, coward.”
“I was ready to die a pure man,” the other countered. “They have no way of getting to the bomb, sir, nor can they disarm it.”
“You would be amazed by what we can do,” Scott said stoically.
“If you don’t tell them, I will. I won’t have that demon in my mind.”
“You traitor,” Mbeki yelled, as he grabbed the man by his throat, forcing Argil and Geoff to separate and restrain them.
“It’s about a half mile up the shaft, near a junction of pipes from other levels,” the lackey said hurriedly. “We disconnected it from the pod right before the last parachute broke.”
“And how do we disarm it?” Logan demanded.
“I don’t know. We weren’t told how to.”
“How soon until the bomb goes off?” Scott asked calmly.
“It is programmed to explode a half hour after the pod rockets past it, or eight hours from now, whichever came first. We had hoped to have rescued Jason by then.”
“Can the bomb be disarmed?” Jason asked Scott.
“We’ll have to get to it first. I suppose it is magnetically attached to the vent?” he asked the willing Togo.
“Yes,” the Togo nodded.
“You, cyborg,” Scott said, calling out to Geoff.
“My name is Geoff.”
“A cyborg with a name, how quaint,” Scott chuckled, receiving a disapproving glare from Jason. “Geoff, get in contact with CEMS and tell her to reverse the polarity along the shaft. That should detach the bomb.”
“Won’t it explode from the crash.”
“Not likely. A bomb strong enough to destroy the entire city would have to be large and therefore require an equally large denotation package, which would only explode to the proper electric charge. It can fall as hard as it wants and it won’t explode. There is the risk of some of its radioactive material escaping, but the Togos have always been known for their sturdy manufacturing. Just look how long the Great Barrier has lasted.”
“CEMS is ready,” Logan reported.
“Tell Lord Trevor and his team to move out of the crash zone,” Scott ordered.
“They already have, not that it will do them much good if the bomb does explode,” Logan grumbled.
“It wouldn’t do any of us any good,” Jason said as he felt the ground shake.
“We have it,” Trevor’s voice came over the com. Can you send in one of those two cyborgs? I have a hack team getting to work on the bomb but a cyborg is supposed to be the best at this kind of work.”
“You stay here, Geoff.” Jason ordered.
“Go Argil,” Geoff commanded, his eyes focused on Jason.
“Of course, Captain,” Agril replied, clearly irritated.
“A jealous lover?” Jason chuckled once Agril had gone back through the airlock.
“I never took him for the type, but I guess he is.” Geoff laughed as well.
“What am I going to do with you, Geoff?” Jason sighed as they and Logan headed out of the complex.
“I can think of several things,” Geoff said as Jason came to a sudden halt.
“Argil is hooked up to the bomb now. It should be disarmed soon.”
“Argil… what should I do about him?” Geoff sighed.
“You shouldn’t abandon him. He must have some feelings for you,” Logan whispered.
“I know, but seeing you didn’t help matters much.”
“Are you saying you have feelings for me?” Logan said with a wry smile.
“I don’t know. Most of what I’m feeling are just those questions I never thought would get answered after you died.”
“I’m not completely the same man.”
“I know, which is why I feel so confused right now. I became a bloodthirsty wreck after you were taken, Jason. It was Argil who stopped me from going completely mad.”
“Then you shouldn’t give up on him. At the very least, he deserves an explanation. What were you intending to do, once I was rescued?” Jason asked in a chiding tone.
“I don’t know. I guess I thought things would go back to the way they used to be. I see now that will never happen.”
“The Nosferatu on Omega Level broke me, Geoff. As one of their Dead Eaters was gnawing on my flesh, all I wanted to do was die. If my friends and Trevor had not rescued me, I probably would have died in that dark hell. Still, it has left its marks on me.”
“Your wings are gone, I see.”
“Yes, just one of the many things that have been taken from me. That is why I must stay. I have to get my core back, and restore my bond to you and the others. I will never feel whole without it, and I could never go back to being Philip’s husband without my anima to sooth him. That is why I must ask that you don’t try to bond to me again, Geoff. Though I could be happy as your disciple, I can’t let it risk my chance to become an Angel again.”
“I understand,” Geoff said as a hover-sled controlled by the Avatar landed nearby.
“Avatar, I didn’t expect you to come here,” Jason said, concern in his voice.
“I’ve come to take the bomb away,” the Avatar replied. “Now that it’s been disarmed, it must be hidden.”
“Hidden, why not just destroy it?” Logan asked.
“It is too important a weapon to do that.”
“It is also too dangerous,” Jason replied. “If it has the power to destroy the entire city…”
There is more to Mordel than just the city. The Dominus have had their slaves work hard and long, expanding the reach of the tunnels.” The Avatar lowered Jason’s visor over his face. “Here, let me show you.”
Giving Jason access to CEMS’ own security cameras, Jason saw a massive cavern filled with what looked like giant warships with guns on top as well on the bottom. “Is this another Dominus fleet?”
“It is a fleet, but not one that travels by water. These ships were built to carry the Dominus to the stars.”
“How can that be possible?” Geoff asked.
“That, Lord Geoff, is a long, forbidden tale. We are not sure even the Dominus remember the whole truth,” the Avatar said in a low mechanical voice. “Come, we should discuss this inside one of the APC’s. They are shielded against listening devices.
Following the android up the ramp into one of the armored personnel carriers, Jason, Geoff, and Logan, sat while the Avatar remained standing. Once the ramp was closed, the Avatar began his story. “Once, long ago, there were no men on this world until the first ships arrived. One is this very city of Mordel while the other is now the underground city of the Togo, Atlantis. It was from those two great colony ships that civilization sprung forth, but already the people had war on their minds. The Togo and the Mordelians, the two main people of Ares, had come from a world they had destroyed in their wars with each other. When they both found themselves on Ares, the Togo acted first, taking control of Luna, Ares’ moon, and used it to help build the Great Barrier that divided the world in half. For a long time there was peace. While the Togos tried to maintain the natural life on Ares, the Mordelians built their great city that covered the entire continent.
“This peace lasted thousands of years, until the great fire appeared in the sky. Ares, you see, was already dying before the colonists arrived. The fires in the sky marked the death of the planet’s core as it cooled into a solid ball of metal. When the core stopped spinning, the magnetic shield around the planet disappeared, leaving the world vulnerable to the solar winds from our red sun. The Togo, who had long foreseen this day, were already safe behind their Great Barrier. The Mordelians, however, soon began to suffer the effects of exposure to the sun’s radiation as the world’s atmosphere slowly began to be blown away.
“It was from the radiation that the first mutations appeared. These people were seen as freaks and sent to live underground where they would remain hidden from public view. As time passed, however, the mutants began to outnumber normals and eventually revolted against their enslavers.”
“Is that how the Great Wars started?”
“Yes, but what you don’t know is that it was the Togo who released the first plague. Believing that the mutants endangered the purity of their race, the Togo provided the normals with biological weapons to kill them off. The mutants, however, were smart and learned how to adjust their own DNA to make themselves immune. They turned the plague against the normal Mordelians. Eventually, only mutants were left, except for the Jadoorians who had sealed themselves off in this city. Still, the wars didn’t end. With the mutants hoping to breed superior warriors, while the Jadoorians held tightly to the purity of their race, a ground war began that eventually destroyed most of the city of Mordelium.
“It was the women who suffered the most. Forced into breeding camps, they were made to endure centuries of rape and genetic experimentation as each side fought to gain some advantage over the other. The Dalf, Lizardmen, Nosferatu, and other creatures of animus eventually evolved from the Mutants. The Jadoorians, on the other hand, turned to cyborg augmentations and self-aware computers such as CEMS and I.
“The wars lasted centuries, each side evenly matched. Even the Rapa tribe of the Togo took part, siding with the pure Jadoorians in their war against the mutants. Eventually, a small group of brilliant women scientists decided that the only way to end to war was to shed every trace of their humanity. These women became the first Dominus, who also created the first generation of Grau. With both having incredible mind controlling powers, they were able to unite the animus clans and lead them to victory over the Jadoorians, where they set up their new base of power in this very city. Since then, they’ve tried to perfect their genetic programs, creating the Animani, Centurions, and Legatio in turn. They had something to fear, you see.
“In transforming their bodies into giant kraken, they had shed too much of their humanity. And, what little they had left was starting to breed out. If something wasn’t done to restore a part of their humanity they would eventually end up mindless squid.”
“Why did they turn to using anima?” Jason asked.
“Anima and animus had always existed. The Mordelians brought it to Ares with them when they fled their destroyed home world. How they first came by it I do not know, but after failing to restore their humanity with animus, the Dominus concentrated all their efforts in finding a cure with anima.
“There have always been two sides to anima, one light, the other dark. The Dominus believed their only hope lay in creating the universal elixir of life, the two halves of anima joined into one. That is why they needed you, Jason.”
“What about Philip?”
“You are immortal, Jason, yet you can still be killed. Philip, on the other hand, is invincible, a power the Dominus have never believed they could tame. Only Demon’s bane can kill a Demon, but the metals to make it are very rare. Only four daggers were ever made. The Mother took them all with her when she betrayed her sisters and fled to the other side of the Great Barrier, where she founded the Kingdom of Jadoor with her as their goddess.”
“I think I know the rest. Academic Melkior, my old Legatio teacher gave me most of the history of the Centurions when he gave me his anima,” Jason whispered.
“These ships to the stars… those that mean the Dominus are actually considering fleeing Ares?” Geoff asked.
“It is an option they have long considered, though they have always favored taking control of the Togo’s side of the planet. In order for that to happen, however, they must gain control of the Great Barrier. This means they need a fleet of warships with which to conquer Luna.”
“There are people on Luna?” Geoff asked.
“No, just androids. Luna’s low gravity is not healthy for life forms such as yours.”
“Can we escape on such ships?” Jason asked.
“The entire city is one giant warship, Lord Jason,” the Avatar replied.
“I don’t understand. If the Dominus could escape, why haven’t they left this dying world?”
“For the same reason the Togo haven’t. Neither side wants to fight a battle in space, where the odds of mutual destruction are very high. In order for either side to escape, their sister cities must be destroyed and have the power of Luna under their control.”
“So this fleet is to invade Luna?”
“Yes. Once Atlantis has fallen, the Dominus will launch their fleet against the battle fortress and remove the magnetic barrier that keeps them trapped on this world.”
“But where will they go?”
“There used to be twelve star systems that made up the Gaian Empire. Additionally, there are countless seed worlds where the life of Gaia was spread. One of these is known as Terra, in the Sol system. The people there are believed to be quiet primitive, and the world is rich with resources and life. Both the Dominus and Togo believe they could easily conquer such a world and rebuild their once powerful civilizations before attempting to re-conquer the old Imperial worlds.”
“Why can’t they just go back to their empire?”
“Because they can’t, at least not without a powerful armada to support them. The Togos and the Mordelians were rivals before their home world, Gaia, was destroyed by their conflict. The Togo were members of the old ruling family and the Imperial Guard, while the Mordelians represented the old Senate faction made up of their own House armies. To them, Gaia was everything, the heart of their Empire that both sides fought over. Eventually, the twelve other star systems of the Gaian Empire had enough, and declared themselves independent from the Empire and each another. Fleets were sent to re-conquer those worlds, but all were destroyed. The twelve Star Provinces had not sat idly by why the ruling classes tried to kill one another. Eventually, things got so bad that the Imperials and Republicans were forced to flee their own world, traveling to Ares.”
“Why weren’t there already people on Ares?” Jason asked.
“There were a few scientists on the Luna research station, as well as some settlers in the Southern Islands. The planet, however, had mostly been used as a natural preserve for wildlife from Gaia. It was already known that Ares’ core was rapidly cooling, but it was the only habitable world that the Gaians knew they wouldn’t have to fight a war over. The Togo Imperials reached Ares first, took control of Luna and the experimental Barrier system. That only left the unshielded side of what became Mordelium for the Great Houses. While the Barrier lasted, neither side had any reason or means to attack the other, nor could they ever leave the planet as long as the magnetic field from Luna was active.”
“So why don’t the Togo leave?” Geoff asked.
“They plan to. They just don’t want to leave Ares to the Dominus. When they go, you can be sure they will see most of Ares destroyed.” Avatar replied.
“And I thought I could trust them.”
“You had little choice. Without their help, Philip and I would have had no chance at rescuing you,” Geoff said.
Going to a locker, Jason pulled out a gray uniform and some body armor. “Be sure to wear this. You’ll need it to get past the security checkpoints,” he told Geoff before looking back at the red gaze of the Avatar. “What if the Togos try to send another bomb down the shaft.”
“CEMS can deactivate it herself, and have her other androids dispose of it. She just couldn’t do so with this one, as it would have destroyed the pod and killed your friends.”
Jason bowed. “Then I am in both your debts.”
“You are keeping your end of our bargain,” the Avatar replied. “Whatever aid you need we will provide.”
Geoff looked lustfully at Jason as he started to strip down. “Can you provide us a bed?”
Pressing the medical button on the overhead, six seats on the left row flattened out into a medical bed. “Would this do, sir?” Avatar asked.
Geoff spread himself out on the bed. “Now, that’s more like it.”
“You can’t mean…”Jason blushed.
“But I do, Jason,” Geoff said as he slipped a hand into his white briefs. Suddenly the APC began moving on it’s own.
“What’s going on?” Jason demanded.
“We will send our own vehicles to bring your men to Tower One.”
“You want us to make love in front of you?”
“CEMS and I would find it very educational,” The Avatar replied.
“But doesn’t CEMS have security cameras everywhere?”
“Yes, but we’ve never been able to take part like we can with Geoff.”
“Because of the things that damned computer implanted in my head,” Geoff said.
“The Isle of Man mainframe is a military computer, programmed to win wars at any cost. CEMS and I are the life support system of Mordel. We are programmed to preserve life. The better we understand the needs and desires of those we serve, the better we can fulfill our programming,” the Avatar said quite logically.
“You won’t take over my mind will you?” Geoff asked nervously.
“No computer can control human free will. All we can do is observe and make suggestions.”
“Then I suggest you make no suggestions,” Geoff recommended, turning his attention back to Jason. “This doesn’t really bother you, does it?”
Giving Geoff a wry smile, Jason shook his head. “I’ve had to deal with priests spying on my bedroom, so this is no problem. Do you mind if Logan joins us?”
“Not at all. It’ll be like old times. Is the bed big enough?”
Without being asked, the Avatar activated the second medical bed so it joined with the first, producing a bed eight feet across and ten feet long. “Is this satisfactory?”
“It’s fine, Avatar,” Jason replied as he took off his body armor. “I’ve missed you, Geoff.”
“Life’s been hard for the both of us, harder for you I’m sure. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. Philip will be here soon and then everything will be fine, you’ll see.”
Lying down on the bed, Jason peeled of his gray shirt, revealing the dusting of hair on his chest.
“That’s new,” Geoff said as he ran his fingers through the dark hair.
“Part of being a Dalf is all,” Jason whispered as Logan lay down behind him so that he was caught in between the two trained bodyguards.
Seeing a tear roll down Jason’s face, Geoff caught it with a finger. “Don’t cry, Jason. We’ll get your core back.”
“But can it ever be put back inside me?” Jason cried.
“The Animani took it out, so they’d better know how to put it back in,” Logan said as he wrapped his large arms around Jason’s body.
“I can’t believe you’re really here,” Jason whispered.
“Then let me prove that I am,” Geoff said, as he spread a black wing around both Jason and Logan. He kissed his Angel with a kiss filled with the pain he had endured from their long and frightening separation. Like Jason always could, he took in that pain and replaced it with joy. The Avatar watched with curious interest.
Diana sat, tied up in the back of a wagon along with several other surviving members of Aidan’s Saints, as they traveled down the stone road toward the port city of Koor. The Dominus and their dark daughters were waiting for their surrender.
“I’m sorry, Prime Minister. We should have done more.” Richard, a former Jadoorian spy who had been raised to the rank of Saint by the dead king, spoke with some regret.
“We all tried to do what was right for the kingdom,” Diana said as she coughed. The dying sickness had spread to her lungs as they traveled in damp, foggy weather.
“You smell that? There’s an apple orchard near by. It must be in full bloom.” One of the Jadoorian Saints sighed.
“Apples, I could do with one of those.” Diana chuckled. Once, she could have bought the entire orchard without blinking an eye. These days, she had neither wealth nor freedom.
“There is something I could do for you, my lady,” Richard said with shifting eyes. Raising the sole of his boot, he dug his nails into the thick heel, retrieving a dagger-like poniard. “I can end your pain, Prime Minister. You need never suffer at the hands of the gods.”
“These Dominus are not gods. I knew and love Aidan, but he was no Son of the Mother. I fear I have lost all faith in the Mother. These monsters are invaders who wish us ill, and nothing more. I wish I could accept your quick death but2 with no king or high priest, I am the only one with the legal right to speak for Jadoor, not that mad High Inquisitor.” Just as those words parted Diana’s lips, a storm of arrows came from the blossoming trees, catching the column of Lahorian lancers off guard. More were killed by arrows as the soldiers tried to determine where the attack was coming from.
“What is this?” Diana hissed as she and the others ducked down in the wagons.
“I do not know, my lady, but I don’t mind. The more of those bastards that die, the happier I’ll be,” Richard replied as he used the tip of his poniard to pick at the lock holding his chains. By the time he got free the fight had changed from arrows to swords, as men dressed in Tal Sithian yellow and black fought with the brown uniformed Lahorians. Soon, the road looked like a swarm of angry wasps as the Lahorians were quickly killed one by one.
When the battle was over, Sithians took the driver’s seats of the wagons, hurrying them down the road over the bodies of the dead. Going down a dirt trail, they traveled for two hours before coming to a stop at what looked like a monastery. Diana and the others were freed of their chains and led into the monastery’s chapel, where a strong and healthy looking Saint stood waiting by the altar, a rapier in his right hand.
“We received word from our spies that the filthy pig, Warren, was handing over all of the old king’s remaining Saints to those Dominus bitches, but I didn’t think Jadoor’s own Prime Minster would be among them,” the Sithian Saint said in perfect Jadoorian.
“And who are you?”
“I am Lord Drake, a member of King Samuel’s intelligence service, as well as the Emperor’s eyes and ears.”
“A spy,” Diana said, unimpressed.
“An assassin, your majesty. Not counting Lord Geoff, Drake is one of the best,” Richard warned.
“So what is one of the Domus’ top killers still doing in Jadoor? I thought all your people left before Lahore invaded.”
“Some of us stayed behind, just to make sure Jadoor wouldn’t cause the East any further trouble. But it seems trouble has found us all, hasn’t it, Prime Minister?”
“So you’re trapped here?” Diana coughed.
“Not me, personally,” Drake replied as he spread his wings. “I’m not the kind of man who would think of abandoning his men. You, however, seem to be in need of attention.”
“There’s nothing you can do for me or my people.”
Sheathing his rapier, Drake walked up to the dying woman. “Now, now, Diana, never count your chickens before they hatch. There so happens to be a cure for your malady. There’s a price, of course.”
“There always is with your kind. I won’t betray Jadoor, if that is what you want.”
“Quite frankly, Prime Minister, Jadoor should be the least of your worries. It is all of Ares that’s in danger now. The cure I am offering, I’m giving to you only out of mercy. There is nothing you have that I, or my king, wants. It is the cure itself that will claim its price.”
“And what price might that be?”
“Your wings, for one thing. Your loyalty, for another,” Drake said as he touched the woman’s unshaven face.
“My wings are already useless to me. My loyalty is to Jadoor.”
“But what part of Jadoor are you loyal to? The past or the future?”
“The future, of course. One day my kingdom will be free of the High Inquisitor, the Lahorians, and the Dominus.”
“All by yourselves?” Drake laughed.
“The rest of the Federation will support us.”
“The Federation is dead, dear lady. Those kingdoms not consumed by the green mist have either fallen to the Lahorians, or are now under the protection of Domus. Even if the Federation still existed, do you really think they would help you now that they are finally free of you and your priests?”
“Are you suggesting we surrender ourselves to the Domus Empire?”
“No, for you can’t even do that. Half of Jadoor has already fallen to the Dominus, while the other half is still held by the Lahorians. If you control nothing, any surrender you make wouldn’t be worth the ink it is written with. Still, at least you can admit that you need Domus. As a loyal Jadoorian, that must grate against your teeth.”
“You have no idea, assassin.”
“Come now, Prime Minister. You must understand that the sacking of Meltor was never our emperor’s idea.”
“Is he not leading your armies?”
“Not for many months now. The Dominus has our Emperor and god, Diana, and it was Jadoor’s fault that it happened.”
“How could it be our fault?” Diana shouted, her face turning red. If anyone was a victim, it was Jadoor.
“It was your god Gladius who caused Jason to surrender himself to the Dominus.”
“Gladius? He is no god.”
“Not any more. Jason himself killed him, a great and terrible feat for our God Emperor. He does not like killing, Diana, but your god left him no choice.”
“Then I am in your emperor’s debt. Gladius might have been the first Son of the Mother, but he was a curse to all who knew him.”
“We are all in Jason’s debt. That is why you must help us fight against the Dominus who hold him.”
“How are we to fight against those who are more powerful than our own gods?”
“We will teach you how, dear lady, but you must be healthy and strong to face the coming trials. If you let me cure you, you will gain both.”
“My loyalty is to Jadoor,” Diana said biting her lower lip before continuing. “If, to free my people, I must join with our ancient enemy then I accept your cure and all that comes with it.”
“Good,” Drake said, surprising Diana with a deep kiss. As he passed on his Saint’s anima to the dying woman, her tattered wings fell off and the gray, sickly color of her body turned a healthy pink. When their lips parted, her eyes shimmered like blue sapphires.
“I feel strong but empty,” Diana said as she began to cry. “Why do I feel this way?”
“We all feel this way, dear lady. Jason still lives, or so we all believe in our hearts, but the bond that once tied us to him has gone limp and is connected to nothing. How this can be we do not know, but we fear that our Emperor has had his anima core taken from his body.”
“Wouldn’t that kill a Centurion?”
“It would kill anyone born of anima, yet we know Jason continues to live, so there is still a chance that the bond might one day be restored. That is why his lover, the Demon Field Marshal Philip, has traveled beyond the Barrier Ocean in hope of saving his love.”
“I find it strange to admit it, but I hope he succeeds.”
“So do we all. You should rest now, Diana. I will see to the curing of the rest of your men. When you have recovered, we will begin your training in the arts of a warrior.”
“I am no warrior.”
“You will be by the time we’re done with you. One more warrior won’t make a difference to our plans, but having the Prime Minister of Jadoor fighting with us for the freedom of her kingdom will be a powerful symbol of resistance. Your people will gather around, giving us enough soldiers so we can make a difference.”
“I understand, and am grateful for your help, but I will be no man’s puppet,” Diana insisted.
“Of course not, dear lady. We mean for you to be a leader, not a follower,” Drake promised. “Now, follow this guard to a room where you might rest. Time is not on our side so you can expect little time for rest in the future.”
“Thank you for this second chance, Lord Drake.”
“Thank Jason when he is returned to us. This is his will at work,” Drake replied as Diana was led away.
“The Togo must know something has gone wrong by now,” Trevor said as he and the principle leaders of the planned revolt sat in a secret bunker. “What will they do next?”
“Try to send another bomb down the shaft,” Geoff replied.
“CEMS will take care of it. Your approach to the vent did not go so unnoticed by us, as you would like to believe. Without CEMS help, you never would have reached the city.”
“Would the Togos risk their entire fleet, just to send another bomb down?”
“To them, the fleet is a small sacrifice. The crew was selected from volunteers who knew they would most likely never come back alive,” Geoff said. He and Logan had taken turns interrogating their two prisoners. Alex had taken part, too, mostly as a threat to scare the men.
“How soon until the Animani will be done with them?” Phifer, Lord of the Hawkmen, asked.
“The two Togos should already be addicted to the anima by now, but it will be a few more days until anima sickness sets in. When that happens, you can be sure they will hand over what remaining bits of information they’re still hiding from us,” Trevor said to his new ally.
“You know I don’t approve of such tactics,” Jason grunted.
“I know you don’t, my mate, but we can’t risk using Thomas. The Dominus want him to spy on us, after all, even if he is our ally. The less he knows, the better. Anyway, I don’t want to risk testing his loyalty by telling him the Togo have found Mordel. Anima sickness has long been used as an interrogation tool by the Grau.”
“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Jason replied.
Geoff spoke up. “Jason, this is a war we’re planning, a war against one of the most powerful and evil rulers in all the world. We cannot hope to defeat them if we limit ourselves to the honorable way of doing things.”
“So, we have to become as evil as the masters we’re trying to free ourselves from?” Jason asked.
“We have to be willing to do what it takes to win,” the Avatar replied. “The first thing the Dominus did, once they had control over the city, was to cut out CEMS control of the Central Pillar. If they hadn’t done that, CEMS would have freed the city long ago by tampering with their life support.”
“How goes your work with the syndicates?” Phifer asked Alex.
“Father Lars and I have reached terms, so you can count on Urh for support. It wasn’t cheap, however, and he expects Trevor’s police to ignore his men from now on.”
“And the others?” Ursa, Chieftain of the Bear Clan, asked.
“I dare not approach the Rats. They would try to blackmail us into paying more, only to sell us out in the end. All they care about is profit. The White Fang is with us, of course, since they are made up of Trevor’s own people. As for the Reds and the Blues, I am still negotiating with them. It’s tricky. They have no loyalty to any one clan, so they’re harder to persuade.”
“What of the Tigerclaws?” Rezzard, Lord of the Cat people asked.
“As you well know Lord Rezzard the Tigerclaws set their gang up to oppose the gerontocracy that has always controlled your clan. They think of you as a senile, mangy old lion.”
“The Tigerclaws might not be the stronger, but it is the largest of all the syndicates. Weren’t you once a member, Lord Rezzard?”
“Every young cat joins the Tigerclaws at some point in his life. It’s usually just seen as a part of growing up.”
“Well, they won’t join us with you leading the clan,” Alex grumbled.
“Are you saying I should step aside, so some upstart cub can take my place?”
“Of course not, Lord Rezzard,” Trevor said calmly. “But the members of your clan council are all twice my age, at the very least. Don’t you think it’s time you included some youth and vigor in your leadership?”
“Wisdom only comes with age,” Rezzard said with a glower.
“At the cost of idealism,” Phifer chuckled. “We need the numbers the Tigerclaws can give us, Lord Rezzard, even you can admit that.
“I can, but I have very little I can offer them. Tradition…”
“No tradition can last forever. If we want to cling to the old ways, we will never be free of the Dominus.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t take part in this matter any further then,” Rezzard said as he left the table.
“Suit yourself,” Trevor said as he threw his gold pen across the glass table.
“The fool, he just signed his own death warrant,” Ursa sighed.
“You’re really going to have him killed?” Jason asked.
“We have no choice. He knows too much, and we really need the support of the Tigerclaws. We’ll have to make sure there’s enough of a power struggle that the Clan Council is forced to add some young blood from the Tigerclaws, even if that means we have to arrange the retirement of most of the Cat Clan leadership.”
“You mean, have them killed,” Jason sighed.
“It’s for the greater good,” Geoff told Jason.
“So, how many innocent lives have to be taken before it stops being good?”
“Rezzard, innocent?” Phifer laughed. “I think your husband is adorable, Lord Trevor, but he’s incredibly naïve. None of us here are innocent, Lord Jason. We’ve all got blood on our hands. That old lion killed dozens of his own kind when he fought for the title of Rex. He had even more of his people killed, once he became Clan Chief, just to keep his title. Your husband hasn’t had to go to such an extreme, because Dalf usually stop fighting each other as soon as they all recognize who is the strongest.”
“We have a stronger sense of loyalty is all,” Trevor said as Logan entered the room. “Has Rezzard been taken care of?”
“Yes, Lord Trevor. His body will be found in an anima den.”
“But Rezzard isn’t an addict is he?” Jason asked.
“We’re all addicts,” Trevor replied. Animani anima is the only known way to stop us from cycling into our animal forms. It’s one of the benefits and curses of being a clan leader. It’s how the Dominus try to keep us under control. Because of you, however, the Animani are risking everything by allying with us. They have provided us with a stockpile of anima large enough to see that the Dominus can’t blackmail us that way ever again.”
“I see,” Jason sighed. “You should know that Alex can cure you all of your addiction, and take away any need for Animani anima forever.”
“Can you do that, Lord Alex?” the Hawk leader asked.
“It worked for Jason,” Alex said, coughing nervously.
“You should have told us,” Ursa chuckled.
“I don’t give my anima away to just anybody,” Alex said as he glared at Jason.
“True,” Trevor agreed. If word got out that Alex has the cure for anima sickness, half the city might try to butcher him by the pound. So long as the Animani are willing to supply us the anima we need, I don’t think there is any reason we should pressure Lord Alex into giving us his. Agreed?”
“If you insist,” Lord Phifer sighed.
“I insist,” Alex growled.
“What about this bomb you have?” the Bear chieftain asked.
“It’s been disarmed and completely disassembled,” Trevor replied, knowing that news would anger some.
“Would you please tell us why you did that without consulting the rest of us?” Ursa demanded.
“It’s not like we could ever use the bomb. What would you have me do? Plant the bomb in the central pillar? Where would our light and heat come from?”
“We could have used it to blackmail the Dominus into surrendering,” Phifer replied.
“The Dominus would know it was a bluff. What is the point of trying to free ourselves, if we destroy our home in the process? I have a better plan for the bomb, anyway,” Trevor said as he grinned at the other leaders. “Care to tell them what we came up with, Avatar?”
“CEMS has no control over the Central Pillar, but she does have access to the Pillar’s water supply, thanks to our alliance with the Seamen.”
“Seamen?” Jason asked.
“People who live in the aquatic zones,” Trevor explained. “There is no way we could have snuck their leader, Pash, here, but the Avatar’s androids have been in contact with him. It seems the Seamen have a legend about you, my dear husband… that a fallen angel would come to Mordel and lead them to the Blue Star where their people might live in freedom.”
“The Domus Empire has its own prophecy about a Blue Star. Most Centurions believe Philip and I are the ones to lead them there.”
“Terra,” the Avatar said. “It is believed to be the Blue Star of Legend. It is where the Dominus plan to flee if their plans fail here. The Togo also want Terra for themselves.”
“Are there people already on that world?”
“A seed ship landed there long ago, but there was already life there, so the Gaian Empire had it classified as a natural preserve, much like Ares. They didn’t pick Terra for resettlement because no scientific team had done any research on the bacteria and viruses that could prove fatal for human life. It was also a great distance further away from the Gaian home world than Ares.”
“How long would it take this city to get there?”
“Over three thousand years, Lord Jason.”
“Thank you Avatar but we’re not really considering leaving this planet,” Trevor said.
“Why not?” Jason asked. “Since the Dominus and the Togo want to fight over Ares, why not let them have it.”
“Three thousand years is a very long time, Lord Jason. How would we survive such a journey? Without the resources we are mining from the Omega Level, this city would soon run out of power.”
“The city has enough water and other resources to make the journey, Lord Trevor,” the Avatar replied.
Trevor pointed an accusing finger at the android. “You’re not helping.”
“I am only stating a fact,” the Avatar replied. This city is one giant colony ship. The Dominus have never been so foolish as to damage its space traveling capabilities. Most of the Central Pillar contains storage space where stasis pods are kept in working order.”
“Back to the Seamen,” Trevor barked, wanting to end the subject of leaving the planet. “We have given them the nuclear warhead of the bomb. Our scientists broke down the plutonium into a fine, dust-like material. At the proper time, the Seamen will release the dust into the pipes that supply water for the Central Pillar and the tanks where the Dominus live.”
“Will the radioactive material go undetected?” Lord Phifer asked.
“Until it reaches the Central Pillar itself, the Dominus won’t know what’s in the pipes. They will have no choice but to cut off their own water supply, and leave the tanks where they keep the pillar’s central controls. Out of their tanks they are vulnerable,” Trevor explained.
“Until they get into their warrior forms, and smash the city,” Ursa said bitterly.
“Yes, they will attack the city, but we’ll be ready for them this time. Without a constant supply of water, the Dominus will be forced to turn off the Central Pillar’s lights since they won’t have any means of cooling the light panels. In total darkness they will be blind.”
“I would like to mention so will we,” Phifer pointed out.
“No, actually, we’ll be prepared this time. We’ll have a large stockpile of flares and other light sources to turn to.”
“I don’t understand. You want the Pillar’s lights to be out, but you’re going to produce your own light. Won’t the Dominus be able to see just as well as us?”
“Yes, but we’ll have control over the lights. We’ll be able to launch the flares anywhere in the city, and the Dominus will have no choice but to respond to each one. We can set up dozens of false attack points with the flares, making it nearly impossible for the Dominus to know where we’re attacking from.” Trevor grinned as everyone’s eyes lit up.
“Brilliant as usual, Lord Trevor, but what will we do with the radioactive water once we have the city? We will have to take control of the Central Pillar eventually, or the crops we depend on for food will begin to die,” Phifer said.
“Once we have control of the pillar, we can flush the poison out into the sea. The Dominus won’t be able to do that without contaminating their tanks, and because CEMS will shut down the pumping stations that lead out of the Central Pillar.”
“What if the Dominus know what CEMS is doing and try to override her commands?” Ursa asked.
“It is your job to ensure that the failure of the pumps and sensors is a result of your own revolt,” the Avatar replied stoically.
“Shouldn’t be hard for my people, since it is our job to guard such sites,” Trevor chuckled.
“You know if we fail, the Dominus will wipe out our clans?” Lord Phifer warned.
“If the Dominus succeed in making use of Jason’s anima core, and also take control of Ares, they will no longer have further need of us and will kill us anyway,” Trevor countered.
“So, we have no choice is what you’re saying. You don’t leave anything to chance, Lord Trevor,” Ursa grumbled.
“I like allies I can count on. Rezzard should have remembered that.”
“Knowing that old cat, he thought he should have been in charge, being the oldest.” Phifer laughed.
“Well, he’ll never be in charge now,” Alex grunted.
“How long will it take for you to get the Cat people on our side?” Ursa asked.
“That depends on how quickly Alex can make a deal with the Tigerclaws,” Trevor answered.
“What can I promise them?” Alex asked.
“A younger leader, for sure. No one is as old as mangy Rezzard.” Ursa grinned.
“A third of the clan council has veto powers over any decision,” Trevor said.
“They will want more than that,” Alex warned.
“It’s the best they’re going to get. If they want more, they will have to fight with their own elders to get it. I won’t hand the entire clan to them on a silver platter.”
“I’ll be sure to tell them that.”
“What do you want my people to do?” Geoff asked.
“You came with some pretty heavy weapons in that pod of yours. I take it you know how to use them?” Trevor asked Geoff.
“Yes,” Geoff nodded.
“Then it will be your job to destroy any war spheres the Dominus send against us. Those things can destroy entire city blocks with little effort.”
“Give me whatever information you have on them, and I’ll see what my team can come up with,” Geoff promised.
“You’ll have that information by the end of today, as well as a complete layout of the city.”
“What do you want me to do?” Jason asked.
“Your mission is the most dangerous of them all,” Trevor whispered nervously. “I need you to lead the assault on the Central Pillar itself.”
“Why him?” Ursa asked.
“Because, if I lead the team the Grau will think it’s a revolt led by the Dalf. With Jason, they’ll see it as something different. Anyway, the Animani have insisted Jason lead the team. Since we need their support, I can’t very much argue with them.” Trevor clearly didn’t like the idea himself.
“I think I know why the Animani want me there, and it might save countless lives. I’ll lead the team,” Jason said, his voice a little shaky.
“And I’ll go with him,” Logan insisted.
“But I can’t?” Geoff grunted.
“You can assign as many Saints as you want to the team, but we need you to command the heavy weapon’s squads.” Trevor replied.
Geoff refused. “You command the weapon squads, Lord Trevor. My place is with Jason.”
“Trevor, this isn’t an argument you’re going to win,” Jason warned. Jason knew Geoff was being so stubborn, not just because he would be in danger, but also because Logan would be with him.
“Argil will command the heavy weapons,” Geoff compromised.
“So be it,” Trevor agreed. “We’ll have one more meeting to set the date of our rebellion, but otherwise we will have no other communication on this matter except for our usual chatter. Agreed?” After all the leaders had nodded their heads they began to leave the bunker, each leaving through a separate secrete tunnel.
That night Trevor held Jason close to him. “I’m sorry for all this. I know you expect more from me.”
“I once wanted to be a Centurion, but I guess I’ll just have to accept that their code of honor no longer works in this world.”
“Maybe it will, once we’re free of the Dominus.”
“And the Togo?” Jason added.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to handle them, or the Dominus army already there.”
“That’s why I think we should leave Ares before war destroys it.” Jason whispered as he nuzzled closer to Trevor.
“Do you think we did the right thing?”
“You know… asking Thomas to carry our child.”
“You said you wanted a proper heir.”
“But did you want another child?” Trevor asked nervously.
“I wanted to give you a child,” Jason answered. “This isn’t the world that I want to raise him in, though.”
“You want to give me something to remember you by,” Trevor sighed. “There’s nothing I can say that will convince you to stay here with me once we free the city.”
“I have my other children, Philip, James, and my own people to think about. They’re expecting a miracle with my return. I can’t strip them of their hope.”
“I know, once you have your core back you will cease being a Dalf and be an Angel again. I can accept that will change your feelings for me, but it still hurts,” Trevor said as he began to cry.
“I will always love you, Trevor. I just wish I could convince you to come to Domus with me.”
“Maybe, one day, I will but if the revolt succeeds I will be needed here more than ever. I just wish things didn’t have to end like this.”
“I told you from the start that my true husband will always be Philip. Even James knows that.”
“But at least both of them will have you.”
“For now, you have me, Trevor,” Jason said as he rolled on top of the Dalf. They made love very slowly that night, Jason making sure Trevor wouldn’t be without good memories. He did love Trevor, if in an animalistic sort of way. Trevor was his Alpha, and he was his mate. In most cases they would have lived a lifetime with one another. If Jason stayed a Dalf, he could be happy with that arrangement. But, knowing how his Saints were suffering, and the danger his people were in, superseded any selfish reasons he had for wanting his own happiness. Once he had his core back, his desire for Trevor would fade away, but not his love. He and the Rex would just have to accept loving each other from a distance until the world was truly at peace. Jason feared, however, that would never happen. Which was why he was pressing for everyone to flee to the Blue Star, away from both the Togo and Dominus. Trevor remained against the idea. Mordel was his home, the only world he knew. He had never been under the blue skies of Ares, had never breathed fresh, clean mountain air. One day Jason hoped to share such simple pleasures with Trevor but, with both of them trapped by their duty to their people, it might be many years until such a day came to pass.
That is why Jason made every moment of this night count, wanting to burn in his own mind what it felt to be a Dalf loved by the most important person of his kind. He didn’t know if he would ever get another chance.
Gideon Sin was marched, naked, into the Imperial throne room where Varrus was pacing before the golden throne, his dark hair in disarray. When the guards stopped him, twenty feet from the throne, he cleared his voice before speaking. “Varrus, I…”
Varrus cut Gideon off, while he continued to pace. “Don’t talk to me. I don’t want to hear your excuses. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“It wasn’t like I was given much choice in the matter,” Gideon insisted.
“You could have done something other than turn half the population of Ares into mindless killers. It will take us years to root them all out. As soon as the Senate learned of you, they demanded that I arrest and kill you, just to be on the safe side.”
“But I’m not cursed anymore. Surely you can see that.”
“But what about Sin? Did you have to kill Philip’s own son?”
“I didn’t kill Sin. He’s as much a part of me as I’m a part of him. Anyway, he was the only one who could lift the curse. Maybe if you believed him from the start, so many other people wouldn’t have been caught up in it.”
“So you’re blaming me for all this now?” Varrus said defensively, as he waved his arms about.
“Varrus,” Gideon Sin pouted.
“Get over here,” Varrus said, spreading his arms wide. He wasn’t really mad at Gideon. The miracle of his resurrection was already being told by Jason’s priests as a direct proof of the power of Jason’s divine love. Hugging the man tightly, Varrus did his best not to cry. “You’re still Regent, I hope you know.”
“Oh come on, Varrus. Sin was no good as Regent.”
“He was unpredictable. The Dominus are still busy trying to conquer Jadoor, so I think the end of the curse has caught them off guard.”
“It could have happened a lot faster,” Gideon said, not able to stop himself from pointing that out.
“Well, you’ve made a believer out of me. So tell me, Lord Regent, what are we to do now?”
“Pray that Jason comes back,” Gideon replied.
“He’s still alive, isn’t he.”
“He is, and that’s not just hope speaking. Sin’s bond to Jason was incredibly strong. That’s how he was able to break the curse.”
“Could Jason have broken it?”
“Not without it costing his own life,” Gideon replied. “That’s why Sin did it. He knew the only reason he survived his birth was because Jason almost killed himself to keep him alive.”
“Well, good luck dealing with Philip. Knowing that you are both Gideon and Sin is going to torment him badly. The two biggest mistakes of his life, standing here alive, and looking absolutely gorgeous.”
“Not as gorgeous as you, Lord Chancellor,” Geoff blushed.
“I’ve not been feeling very gorgeous lately. The Senate is in a panic. Both Darius and Lukas are away, getting rid of the cursed undead. We lost so many good men because of you, Gideon.”
“I know, but there was nothing I could do. The Dominus destroyed my body, Varrus. I had no control over what happened. All I knew was that only Jason or, in this case, Sin, could end my agony.”
“Well, it’s over. Don’t worry. I won’t let the Senate get their hands on you. I just wish Jason was here to welcome you back.”
“Since Jason is still alive, I can only guess he escaped the trap the Dominus set for him. They dumped his broken body among the Nosferatu, Varrus, blood drinkers who treat their slaves like cattle. I rescued him, and had my cursed slaves guard him while I sent a message off to Alex. I guess he must have rescued him from that freezing hell.”
“So Alex is in Mordel, just as Jason said.”
“Yes, he’s been as miserable as I was, and keeping bad company.”
“Hopefully, he will have the sense to stay away from Domus. Not even I can protect a Legatio killer from the Senate.”
“Jason can, if he explains how Alex saved his life.”
“Maybe, but, to be honest, I don’t think Alex can ever come back without having to worry about a hired assassin killing him,” Varrus sighed. “Come, we should get you bathed and dressed. You’ll then have to explain yourself to the children. Be sure to tell them that their father is alive.”
“I know from Sin’s memories that Jason fathered several boys, but I still can’t picture him with a woman.”
“I should tell you what a mess Jason made the first time he tried to have sex with his queen,” Varrus laughed as he led Gideon away. “There are six now. Amanda gave birth to Clive after Sin left. Patrick and Ben are the most worried. Given they are the oldest, they’re the ones who remember their father the best.”
“Jason will come back. I know he will,” Gideon said confidently as he was led to the palace baths. “Now, this is something I’ve really missed.” Gideon sighed as he felt a wave of hot steam hit his face.
“Well, enjoy it. We don’t know how much longer we can keep the fires burning. Most of our coal came from outside the kingdom. With most of the West and East depopulated, we’re not getting many new shipments. The Senate has already passed a law against the cutting down of trees. With as many refugees as we now have inside the Empire. we could quickly run out of forests. Soon, we’ll be forced to use animal dung. I can tell you that I’m not looking forward to it flavoring my food.”
“At least the winters aren’t bad here.”
“I’m counting that as a small blessing. It’s the smiths I’m worried about. Without fire to fuel their furnaces, how can they be expected to produce the weapons we will need?”
“Not even your finest weapons smith can produce anything that will match what you’ll face with the Dominus,” Gideon warned, as he slowly sank into the pool of steaming water.
“The Togo gave us weapons. It seems they want us and the Dominus to wear each other out, so they can defeat us both when we’re at our weakest.”
“Have you considered forming an alliance with the Southern Islanders? Their weapons are not as advance as the Dominus, but they’re more advanced than ours.”
“How do you know that?” Varrus said as he sank into the water next to Gideon.
“That Grau, Thomas, has a big mouth. When I was being taken to Mordel, he told me how his people had arranged for the Mathannons to steal the secret to the Southerners’ explosive powder.”
“So that’s where it came from,” Varrus chuckled. “James married a Fu Dor princess named Lan, and we still have a Saint acting as our agent on the island. We’ll just have to see if they see the Dominus as a big a threat as we do.”
“They will, believe me. According to what Thomas told me, the Southerners were the original settlers on Ares, even before the Togo and Mordelians reached this world.”
“What do you mean… reach this world?” Varrus demanded.
“I mean that, according to Thomas, all the people who now live on Ares are descendents of people who once lived on another star. There was a war, it seems, and their star was destroyed so they all came here to live.”
“Just like our world is about to be destroyed,” Varrus whispered, thinking of the Centurion prophecy. “To the blue star.”
“Yes,” Gideon whispered as well. “I’m home again, but I don’t know for how long.”
“I think I should summon Darius and Lukas back to Domus. The Jadoorians can’t hold out for much longer and, once the island falls, only the mainland will remain. If only we could reach a new understanding with the Togo.”
“The Togo think we’re animals, not even human. They will never treat us as equals. Neither will the Dominus, who think of us as their property, a science experiment gone feral.”
“Then we Centurions will have to do what we’ve always done; fight on our own against a world that despises us.”
“Now that is something I can relate to,” Gideon laughed, as he splashed Varrus playfully.
“Don’t try flirting with me right now,” Varrus chuckled.
“And why not? I’ve been dead for over seven years. Now that I’ve got a real living body, I want to make love to the best lover in the world.”
“Well, Jason’s not here.”
“But his mentor is,” Gideon said with a wicked grin, as he wrapped his arms around the back of Varrus’ neck. “Please, Lord Varrus, I really need this.”
“If you insist,” Varrus said before kissing Gideon Sin lightly on the lips. Soon Gideon had his hawk-like wings wrapped around their bodies, hiding what they did from view.
“How could you betray us, Paz?” Philip demanded. All the Togo crew had been imprisoned after Geoff’s warning. Philip and James had their men seize control of the Argos; well, sort of control. The Togo no longer had the run of the ship, but none of James’ men knew how to pilot it.
“You cannot betray an animal,” Paz replied, giving the standard Togo response to questioning.
“You don’t believe that, not after all we’ve been through,” Philip said in a booming voice.
“I was mistaken. I should not have let your men seduce me,” Paz replied nervously.
Seeing how ragged the chief tech officer looked, Philip suddenly realized that the rest of the Togo crew must be beating him for his past involvement with Philip and his men. “I’m taking you to the brig,” he decided on the spot.
“You mustn’t, sir,” Paz said in a begging tone. Already, the other Togo were giving him angry glares.
“And who are you to tell me what I can or cannot do?” Philip grabbed Paz by the collar of his black uniform and dragged him out of the cargo hold.
“Why did you do that, Lord Philip? My people will kill me now,” Paz wailed as he tried to break free while the Spawn guards by the hatch, closed and locked it.
“Because you’re the only honest one out of the bunch,” Philip replied as he let go of the man.
“I can’t help you, sir. My people…”
“Your people swore they would help save Jason, not turn him into a puppet.”
“Ares is our land. You have no right to it.”
“Well, it’s a little late to complain about it now. Ares has been our only home for thousands of years. Your people should have protested long ago.”
“We were too occupied fighting Lahore at the time,” Paz said in a pouting tone.
“Then you should have asked for our help,” Philip countered. “We have more reason to hate the Dominus than you do.”
“Animals don’t have real emotions.”
“I’m not an animal. Neither is James, nor any of our men. You can either accept us as equals, or be made one.”
“You wouldn’t dare bond me,” Paz said, looking frightened.
“Never dare a Demon,” Philip growled into Paz’s face. “I’m handing you over to Volt. You always seemed fond of him. Maybe he’ll get more cooperation out of you.” Grabbing Paz by his uniform again, Philip dragged the man to the bridge where James and his Saints were desperately trying to figure out the controls.
“They have to be simple if Amplexor was able to pilot this thing by himself,” James shouted in frustration.
“I’ve brought you a present, my love,” Philip chuckled as he dropped Paz on the metal deck.
“Have you decided to cooperate, Officer Paz?” James demanded.
“I was thinking of letting Volt handle the interrogation,” Philip explained, as both he and James glared at the frightened tech chief.
“That might be a good idea,” James agreed. “Volt, take Officer Paz to your quarters and don’t let him out until you are sure we will get his full cooperation.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem, Admiral,” Volt said, as he grinned at the frightened man. “Do I have permission to bond him if necessary?”
“Considering that the Togo broke their end of the agreement, I don’t see why not,” James replied as Paz curled up into a tight ball. “I would have Philip make all of them his little Spawn if I didn’t think it would ruin them as hostages.”
“On your feet Paz. Don’t make me drag you,” Volt demanded.
Slowly rising, Paz kept his eyes to the floor.
Grabbing Paz by his right shoulder, Volt escorted the Togo off of the bridge and down to James’ private quarters where he pushed Paz onto the bed.
“Please don’t make me inhuman, Lieutenant,” Paz pleaded.
“How can an act of love ever be considered inhuman?” Volt sighed as he began to remove his uniform.
“Please, sir, I can’t do this. My people will kill me if they suspect I betrayed them.”
Grabbing Paz by his jaw, Volt examined the purple bruises on the man’s face. “It looks like they think you’ve already betrayed them.”
“This is what animals do,” Paz whispered.
“The lucky ones at least. Anyway, you’ve seemed to have enjoyed it.”
“I was mistaken.”
“One’s manhood never lies,” Volt said as he started to stroke the front of Paz’s pants. Soon, Paz’s cock was as hard as a stone pillar. “There, that proves it. You’re not a Togo, my friend, but one of us.” Leaving Paz, he went to James’ desk where he picked up a ceremonial gold dagger. “I should have done this before the first time we made love, but I didn’t want to scare you.”
“You’re going to kill me?”
“No. Circumcise you. If we’re to be lovers, its’ only proper that I make love to a man instead of a frightened boy.”
“Boy? But I’m older than you,” Paz said, insulted.
“Then prove it,” Volt said as he grabbed Paz’s belt.
“I won’t let you cut me.”
“Now you sound like a whimpering Legatio. Jason never put up such a fuss. I was with him at the Academy. I never saw a Legatio bleed as often as he did. Now, there was a real man… a man I would do anything for.” Volt said the last part with a hint of steel in his voice.
“Please, Volt, don’t do this. I beg of you.”
“I’m sorry, Paz, but I have to do this. I have to prove to you that you’re one of us. Once this is done, everyone will know you’re a man and no child like the rest of the Togo.”
“There has to be some other way.”
“Well, I could bond to you, but that would leave its own marks on you. I won’t bond to you until you tell me you love me.”
“But I can’t.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s not what you feel.”
“I will never be able to go back home. I could be stranded here, to die.”
“I will take care of you,” Volt promised as he touched Paz’s ebony skin affectionately.
“I can’t say it,” Paz said in a tortured voice.
“Then we’ll let the knife say it for you.”
As Volt used the knife to cut away his pants Paz blurted it out before he could stop himself. “I love you.”
“Are you saying that because you’re scared?”
“Of course I’m scared. You’re about to cut off the tip of my cock.”
“Actually I was just bluffing. I would never force a child to get circumcised.”
“I am no child.”
“Yes you are. Look at the way your people have treated us… like spoiled children used to getting their own ways with no understanding what real love is.”
“But I do love you,” Paz said with greater ease.
“And I love you,” Volt said as he tapped Paz on the nose with the flat of the gold dagger. “So it’s to be a bonding.”
“Is that really necessary?”
“It’s the only way Philip and James will ever trust you again, and not because I’ll be able to read your thoughts. It will be because they’ll know you can never go back to your people. We’ll be your family then.”
“I have a wife.”
“Yet you came on this mission knowing you would most likely die.”
“It was for the good of my people, a great honor.”
“To betray a friend is never honorable,” Volt said as he removed Paz’s shirt. He then lay on top of the tech chief with his muscular arms wrapped around him.
“Will it hurt?”
“It will feel wonderful. You’ll finally be free.”
“But an animal.”
“We are all animals, even you Togo,” Volt said before giving Paz the fatal kiss.
When they returned to the bridge Paz quickly explained the controls of the Argos and had them moving south again.
“Good work,” James said congratulating Volt.
“My pleasure,” Volt laughed.
On reaching the Valley of Atlantis, Celia and Julian were sent down to the underground city while their followers were made to dig at the rocky earth that kept most of the city buried. They eventually found themselves in prison, put in separate cells across from two other prisoners, one a Lahorian, the other a deeply tanned Jadoorian.
“Want to tell me why you two are here?” Julian asked in the accented Jadoorian he learned during his travels in the Federation.
“A Tosian, eh. You must be a worshiper of that false god, Jason.” The Jadoorian smirked.
“Jason is no false god. He is the savior of Ares.”
“But not of you, if you’re down here with us,” the Lahorian said in perfect Jadoorian.
“But where are we?” Celia asked.
“This is Atlantis, the last hidden city of the Togo,” the Lahorian said with mocking awe.
“And who are you?” Julian asked.
“We could ask you the same,” the Jadoorian noted.
“I am High Priest Julian, and my companion is Celia, wife of Chancellor Varrus of the Domus Empire.”
“It seems that this prison is for their special prisoners, then,” the Jadoorian sighed. “I am Inquisitor Harper, guardian of his majesty, Emperor Calis of Lahore.”
“So you must be the Emperor,” Celia spat.
“Forgive her. She’s an Isilian,” Julian apologized.
“How unlike a priest to forgive for the sins of others,” Calis smirked.
“Forgiveness is something Jason himself struggles with.” Julian replied.
“A High Priest admitting his god isn’t perfect?” Harper laughed.
“Jason himself admits his not perfect. Is that not proof of his divine humility?”
“A god is not supposed to be humble. A humble god would never be obeyed.”
“But Jason doesn’t want to be obeyed. He doesn’t even want the people to see him as a god. He knows, however, that the people believe he is a god and so does his best to make sure that they believe in the right things. That is why he picked me to be his High Priest.”
“Because you know your god so well?” Harper snickered.
“He is my friend and I love him deeply.”
“Love can be a jealous master.”
“There is no jealousy between Jason and me. There are times where I fail to understand him, and have acted in ways that he finds embarrassing, but he always forgives me and I do try to learn from each mistake.”
“A priest who fails Kaal is punished by being burned at the stake for heresy.”
“I’ve been seeing a lot of Kaals lately. Do you know which one is the real one?”
“He’s dead,” Calis said coldly. He destroyed himself to defeat the Togo, and forced them to live underground, creating the Desert of Flames in the process. The Togo might have waited thousands of years, but they finally got their revenge. My Empire is gone, turned into another great desert.”
“I’m sorry, young one. Jason knew a great war was coming, and had hoped the Togo would aid the people of Ares through this crisis. but it seems the Togo have betrayed us.”
“Why have they brought us here?”
“Your people, or you in particular?” Harper asked.
“Why not both?”
“Well, from what we’ve gathered, our followers were brought here to help out with the great digging project. It seems the Togo buried their great city under a mountain of sand during their war with Lahore. That’s how it survived the destruction of the rest of their empire. Now that Lahore has been destroyed, they want to free Atlantis from the sands and take their place as the sole rulers of all of Ares. As for the Emperor and I, we’re nothing more than hostages, used to keep our people working. If a slave tries to run, he is always captured and burned alive while we receive ten lashes in front of our people for every slave that escapes.
“We were leading five million refuges here in hope that the Togo would care for them.”
“Five million? That should speed up the excavation of Atlantis. They’ll care for them, if just to keep them alive. Once the city is free of the desert, I wouldn’t hold out too much hope of being free. They see us as animals and have no qualms about slaughtering us as such.”
“I need to speak with Jason. He would know what to do.”
“Then shouldn’t you pray, priest?”
“Jason speaks to me. It has nothing to do with prayer.”
“Funny, Kaal has never spoken to me, but then again he’s been dead since the founding of the Empire.” Calis chuckled. “Maybe your god is dead too.”
“No, Jason’s not dead. He’s in the hands of our enemies, but he’s not dead.”
“Either way, he can’t help you.”
“He will. Jason would never abandon his people.”
“You have great faith in your god,” Harper said, strangely impressed. The Church of the Mother had always been centered around the priests. Slave or merchant would come to the priests for advice, and the priests would give it without turning to the Mother or her Sons for guidance. In the cell across from him was the head of the Church of the Holy Emperor, and he openly admitted he didn’t have all the answers but was patiently waiting for his god to give them to him. As an Inquisitor, he was supposed to pray to the true Sons of the Mother for guidance but they had never spoken to him, either. Harper knew Jason was an Angel. He didn’t know if that made him a real god or not. “Tell me about your Jason?”
“If these bars weren’t in my way, I would show you,” Julian replied.
“They let us out to eat meals. You can show me then,” Harper replied. “You should rest. Tomorrow they’ll have you on the podium to receive any lashes you’ve earned because of escapes. Since this is the first night for your people, there are bound to be many.”
“He’s right. You should sleep, Celia. I’ll stand watch while I meditate on our situation.”
“You go ahead and do that,” Celia sighed as she lay down on her bunk. Julian sat cross-legged on the concrete floor. Soon Celia and Calis were asleep. Harper watched in silence as the High Priest meditated.
“Sir we’re picking up the Togo fleet on the sensors.” one of James’ men warned. It had not taken long for Paz to teach them about the controls for the Argos. He was the tech chief, after all.
“Have they detected us?” James asked from his command chair.
“No, the Argos sensors are far superior to that of the Togo Navy. Do you wish to launch an attack on them?” Paz asked.
“There are hundreds of other Saints on those ships. Right now, we should concentrate on rescuing them. We can deal with the Togos later. Any suggestions, First Officer?” James asked Paz. The Togo’s promotion only seemed natural, as he knew the ship better than anyone else aboard. As for the rest of the Togo crew, they were confined to the cargo holds where the smell was getting pretty bad.
“How about we arrange a prisoner exchange?” Paz offered.
“And give away our position?” James demanded.
“We can use a message probe. By removing some of its fuel, it will appear as if we are a long distance off.” Paz suggested.
“But how do we trust them to hand over our men? We still need the location of the vent before we can plan any attack on Mordel.”
“Can’t Geoff tell you where it is?” Philip asked.
“He never knew, but his tech chief Mbeki knows. They’re still trying to get the information out of him.”
“Then maybe we should wait.” Paz said.
“We’re not waiting,” Philip grumbled. “Jason is once again trying to save the world, and this time I’m not going to let him do it on his own. I let him kill Xavier and Gladius, but I won’t let him face the Dominus without me, not this time.”
“I’m sure Jason will be happy to have you battling by his side, knee deep in blood no less,” Paz replied.
“I would have it no other way.” Philip grinned, imagining the sight.
“Forgive Philip… it’s been a while since he’s killed anyone,” James apologized, jokingly.
“Volt, send the message probe. Have two thirds of the fuel siphoned off before launching it.”
“What should I include in the probe?”
“Tell them we’ll meet them at the Vent.”
“But we don’t know where the vent is?”
“But they do. We can also be sure they will want to capture us, along with the Argos.
“So it’s a decoy.”
“Yes, while they setup an ambush at the Vent, we’ll attack their fleet with the breaching pods from the Argos.”
“Do you know which ships your men are on?”
“I do,” James replied. “Since I bonded to Jason, I have a connection to all of Jason’s Saints. Volt is also one of Jason’s men, so finding them will be no problem.”
Going to the battle display, Paz brought up a holographic image of the Togo fleet twenty miles off the Mordelium coast. “Show me which ships are holding your men.”
With a finger James pointed at three of the largest ships, including the Togo flag-carrier. “We have twelve breaching pods. We’ll use six to carry our strike teams, while the other six carry our trapped men to safety.”
“What of the Argos?” Philip asked.
“The gravity drive,” James chuckled. With it, we can create a series of tidal waves that will keep the Togo fleet in chaos. That should mess up their sensors, shouldn’t it, Paz?”
“It should, but it will take a great deal of power. It might blow our capacitors.”
“Then you’d better be careful with the generators,” Volt said.
“What about my crewmates?”
“We’ll give them back, as soon as we have our men. Right now, they’re more trouble than they’re worth since we know how to control the ship.”
“All because of me,” Paz sighed.
“Don’t you like us better than your snobbish friends?” Volt said as he hugged Paz tightly from behind.
“If you’re trying to seduce me to do what you want, there’s no need, Lieutenant Volt. You have me tied so tightly around that finger of yours, I won’t even put up a fight.”
“I don’t think it’s his finger you’re tied to,” Philip smirked, causing both Volt and Paz to blush. “How soon can we make the attack?”
“It will take two hours for our message probe to reach them, but we might as well go into stealth mode so that we’re right under the fleet by the time they respond to our message.”
“But what if they hand over our men at the rendezvous point?” Paz asked.
“And leave us in command of the Argos? They’ll never do that,” James said chidingly. “They think we’re a bunch of dumb barbarians, so they will try to cheat us and gain control of the ship. That might not be the Centurion way of doing things, but I was a Jadoorian before I became an Angel, so I have no problem being as underhanded as our enemy.”
“Don’t you just love him?” Philip said, beaming with pride at James. Without James to support him, Philip knew he would have become a mindless bloodthirsty monster months ago. Being the Angel’s lover had let Philip finally understand why his Jason loved James. James understood people, their fears and desires, so much better than Philip who was more guided by his passions. James’ calming influence had been invaluable on this journey. Philip knew it was a debt he would never be able to repay.
Once Jason had been rescued and was safe, Philip would give his permission for Jason to make James his second consort. Philip would even offer to marry Kyle so they could all be together. Jason was a Legatio, after all. Multiple marriages were seen as a mark of prestige and wealth, and there was no one in all of Ares as wealthy or as famous as the Holy Emperor. Jason would, of course, be stubborn on the issue. Too many people had tried to force him to take on additional brides. Once Philip made it clear how much he now loved both James and Kyle, he hoped Jason would see the logic of an expanded marriage. He just didn’t think now was the time to approach James on his idea, so he kept it to himself.
“The Togo Fleet has accepted our officers for the exchange. You can see their Zephyrs launching now from the battle display,” Paz said after a few tense hours.
“Sense any of our people on those flyers?” Philip asked James.
“Not a one.”
“Then it’s time we played our hand. Once we have the coordinates of the vent, activate the distress beacons on the life buoys we left the Togo in,” James commanded.
“Yes, Admiral,” Paz replied, as the crew of Saints and Spawn busied themselves about the controls.
“The zephyrs have landed,” an officer reported an hour later. “Our spy drone is moving in to intercept.”
“From Geoff’s last report, the whole area is protected by automated defenses. Let’s have the Togo clear a path for us.”
“Suits me fine,” Philip chuckled as his heart began to race. Soon, he would know how to reach Jason. It would only be a matter of time until he had his lover back in his arms.
“Sir, we’ve picked up a new set of signals coming from the shore, about fifty miles north of us,” Paz said worriedly.
“Is it a Togo fleet we didn’t know about?” James demanded.
“No, sir, the ships are definitely Mordelian and there are a lot of them. I think the Togo fleet has just been discovered.”
“Launch the breech pods,” Philip shouted.
“Shouldn’t we abort?” Paz asked.
“And risk our men being found with the Togo fleet? If the Dominus find just one Saint, they’ll know we are trying to rescue Jason. If they believe for one second we might succeed, they will kill Jason before we can even get close to him,” Philip said frantically, baring his sharp teeth.
“He’s right,” James agreed. “Launch the pods, but do not use the gravity drive. The Togo now have enough to worry about. We don’t need to cause them more trouble. Anyway, we might need the gravity drive to make our own escape. Keep a sharp eye on that Mordelian fleet, though. I want to know exactly how it came on us so fast with so little warning.”
“The spy drone is in position. Patching in the feed now,” Paz said after the pods had been released. On the screens they saw heavily armed armored vehicles moving slowly backwards in retreat, with all weapons firing at the giant metal spheres that were quickly floating towards them. “Dominus war spheres. So it was a trap.”
“Geoff’s trap,” James whispered. “He knew the Togo had betrayed us, and probably didn’t want them following in after him. Since he was the one who got the Togo through the defense systems on the surface the first time, I bet he found some way to ensure they would get caught this time.”
“Makes sense,” Philip agreed in a defeated tone. “But what are we to do now? The vent was our only way into the city.”
“We’ll find another way,” James said. “That Mordelian fleet had to have come from somewhere. What reports from the breaching teams, Dovin?”
“They’ve attached themselves to the hulls of their targets and are cutting their way through now.”
“What is the Togo fleet doing?” Philip asked as he went back to the battle display.
“It looks like they’re launching their remaining Zephyrs, while circling their smaller ships around the flagship and other carriers.”
“So they’re going to fight.”
“The two fleets are about equal in number and size, so I guess the battle will be decided on whichever side has the best officers,” James replied.
“And the ground battle?”
“Mordelian Zephyrs are moving to intercept the Togo flyers while they’re still on the ground trying to recover their men. Soon, they’ll have to abandon their remaining men or else they’ll be defenseless on the ground, with the enemy flyers and those battle spheres arriving in their landing area,” James said.
“Our teams have breached two of the three ships. The flagship has a thicker hull and is taking longer,” Dovin reported.
“Are they meeting any resistance?”
“We don’t have time for this. Give me the Togo Admiral,” Philip demanded as he went over to the communications station.
“That will tell them exactly where we are.”
“Good. Then he’ll know we can blow up half his fleet. Get him on the com. I don’t think he wants to fight us. any more than we do him.”
“I have him on the com. sir,” Dovin said as he turned up the sound.
“Damn you Centurion animals. Don’t you know what you have done?” the Admiral’s seething voice came over the speakers.
“You betrayed us first, Admiral Kafka.”
“Your men betrayed us. We would have rescued your precious Emperor and destroyed Mordel in one stroke, but you seem to have sided with the Dominus and have betrayed us to them. We will never surrender. I will scuttle the fleet before I let one of my men become a lab rat for those monsters.”
“Very well. Kill yourselves if you want, but let us take our men from your ships before you do it,” James said, joining Philip by the communication station.
“And what of my own men?” Kafka demanded.
“The ones aboard the Argos have been set adrift. If your fleet gets out of this mess, you should be able to find them.”
“We were supposed to meet at the vent.”
“Funny that you didn’t send any of our men there with you,” James retorted. “Anyway, we would have ended up being caught, just like you.”
“So you’re saying you didn’t warn the Dominus of our coming?”
“The Dominus will kill Jason if any of my people are caught on this side of the world. Right now, I think the Dominus believe this is only an invasion by your people, having nothing to do with mine. Given that you think of us as mere animals, why would the Dominus think you might have allied with us.”
“True,” Kafka grudgingly agreed. “Very well, I will have your men returned to you. But I’m only doing so because I know you won’t give up trying to reach Mordel until you have your emperor back. Destroy Mordel, Admiral James. It is the only way to save us all. Admiral Kafka of the Togo Barrier Navy, out.”
“He thinks he’s going to die,” Dovin sighed.
“He’s a long way from home, deep in enemy territory. It’s not like there is a safe harbor nearby where he can make repairs, even if he wins this engagement with the enemy. The Dominus will hound his fleet until every ship is either captured or destroyed. Whatever happens, he won’t let himself be captured,” James said, feeling a new found respect for the Togo leader.
“Our men have started boarding the pods,” James told Philip when he sensed the men’s movement.
“Sir, may I suggest that a tracking device be placed on as many of the Togo ships as possible? That way, if they are captured, you’ll know where they were taken.”
“Won’t the Mordelians just remove them?”
“The Togo will most likely scuttle the ships before letting them be captured, but the Dominus won’t be able to ignore so much scrap metal. They will certainly want to salvage as much as they can. I doubt they’ll look for something as tiny as a tracking device,” Paz explained.
“See that it’s done, First Officer. How soon until the two fleets will be in reach of each other?”
“Their Zephyrs will be in firing range in twenty minutes, but I doubt many of them will bother with each other when their real targets are the ships. Once the pods are back on the Argos, we should probably go into stealth mode and quietly sneak away. We can always stay in sensor range, so we’ll know how the battle turns out.”
“Full stealth mode?” James asked.
“Better safe than sorry, Admiral.” Paz replied. Full stealth mode would mean diverting power to the gravity drive, which would produce a field strong enough to defeat any detection system know to either the Togo or Dominus. Like any use of the gravity drive, it also consumed a great amount of power.
“How fast will we be able to get out of the area?”
“Fifteen knots, tops.”
“My own wooden fleet could move faster, but I guess we can’t take the risk.” James sighed. “Power up the generators. I want us to be out of here as soon as possible.”
“ASAP, sir.” Paz saluted.
“Whatever,” James replied. So close to finding Jason, he hated that more barriers had appeared. By the scowl on Philip’s face, he hated it too. He knew he could contact Geoff for help but, now that he was in among the Dominus and Grau, he didn’t want to risk their telepathic link being detected. Geoff must have feared the same, because he had stayed out of contact as well.
“The men are aboard sir,” Dovin reported twenty minutes later.
“Then get us out of here, Lieutenant Volt.”
“Activating gravity drive,” Paz said as all the displays went dark. The disadvantage of being invisible was that you couldn’t see anything either.
“The Togo ground team has been wiped out, sir,” Paz said a half hour later.
“And the fleet?”
“So far, it’s been an even fight. Five ships have been sunk on both sides, but the Dominus are calling up the Zephyrs they sent against the Togo ground team. Soon the Togos will be outnumbered in the sky.”
“So they can’t win?”
“No, they can’t.”
“Take us back to where we set the crew adrift, and turn off their beacon. We can’t risk letting them be taken.”
“Might I ask what you plan to do with them, sir?” Paz asked.
“I can’t risk having traitors wandering the decks of my ship, so I think you know what we’ll have to do.”
“I understand, sir, and I thank you for giving them this second chance. But they’ll never be able to go home once you’ve bonded to them.”
“I know, but it’s the best I can offer. Back to your post, First Officer,” James ordered, having nothing left to say.
The Togo flagship was the last to go. With Mordelian boarding parties storming across the carrier’s deck, the ship’s scuttling charges were detonated, taking many of the enemy down with the massive warship. Once he was told the news, James made a silent salute and quickly left the bridge. Philip followed him to their quarters, where they found comfort in each other’s arms.
“You really shouldn’t be here, sir,” Thomas told Dillon, both dressed in black trench coats as they rode the elevator up to the top floors of Tower One.
“The Dominus have found your reports lacking in detail. I’m here to correct the matter.”
“Jason is a harmless, broken man, who’s always in need of rescue. It’s all in my reports.”
“He also killed the Emperor Xavier and the Jadoorian High Priest Gladius, both formidable men according to your same reports.”
“That was then. Do you really think much of that survived what the Dominus and Nosferatu did to him?”
“Funny how he escaped that little trap alive.”
“As my own investigation proved, it was Alex Helios who pulled off the rescue. I even found the body of the message carrier Gideon used to tell Alex where Jason was.”
“And how did Jason end up with the chieftain of the Dalf clan?”
“Jacob’s doing, as my reports went into great detail. Anyway, I have one of my own men keeping an eye on Jason, the Doll, Logan.”
“The blacksmith whose body you recovered eight years ago?”
“He’s the one.”
“I understand from my own surveillance that Jason and Lord Phifer have become close.”
“The Hawkmen know what Jason once was, and see him as one of their kind. Since Jason lost his wings due to losing his core, Phifer Rex has been giving him flying lessons using the artificial wings the Animani Prime gave to him.”
“The Prime, another man close to Jason. The Dominus are worried, Thomas. Not about your reports; they’re flawless. It’s what your reports show that should have us all concerned. Weak and beaten Jason might be, but he is still a powerful symbol and is therefore still a threat to the Dominus. He still thinks his Philip will save him. That demon should have gone mad by now, but we do not know where he is.”
“Probably where no one can find him. You must not have read my reports on the religious cult that formed around Jason and his Demon. The people are not scared of Philip as the Jadoorians were of Gladius. They see Philip as a kind of divine judge and executioner, protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty. Just his legend has almost eliminated serious crime in Domus. If we were to find him, we should seriously consider capturing him.”
“And how would we control him?”
“With Jason’s core, of course. That’s where Philip’s bond and loyalty are tied. If we were to offer him a steady supply of Jason’s anima, he would do whatever we asked of him. I’ve sent a proposal to the Dominus suggesting we do exactly that,” Thomas replied.
“Now, that does have some possibilities. Right now, however, there just isn’t enough anima to go around. The Dominus have been using most of it experimenting on the Nymphs and younglings.
“Something else I’ve learned, just recently, is that you’re pregnant again. Another one of Jason’s children?”
“Actually, yes. He’s Jason and Trevor’s child, in fact. I’m just the birth parent this time. I got the Dominus’ approval, of course. Another child would increase our hold on both Dalfs. If that child becomes the next Rex of the Dalfs one day, all the better.”
“You’re a true man of Mordel, dear Thomas, but what does Major Scott think about you being pregnant once again without his child?”
“Scott is completely happy with Brutus.”
“I hear Brutus has yet to warm up to his seed father.”
“Brutus’ father was an Angel, not a Dalf, so the bond isn’t there like Jason has with Jacob. Both father and son are having problems relating to each other, to be honest. I hope one day that will change.”
“Jacob couldn’t be happier. His father is now a Dalf, like him, and has a new husband he actually approves of. He’s dating Dirk, one of Trevor’s lesser sons.”
“Well, here we are,” Thomas said when the elevator doors parted, opening into a large lobby. In a wide chair in one of the lobby’s sitting areas, Jason was resting with redheaded Brutus in his lap. Scott was standing behind him.
“What are you doing here. Major?” Dillon asked as he approached.
“There’s been a security breech on the surface. The Dominus sent me to keep Jason under house arrest until the crisis passes.”
“Why wasn’t I informed?”
“You are charged with internal intelligence, while this is an outside security matter. If any prisoners are taken, I’m sure the Dominus will ask for your services,” Scott replied.
“I wish they would tell me what this is all about,” Jason said.
“You don’t think it’s your Philip coming to rescue you?” Dillon snickered.
“The Major has made it clear that such a situation is impossible. It’s the Togo who are attacking the city, so I am told.”
“The Togo? They’ve actually found us?”
“It appears they finally found the city’s exhaust vent even with all our precautions. They never made it past the outer defenses however. CEMS saw to that. That bloody computer might hate us, but it knows the Togo would destroy it and the entire city, including the Jadoorian slaves it used to serve. The new generation of Nosferatu has reached maturity, so the Omega Level is reopening. Slaav is having a fit because he has to give up so many slaves to the vampires for mining.”
“He just wants to be compensated after Lord Trevor’s Dalf caught him smuggling goods to the upper levels of the city. He should be grateful we didn’t have him executed over the matter, but the Dominus didn’t want to deal with more instability, since there is now a power struggle going on between the Catpeople’s Elders and the young Tigerclaws syndicate for clan leadership.”
“Lord Trevor is doing his best to keep the situation under control.” Major Scott said.
“I’m sure he’s an excellent kingmaker.” Dillon chuckled. “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to ask Jason a few questions.”
“We’re all on the same side, Commander Dillon,” Thomas reminded the infamous Hound.
“I was ordered by Hera herself not to let Jason out of my sight,” Scott said, giving Dillon a sly wink. “Maybe we can hold this interview someplace more comfortable.”
“What do you have in mind?” Dillon asked. For years he had pined after the Major, not that Thomas was bad looking himself. It was just that the prized agent of the Dominus always seemed to be away on a mission. Scott, however, had always been loyal to his companion, politely turning down every offer for coupling.
“This isn’t a formal investigation is it, Dillon?” Thomas asked as he started to massage the Hound’s shoulders.
“It doesn’t have to be,” Dillon replied, loosening his black tie.
“Then, may I suggest we all go to the steam room and relax over some spiced tea?” Scott said as he took Brutus from Jason’s lap. “That’s if you don’t mind, Lord Jason?”
“Where do I have to go? As you said, I’m under house arrest.”
“Splendid,” Scott grinned, his eyes on Dillon. “Shall we go then? I’ll asked Jacob to keep an eye on Brutus.”
“It was nice seeing you again, Brutus,” Jason said before kissing the top of his son’s head.
“Yes, papa,” Brutus replied in a disinterested voice.
“Meet you in, like, ten minutes?” Scott asked Dillon before carrying Brutus over his shoulders.
“I’m sorry, Jason,” Thomas apologized, seeing the pain on the man’s face.
“Not your fault; he just doesn’t know me.”
“It’s not your fault, either. You’re trying your best, but Brutus is more Grau than anything. He has no right poking his mind into your thoughts, looking for answers instead of asking you the normal way.”
“But that is the normal way among your kind,” Jason replied.
“It’s how we communicate. No adult Grau would let his son probe his mind for information.”
“You’ve asked him to stop and made sure either you or Scott are always with me when he comes to visit. What more can we do?” Jason said in Brutus’ defense.
“I should do what your people do, and let you spank him.”
“I’ve never spanked one of my own children.”
“Your children are angels, and I feel bad keeping you separated from them.”
“You’ve only done what you’ve been told to do,” Jason said. “Come, let me show you to the baths.”
“You’re really in love with him?” Dillon telepathically sent to Thomas as they followed Jason.
“I do. He’s not our enemy, Dillon. He’s an innocent man who was born into a difficult situation. I hope you will soon see that.”
“My job is to investigate the psychic disturbance we all felt last month.”
“Jason is no psychic. He can’t even keep an eight year old Grau out of his head.”
“Then, he won’t even notice me looking around.”
“He’s a Lord, Dillon. According to the City Charter of Rights, there are limits to what even a Hound like you can do.”
“I am well aware of the charter. All it takes is for the Dominus to acquire a search warrant.”
“A search warrant for a lord requires a hearing before the High Court and assembled Rexes. The Dominus would have to explain what it is they hope to obtain by scanning Jason’s mind. If there is a super telepath somewhere out among the population, he will surely go into hiding if he thinks the Dominus are after him. Jason hasn’t been hiding himself. He married one of the most public figures in the city, after all.”
“I am not accusing Jason of being a suspect but, as he once had a telepathic connection to those to whom he gave his anima, the Dominus want to make sure no telepathic talent remains.”
“Well, I could have told you that,” Thomas said sharply. “Even when he was a telepath, he was never very good at it. Yes, he could communicate at distances we can only dream of, but he never learned how to protect his thoughts from others or how to focus his ability into any sort of weapon, which he could have if he had ever been properly tutored. Even if he knew how, I doubt he would ever use such an ability. He hates killing, he always has. I’ve recorded several of the shouting matches he and Philip had on the subject over the years.”
“I’m sure you have, and you’re right. The Dominus want the search for this super-esper to go quietly. That’s why I need you to let me do my job.”
“You know I won’t stand in your way, but if you get caught I also won’t help you.”
“I won’t get caught. I would already be done if you weren’t shielding Jason’s mind,” Dillon pointed out. “Your talent must be truly exceptional if you can maintain a shield and a telepathic conversation at the same time.”
“The Dominus wanted the best when it came to Jason, and that’s exactly what I am,” Thomas sent back sternly.
“You don’t have to warn me, Thomas. I know I don’t want you as an enemy.”
“But you do want my lover,” Thomas mentally chuckled back. “Can I trust a Hound with the man I love?”
“I trust you, don’t I?” Dillon replied as Jason opened a pair of fogged glass doors that let out a wave of heat.
“Trevor had this place built for me as a wedding gift,” Jason said as he showed them around the bathing complex. “It’s not quite like the bathhouses back in Domus, but it does remind me of home.”
“It’s quite large,” Dillon said, surprised by the size and number of chambers.
“Bathing is communal in Domus. People rarely bathe alone.”
“Did you?” Dillon asked Thomas.
“Whenever I could. The people of Domus are a tidy people and obsessed with staying clean. With the long periods of time I spent hiding in the wilderness, a long hot soak was better than sex sometimes. Going to the bathhouses usually meant I could have both. I had to wear a disguise after Jason decreed the arrest of any man found with red hair.”
“Aren’t all redheads Grau?”
“Most are. But then there are those men like your Louis, men born from the Grau breeding program. Your agents became very good at hunting my people down.”
“It was your bodies that gave you away,” Jason said as he began slipping off his clothes while Dillon gawked. “No matter how well you disguised yourselves, your bone structure is nothing like a Domus Famulus.”
“We’re delicate, is all,” Thomas said defensively as he too began to strip. “The Famulus were engineered to be slaves, so they were designed to be big boned.”
“Yet, most of your agents tried to pass themselves off as Famulus. All Geoff’s men had to do was look for pale-skinned, fine-featured men who registered at the bathhouses with names not common in the Empire. Within a month of me issuing that decree, Geoff had men on the lookout in every bathhouse. We made sure the arrests didn’t happen anywhere near the bathhouses, so you wouldn’t catch on. I knew where you were most of the time, Thomas, but I didn’t dare have you arrested. You weren’t just the Grau sent to spy on me, but the agent of the Dominus with whom I had to negotiate my surrender.”
“How very clever of you, Jason. Who would think, that under all that naïve innocence lies the heart of a pragmatist?”
“How else was I to save the people I love?”
“Including Philip?” Dillon asked.
“Especially Philip,” Jason said as he sank into the hot water.
“Do you happen to know where he is? Because we can’t find him.”
“I made sure he would be taken care of. What more do you need to know?”
“His exact location?” Dillon pressed.
“He is wherever Admiral James is.”
“And where is he?”
“I honestly don’t know. When I knew I had to give myself up, I asked James to take over my bond with Philip so the madness wouldn’t take him. All I can guess, is that they’ve gone into hiding, since you can’t find them. I hope you don’t find them, so they can live out happy lives together.”
“So you don’t believe Philip is looking for you?”
“I believe he is trying, but as we both know there is no way he can get here.”
“What of the Togo?” Dillon asked.
“The Togo?” Jason asked, confused. “I sent Celia into the desert to look for them, but I don’t know if she ever succeeded.”
“Would you be surprised to learn that she did? The Togo provided weapons and support to your people, when our allies, the Lahorians, attacked the west.”
“They pretty much destroyed each other, though your men killed more of ours. It did produce the field of dead we needed to get the most from Gideon’s curse.”
“You dared to use him that way?” Jason said his face flushing red.
“It’s what we always intended. Do not your own prophecies speak of the dead walking the earth to destroy your people.”
“Gideon deserved better.”
“Well, you’ll be glad to know, then, that the curse has been lifted. We don’t know how it was done, and we don’t really care. It succeeded in turning a third of the population of Ares into mindless killers. Once we control Jadoor, what’s left of the Federation will fall to us without a fight.”
“My people will fight you.”
“I’m sure they will, but against the Dominus they’ll quickly find themselves overmatched.” Dillon snickered.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because it makes it easier for me to read your mind when you’re upset. Oh, the things I now know about you, Jason. Your Togo allies were coming to rescue you, and you knew it. Don’t worry though. Those who don’t die will become our prisoners. The Dominus have never had the honor of experimenting on their kind before. The Togos are the purest breed of old humanity left on this dying world, so I’m sure my mistresses will find studying them quite interesting.”
With a low sweeping kick, Thomas knocked Dillon’s legs out from under him, causing his head to come crashing down on the hard tile floor. “That’s enough, Dillon. I did try to warn you.”
“At least that’s over with. What are we going to do now?”
“The Animani were afraid something like this would happen, so they made plans. They’ve made Dolls, clones, of every Hound in Mordel. We can start replacing them at any time, starting with this bastard.” Reaching down, Thomas grabbed Dillon’s head by his hair and smashed it against the tile as hard as he could. “Try and steal my Scott, would you.”
“Won’t the Dominus notice the switch?”
“Not at all. While he was so busy focusing on reading your mind, I was collecting all of his memories so I can give them to the Doll. Of course I will be making a few changes to ensure the Doll is loyal to us, but the Dominus shouldn’t notice the difference. Over half the Grau are clones, after all.”
“No, I was born naturally. Well, as naturally as we Grau can be born. Both my seed and birth father loved each other very much. I was probably the luckiest Grau child of my generation because of that. Natural born Grau are always stronger than their clones, which is why I’m the strongest of my kind. The only reason I became a field agent was because I knew it would give me the best chance to pick the seed father for my own children. You know the rest, of course.”
“I never knew you had a loving family,” Jason said, impressed.
“I was one of the rare ones who did. So did Scott. We were born around the same time and were pretty much paired up as kids. We were the perfect match for the Dominus’ most prized Grau. To think Dillon believed he could take Scott from me.”
“Why haven’t you had a child with him?”
“Believe me, we both want to. It’s just that Scott doesn’t want to have a child from whom we’ll have to keep secrets. Neither of us imagined there could be a world without the Dominus, but you made me believe otherwise. And I was pretty much able to convince Scott of the same. We’ll never be able to have the child we want if we have to worry that the Dominus could take our son away from us.”
“What about Brutus?”
“I wanted to believe I could convince the Dominus to let Brutus be raised by you, but I don’t think they will let that happen. They want Brutus to follow in their father’s footsteps and be trained as an agent. He’ll have to start his education soon, and he’ll be brainwashed to become another loyal soldier for the Dominus. I’ve kept so many secrets from him, just in case he reports about us to his teachers. That’s why you’re such a stranger to him, Jason. I couldn’t risk telling him much about you.”
“I understand. It gives me another reason to make sure we defeat the Dominus once and for all,” Jason said as Logan and Alex entered the room.
“What do you want us to do with the body, Jason?” Alex asked.
“Ask Thomas.” Jason sighed as he swam away from the cloud of red blood dripping into the pool.
“Send it to the incinerators. Everything must be destroyed. All that needs to be done is for me to transfer Dillon’s altered memories to the new Doll and awaken it. That should take no more than an hour. When the doll wakes up, he’ll find Scott in his bed and vague, pleasant memories in his head. With the head of the Hounds on our side, we can quickly begin replacing the entire organization with loyal dolls. That will only take us a few weeks. With the Dominus’ most loyal servants on our side, we can start taking control of entire sections of the Central Pillar.”
“So we hope,” Alex grunted as he hefted the dead body over his shoulder. “You stay here, Logan. I can take care of this?”
“You look worried, Logan?” Thomas said as he slipped into the pool. “Why don’t you join us?”
“You make it seem so easy, replacing a real man with a clone,” Logan whispered.
“It’s not as easy as you think. I’m one of the few Grau who can pull it off, actually.”
“Like you did with me?”
“What’s the problem, Logan?” Thomas asked as he rested his arms on the edge of the pool.
“Was I programmed to love Jason?” Logan whispered, so Jason couldn’t hear.
“You were given the same sense of love your old self had for Jason. If you’re worried that I tampered with you, I’ll admit that I did add a few things to your personality and memories. But they were only things you needed in order to be a better bodyguard.”
“What about blacksmithing? Why do I not remember anything about that?”
“It was not something you would need in Mordel, nor did I take the time remembering such boring details. I only had time to store the important memories before you ended up smashed at the bottom of the Tosian Mountains. I’m sorry if you feel lost without all your memories, but I did the best I could.”
“So I won’t end up betraying Jason?”
“You won’t, because that’s not the kind of person you are. What you felt for Jason at first might have been just the dead memories of your original, but you’ve quickly made them your own. You’re Jason’s Logan, one of his dearest friends. I’m sure, once Jason is an Angel again, you will quickly find yourself made a Saint. Geoff is impressed with your talents as a bodyguard.”
“Geoff isn’t really impressed by that,” Logan blushed.
“Well of course, there’s that.” Thomas laughed as he splashed some water on the man while four others entered the bathhouse, including Geoff. All of them were already naked.
“What are you doing here still dressed?” Geoff chuckled before slipping into the pool with Louis, Chadwick, and Hector.
“He was just about to join Jason,” Thomas said.
“Well, he’d better hurry up. He just headed for the steam room,” Chad said as he tried to avoid a dunking from Hector.
“I’d better go too,” Louis said, dunking under the water before leaving the pool.
“You’d better go after him,” Hector told Geoff as Logan hurried to catch up.
“You’re right, I should. He’s been in such a mood lately,” Geoff said as he followed.
“So, it’s just us three,” Thomas grinned as he eyed the two playful Saints.
Sitting in a lounger made of semi-soft heated gel, Jason closed his eyes and tried not to think about what had just happened. Yes, he had known Dillon would most likely need to be gotten rid of. He just never suspected it would happen so soon, or in such a quick and bloody manner. He understood why Thomas had acted so quickly. If he had let himself think on the matter, there would have been a risk of Dillon catching on to Thomas’ murderous thoughts.
Pressing a button on the armrest, Jason activated the massage functions of the chair, a one-hour cycle that would work out the stress in every part of his body if it let it. The chair was about to envelop him in the warm gel when the cycle was deactivated. Opening his eyes, Jason saw Logan, Louis, and Geoff standing in front of him with concerned looks on their faces.
“You’re unhappy, Jason. We can all see that,” Louis said as he offered Jason a hand to help him out of the chair.
“I guess you didn’t need to read my mind to know that.” Jason sighed.
Going to the room’s controls, Logan sealed it, increased the release of scented steam, and had a large section of the floor raised to form a rectangular block. Louis guided Jason over to the platform.
“Let’s do this the old fashion way, shall we?” Geoff said, as he placed a thick gel filled mat over the stone.
“This isn’t really necessary.”
“What would a bathhouse be without its servants? Since there are no Famulus here, we’ll just have to take care of you ourselves, your majesty,” Louis said as Jason lay down on the mat. Going to one side, Louis began to massage Jason’s temples, while Logan massaged Jason’s back.
Geoff, joining Jason on the mattress, whispered soothingly into his ears, promising love, peace, and happiness, once this final trial was over. Seeing a nod from Louis, he rolled Jason on his side as the others joined him atop the block. There, they focused every inch of their minds and bodies on pleasing Jason with their sexual feats. Until Trevor stepped in.
“We have a problem, Geoff,” Trevor said looking none too pleased.
“Care to tell me what it is about?”
Trevor let out a sigh before replying. “I might as well, as we’ll need Louis’ help to sort things out. We have a traitor… Argil.”
“Argil?” Geoff said, shocked, as he jumped off the block. “But he’s a Saint. He wouldn’t betray Jason.”
“He’s also a jilted lover,” Trevor replied. “Or have you not noticed how you’ve completely abandoned him since you reached the city?”
“I didn’t mean to… honest. I thought he would understand.”
“Well, one of Scott’s men caught him trying to pass off information. If he had gone to the Grau not on our side, everything would have been ruined. We have him in one of the interrogation cells on sub-level 5. Thomas is trying to keep his people from panicking, but this has been a major security breach.”
“Logan, take Jason back to his quarters,” Geoff ordered.
“No,” Jason said sternly. “Argil is one of my Saints. If he’s betrayed me, I must hear for myself the reason why.”
“You know what I will have to do,” Geoff warned, getting dressed he fastened the belt holding his assassin’s blades.
“If it comes to that,” Jason replied sternly.
“He betrayed you. I didn’t think such a thing was possible.”
“It’s the bond, Geoff,” Jason said as he hurried to get dressed. “He no longer feels bonded to me, and is therefore free to do whatever he wishes. I shouldn’t have forced Logan on you. Argil’s heart must be broken.”
“You didn’t force Logan on me. I wanted Logan. I wanted him back since the day he died. You know I’ve never forgiven myself for not dying by his side. Neither of us would have died if I had been with him.”
“You don’t know that. Someone had to warm Darius about the attack on the back tunnel. I was the best man to drop the elevator before the enemy could use it. We both knew that,” Logan said.
“I’m still going to kill Argil for this. What was he thinking, putting all of our lives at risk?”
“What we need you to do, Geoff, is hack into Agril’s brain and see if he’s given any of our plans to another computer. Then we need to make sure he doesn’t try while we decide what to do with him.”
“I think I can manage that,” Geoff nodded, as all of them left the steam room.
Taking an express elevator down to the sublevels, they were led to an isolation cell. Except for the fluorescent lights in the ceiling, there were no electronic devices, and the room was heavily shielded to prevent any transmissions from leaving the cell.
“I’ll go in first,” Jason insisted when they reached the door.
“The hell you will.” Logan grabbed hold of Jason’s arm.
“You’re surely not going in, Commander Logan. Argil hates you more than he does Geoff.” Trevor said emphatically.
“Geoff and I will go in. We’re the ones responsible for Argil, after all,” Jason said.
“I will need to be in there too, to read his mind,” Louis said.
“Very well, the three of us. Open the door, Logan,” Jason ordered.
“If he even threatens you, I won’t have to open this door to kill him,” Logan grunted as he punched in his security code.
Stepping inside, Jason saw how pale Argil looked. Seeing his Emperor must have added to the man’s panic, for he quickly averted his eyes and started to cringe. “Argil, why has this happened?” Jason asked in a pitying tone.
“Leave me alone. You wouldn’t understand.”
“I do understand. You must think I failed you by letting our bond be broken by the Dominus,” Jason replied as he sat across the table from the chained man.
“Not your fault,” Argil grumbled as he swung his head from side to side, keeping his eyes aimed at the concrete floor.
“Then why did you betray me?”
Raising his head, Argil glared at Geoff, pointing an accusing finger at the assassin. “Because of him.”
“I’m sorry about Geoff, Argil. It must have really hurt, being abandoned like that, but to betray all of us just to get at Geoff was worse, much worse. People could have died because of you.”
“I didn’t care. I just wanted him and his blacksmith lover to suffer.”
“No matter whom else it hurt?” Jason asked.
“No matter what,” Argil spat.
Jason looked to Louis who gave him a short nod. “I’m sorry, Argil. If we still had our bond, I would have noticed your pain and done something to stop it. But I can’t risk you betraying us again. I will give you a second chance, however, though it might not seem like one.”
“The only thing I regret is not succeeding.”
“I know, which is why I can’t let you be a Saint anymore,” Jason said as he looked at Geoff. “This is your mess, Captain.”
Geoff drew one of his assassin’s blades, the metal edge glowing with a white-hot light. “Then let me clean it up for you.”
With a single thrust of his blade, he made a gaping hole in the traitor’s anima core, letting Argil’s life drain away. Within seconds the man was dead.
“That was fast,” Trevor said from the open door.
“Call in the Animani. Tell them I want a new Doll made,” Jason said as he struggled to hold back his tears.
“From this traitor?” Geoff demanded as he cleaned his blade on Argil’s clothes.
“He only did it because his heart was broken,” Jason said sternly. “He deserves a second chance, but not like this. The Animani will give him a new body and name, while Louis will provide him with only the happiest of memories, nothing of you, Geoff, or Logan. He’ll join one of the clans and have a fresh start at life. He deserves that much, at least.” Jason then turned to Louis. “How far did his treachery go?”
“The Rat clan knows we’re up to something. They’re the ones who arranged the meeting between Argil and one of Scott’s men,” Louis said.
“What do they know?” Trevor demanded.
“They know we plan a revolt but, from what I understand, all the clans think about revolting most of the time.”
“Damn, they know just enough to cause us trouble. If we were to attack them, it would only confirm what they already know, which would lead to real trouble.”
“Can’t you reach an understanding with them?” Geoff asked.
“The Rats are only loyal to themselves. They can’t be trusted where it comes to profit or self preservation,” Trevor replied.
“Then we should do nothing. As far as the Rats know, Argil was one of the Hawks. Aren’t they supposed to be the Dalf’s greatest rivals? Surely the Rats understand that, and won’t try to pass on such suspect information to the Dominus. They would know it would just look like a rumor started by the Hawkmen to discredit the Dalf. We must make sure the Rats continue to believe that Argil’s warning was nothing more than the result of clan rivalry. Agreed?” Jason said.
“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” Trevor chuckled.
“I’ve had practice from my dealings with the Imperial Senate.”
“Divide and conquer has been the Emperor’s policy, even back when he was only King of Qul Tos,” Geoff laughed.
Logan chuckled. “I thought your people loved being ruled by you?”
“Most do. It was the politicians who didn’t like my iron grip.”
“Better a benevolent dictator, than a corrupt republic,” Geoff said.
“Better that I one day be able to retire and live the life I want to live,” Jason grumbled.
“Come, Jason, I think you’ve done enough for today. Shall you join me and the children for dinner? Scott has already seen the new Dillon off,” Trevor said offering his hand to his mate.
“Good, two deaths are about all I can take in one day,” Jason said as he let Trevor lead him away.
Arrows and cavalry were all well and good against the Lahorians. When facing the Sisters of the Mother, and the Beast Army of Mordel, more advanced weapons were required, as Prime Minister Diana soon discovered.
Because of the anima Drake had given her, she was now a disciple; a very muscular, voluptuous one in fact. She had not only regained her breasts, but also her enjoyment of sex, and Lord Drake was quite skilled in pleasuring her.
These days, fighting for the Jadoorian Resistance, she was no longer a political bean counter but a warrior goddess, the female leader of those fighting both Lahore and Mordel. With a blast spear as her favorite weapon, she was eager for the day when she could use it against the hated High Inquisitor, Warren.
“You should be more careful, my dear,” Drake chided after a bloody battle against a column of Sisters. All over Diana’s leather jerkin there were bleeding lash marks where the creatures’ tentacles had hit her.
“They will heal soon enough,” Diana said as she wiped away a smear of black blood from her forehead.
“Are you suggesting I use anima again to heal you? We must be careful Diana. Too much anima will cause you to become addicted. I am already greatly worried about your health, as it is.”
“But I feel fine, beloved. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been in my life.”
“The anima has restored your vigor, I will agree, but it is also doing other things to you, things that are irreversible.”
Diana squeezed her breasts. “Such as these?”
“Don’t you ever want to be a mother Diana?”
“Are you saying I can’t be?”
“I’m saying you won’t be, at the rate you’re going. It’s not just the reckless way you throw yourself into battle, but the anima itself will eventually leave you barren. The more I give you, the sooner that day will come.”
“I’m surprised, Drake. You sound like you want to have a family with me.”
“You are my bond-mate, the only woman I’ve bonded with since I became a Saint. If not you, who?”
“I’m sorry, beloved, but I just can’t think of having children right now. Why would I want to when enemies besiege my homeland? I can’t raise a child in a world that’s gone mad. It wouldn’t be fair.”
“I understand; believe me I do. I just want you to understand that, though this world is far from perfect, this might be your last chance to ever have a child.”
“I don’t need one. So long as you’re with me, I don’t think I will ever need one.”
Drake snickered. “Are you calling me a child?”
Diana gave the spy a wicked smile. “No, you’re very much a man.”
“Shhhh… hear that sound?” Drake said.
“It’s those horseless war wagons.” Diana nodded recognizing the rumbling sound.
“We’d better pull back into the tall grass. We didn’t bring the heavy weapons to take on one of those things.”
“We should have,” Diana grumbled as they and the rest of the raiders disappeared into the grass.
As the armored vehicles passed, crushing the bodies of the dead, Drake tried to hold his silence as Diana did her best to start a sexual fire in his pants. “Good, they’re gone,” he sighed before he tackled Diana. “You are quite the she-devil.”
“Only because you’ve made me so.”
“We should try to make our way back to the monastery to resupply. On foot, it will take us three days to get back.”
“Can’t we just make camp here?” Diana cooed.
“I’m sorry, my dear, but we’re too close to the roads for my taste. We’ll need to travel through the backcountry if we’re to avoid any more armored patrols.”
“How are we to win back my homeland if we continue to avoid the enemy?”
“Every day we stop the Mordelians from gaining full control of Jadoor, is another day Domus can use to prepare for the invasion of the mainland. Even though more and more Jadoorians are joining us, we will never be able to defeat Mordel without the support of the Empire. Soon, we too will have to leave Jadoor for the mainland, unless we wish to die as martyrs here.”
“Which is something you lack the courage to do,” Diana said bitterly.
“I’m not even a Jadoorian. My orders were to hold off the Mordelians for as long as possible, and then make my escape. I can’t force you to come with me, but I would very much like it if you did,” Drake said just as the communicator attached to his ear began to vibrate. Soon he had a look of panic on his face.
“The monastery was bombed and then overrun by Beastmen a few hours ago. Our people are already fleeing to the evacuation points.”
“You mean we’re leaving Jadoor now?”
“We have no other choice. Most of our supplies and spare weapons were at the monastery. Unless we want to fight the Mordelians with iron swords, we have no choice but to try and escape.”
“But that’s cowardly.”
“It’s war. Once we’re on the mainland, we can join up with the Centurions. We’ll stand a better chance at winning there, than fight a losing battle here.”
“But we’re giving up Jadoor, and I haven’t had a chance to kill Warren yet.”
“Let the Mordelians take care of the Inquisitor for you. I doubt the Dominus will approve of him anymore than you do.”
“I’m not leaving.” Diana said, believe she could keep Drake here with her. She was mistaken.
“I was afraid you would say that.” Pushing a button on his belt he released a high voltage charge through Diana’s ear com, knocking her unconscious. Taking out restraints, he tied her legs and arms. He then ripped off a good-sized piece of his shirt and stuffed it into Diana’s mouth.
“She’ll slow us down, sir,” one of Drake’s men warned when he was ordered to help carry her.
“What can I say? I’ve grown fond of her.” Drake shrugged as he and his men headed further away from the roads and toward the eastern coast of Jadoor.
Celia stood on the raised tower, looking down at the millions of people she helped enslave by trusting the Togo. Already, they had dug one hundred and fifty feet into the sandy earth. They had hit hard ground in an area twenty miles in diameter, and the Togo were still having them dig.
“Let them go, Obeki,” Celia pleaded.
“They are free to go any time they wish.” The slave master laughed.
“The desert would kill them within a few days walk from here,” Julian grumbled.
“Yes, it would,” Obeki laughed. “At least here, we provide them with food and water. They also don’t have to worry about the Mordelian war while they’re here. Isn’t this the sanctuary we promised?”
“Enslaving them was never part of the bargain.” Julian spat.
“We are treating you very well, High Priest, though I am sorry we had to clip your wings. It wouldn’t do for you to fly off and abandon your people.”
“What do you plan to do with us once your city is uncovered?”
“That depends on how the war turns out. If the Centurions give the Dominus a good enough fight, we will join the war and quickly put it to an end. If it looks like the Mordelians will win, then we will have no choice but to leave Ares for the blue star Terra. Of course we will need slaves once we reach Terra, so we might take some of you with us. The rest we’ll leave to the Dominus to sort out. They’ll need slaves too.”
“Why go to all the effort of leaving, when you can support the Centurions now in their war?” Julian asked.
“Because we’re not so foolish as to believe that the Empire will give back the weapons we gave them, once the fighting is over. We won’t help them defeat the Dominus, just for them to become our chief threat.”
“So you’ll wait until you can wipe out both sides?”
“Yes, this is our land, after all. Domus, the Confederacy, and the Federation are all invaders living on our land. It’s our given right and duty to cleanse the land of those foul animals,” Obeki said as he fanned himself.
Celia glared at the slave master. “It’s you who are the animals, treating people like this.”
“No, you are the animals, just as I said. Our people once ruled an empire that spanned the stars. It was you animals who dared to betray us, and destroyed Gaia, the cradle of all mankind, forcing us to flee here. If only your ancestors hadn’t come here as well, there might have been peace.
“Obeki, the Elders wish to speak with you,” one of the Togo guards in the tower said.
“Now?” Obeki said, surprised. The Elders rarely summoned anyone so abruptly.
“Something unforeseen has happened Lord Obeki. The Elders are concerned.”
“Very well. See that these animals are sent back to their cages,” Obeki said in an offhanded manner he knew his prisoners would find insulting.
Back in their cool cells, inside the buried city, Julian and Celia faced suspicious glares from their other cellmates, Harper and Calis. “Enjoy the fresh air?” Calis asked.
“Surely you must be joking,” Celia replied, as she wiped some of the sweat from her face.
“They’re using our people as forced labor to unbury the city.”
“At least they’re keeping your people alive,” Harper grunted. “The Togo are killing our men one by one, each death more elaborate than the last, and they make us watch. I fear they’re saving Calis for last.”
“Wasn’t it the Lahorians who almost destroyed the Togo civilization?” Celia replied.
“And don’t you wish right now that we had succeeded?” Calis spat.
“Can’t you do anything to save Calis? He’s really just a child.” Harper pleaded.
“We can’t even save ourselves. How can we, when the Togo don’t even see us as people?” Julian replied. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do to help you unless you have a plan to free us all.”
“We could try to overpower the guards. If you can get Calis to the surface, couldn’t you fly off with him?”
“First, I don’t think we would even make it to the surface with their guards everywhere. Second, they’ve clipped my wings so I can’t fly.”
“We have to do something,” Celia whispered as several guards returned.
“The Elders wish to see the two of you,” one of the guards said so grudgingly it was as if someone had a knife to his back, forcing him to speak.
“Us?’ Julian asked, looking at Celia.
“Yes,” the guard barked as he opened their cells.
“Someone seems to be moving up in the world,” Harper said bitterly as the two were led away.
Taken away, Julian and Celia were led deeper into the city until they came to an azure dome that stretched out for almost a mile. Inside were fountains, streams, and artificial plants and trees made of metal, with silk leaves and flowers. In the middle of the great chamber was a crescent shaped table, where thirteen transparent cylinders stood. Inside each was a preserved brain.
“As you commanded, I have brought the prisoners, great Elders,” the guard bowed, his voice filled with reverence.
“Place them in the chairs of questioning, Captain.” The voice of a very old woman came from one of the cylinders. Out of the floor rose two chairs covered with metal restraints.
“No,” Celia said as she resisted being dragged to one of the chairs.
“Resist and your people will suffer, Princess Celia.” A harsh woman’s voice came from a different cylinder.
“Though we are your prisoners, you would threaten the helpless,” Julian said bitterly as he was strapped into the other chair.
“This animal is a wild thing, isn’t he sisters?” The cylinder at the center of the table laughed. “Shall we bring him to heel?”
“Let us see if he will answer our questions on his own, first. No reason to damage a prized specimen unless necessary,” a younger woman’s voice said.
“You’re all women I take it, if you can call what you are a woman,” Julian said. Sharp, electrically charged needles jumped from the chair for a fraction of a second before disappearing back into the metal frame, causing Julian to let out a scream.
“That was our lowest pain setting, High Priest. Do not make us use a higher setting. We need answers from you, not entertainment,” the lead Elder said sternly before asking her question. “Where is the Argos?”
“Shouldn’t you know where it is?” Your people have control of it?” Celia said, receiving a jolt of pain for her sarcasm.
“Don’t hurt her, you monsters,” Julian yelled.
“You were right, Sister Dalia. Bringing the princess here was wise,” the chief Elder laughed. “Answer our question, High Priest, or we will make both of you suffer.”
Thinking quickly, Julian realized that the Togo must have lost control of the Argos, most likely to Philip and the Saints he took with him. Otherwise, why would the Elders be asking a fellow Saint for the location of the ship? Knowing what was at stake, he knew what he had to do. “No,” he refused, knowing the safety of his god would be at risk if he answered.
“Julian,” Celia shrieked as the Elders continued their tortures.
“Do what you want with us. I won’t betray my god.”
“Your so called god is nothing but an animal, a lab rat of the Dominus’ creation,” the harsh voiced Elder hissed.
“He is more human than any of your kind. Just look at yourselves. How can you dare call us animals, when there is nothing human left in you?” Julian retorted.
“We are the Elders. We are the last of our people’s leaders who survived our war with Lahore. Our knowledge and wisdom go beyond anything you, a mere animal, can comprehend.”
“I am no animal,” Julian said, just before the needles were sent so deeply into his body that he began to bleed profusely.
“High Elder Lilith, I do not think this approach will work,” Elder Dalia said, as her disembodied eyes looked and Julian’s blood covered chair.
“Should we concentrate on the princess, then?” the High Elder asked.
“He won’t tell us, no matter what we do to him or the woman. He knows what’s at stake. You should not have asked about the Argos before we had succeeded in breaking him. Now he will never break, but would rather die than betray his friends.”
“That might have been an error, and for that I apologize, but we must know where the Argos is. It’s the only ship near Mordel that has the power to destroy the entire city, and remove the threat of the Dominus from us, once and for all,” Lilith pointed out.
“High Priest, is there nothing we can offer you that would get you to tell us where the Argos is? We must know it’s location if we are to regain control of the ship. Surely you understand the threat all of Ares is in as long as the city of Mordel survives?”
Julian spat out a mouth full of blood before responding. “Jason is in Mordel. If you mean to destroy the city with him still there, I will never help you.”
“It was always our intent to rescue him, and bring your god to Atlantis. What better prisoner could we have to control, not only our slaves here, but the Domus Empire as well? In fact, we need Jason if our plans are to succeed. We had hoped your people would succeed in rescuing your god. A team has actually been sent into the city to achieve just that, but we’ve had no word of them and our main fleet has recently been destroyed. All that is left is the Argos, so we must find it. If your god is to be saved, you must cooperate with us,” Dalia said in a calm and reasoning tone
“Philip and Admiral James have control of the Argos, and will save Jason on their own, so there is no reason I must help you turn my god into your puppet.”
“Your people do not understand the technology the Argos possesses. How can they hope to use it to rescue your god?” Lilith asked.
Knowing how it would rankle the Elders, Julian forced a smile on his face through the pain he was in, and chuckled. “There is the Togo crew. Maybe they’ve agreed to help Philip do the right thing.”
“They would never agree to do that,” the harsh elder shouted.
“They would if they were bonded,” Julian said, steeling himself for the pain he knew would come. It didn’t, however. Instead, he could hear the Elders talking among themselves in low voices.
Finally Lilith spoke. “It seems we’ve betrayed each other, High Priest. If it is as you’ve suggested, that our people have been defiled by your anima, then they probably have switched allegiances, even knowing the punishment they would face if they ever returned to us. So what are we going to do? Your friends have control of the Argos, the only weapon we have left that can destroy Mordel. We have you, the princess, and five million of your people. How many lives are you willing to watch die, before you will agree to tell us what we want to know?”
“You won’t kill your own slaves. You need them to dig.”
“We have five million digging, as we speak. While it might slow things down a little, losing a million here or there won’t endanger the project. Can you watch so many people die? Can you live with the guilt, knowing you could have saved them?” Lilith asked.
“You have to tell them, Julian. The people believe in you,” Celia said between her own cries of pain.
“Listen to your princess,” Dalia said in a soothing voice. “Tell us where the Argos is, and we will set you and a million of your followers free with enough supplies to see you out of the desert.”
“Do it,” Julian heard James say in his mind. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be ready for them.”
“And Jason?” Julian asked.
“So long as he lives, there’s still hope,” James sent back. “Jason would never want so many to die because of him. This is his will, Julian. As High Priest you have a duty to obey your god.”
“So be it,” Julian spoke aloud.
“So you will tell us where the Argos is?” Lilith asked hopefully.
“Once my people have reached safety, I will tell you. You must also let Emperor Calis and his guardian, Harper, go free as well,” Julian said just to anger the Elders.
“Never,” the harsh elder shouted. “He is the last of the Imperial line. He, of all his kind, deserves to suffer for what Kaal did to us.”
“You’ve already destroyed his homeland. What worse can you do to him?” Julian retorted. “What you need to ask yourselves, is whether your petty need for revenge is more important than seeing Mordel destroyed?”
“We will let the Lahorian go,” Lilith said over the protest of the minority of the other Elders. “You will stay with us, High Priest, until the Argos is back under our control.”
“The deal was I only that tell you where it is.”
“Just as you augmented the agreement, so are we. How else can we be sure you won’t lie?”
“The princess stays as well,” the harsh Elder added. “If we do not regain control of the Argos, then you both will come to understand true suffering.
“We have to do something,” Gideon shouted at Varrus during the war council.
“I wish we could do something, but if we sent an army today it would take months for it to reach the hidden city of Atlantis. Even if our armies did reach the city, they would be facing the armored wagons and Zephyrs of the Togo, which would easily destroy our army.”
“We have our own advanced weapons that could shoot down their Zephyrs,”
“And the armored wagons and long ranged catapults?” Field Marshal Darius asked. He had seen the Togo’s advanced weapons up close, and knew the weapons they had given his Centurions were no match for them.
“We can’t let millions of people suffer,” Gideon Sin insisted.
“And we can’t let the city of Mordel be destroyed while Jason is still inside it,” Varrus agreed. “Julian did the best he could, getting the Togo to agree to set a million of their slaves free. Jason would never want so many of his followers to die because of him, and he would never have forgiven Julian if they were killed. That doesn’t change the fact that we must find some way of freeing both Julian and Celia. She is my wife, after all.”
Lukas spoke next. “I’ve read the reports, that our rebel army in Jadoor is attempting to escape to the mainland. The leader of the group, Lord Drake, is supposed to be an excellent spy and good in tight corners. I would suggest we assign him the job of rescuing both the High Priest and Celia.”
“He will be landing somewhere in Freen, which is outside the area the Lahorians captured. Still, it would be a very long journey to Atlantis, crossing large areas of territory still occupied by the cursed undead,” Darius warned. “If you want my opinion, he should fly to Aquanos, traveling along the Federation coast which we’ve already cleared of undead. He can then take a ship for Isil, which was never affected by the mist. It would be the safest way for him to reach the Desert of Flames.”
“He should take Dodofan with him as a guide. He knows the way of the Togo better than we do,” Varrus suggested.
“If we can get him to cooperate. The trader is enjoying our predicament too much, if you ask me.”
“Have Drake bond to him.” Gideon said.
“Bond to that ragged old man? I don’t think I could force myself to kiss him.” Varrus grunted.
“So, he doesn’t have the most pleasant smile,” Darius laughed.
“His teeth are blacker than his skin,” Varrus pointed out. “At least the ones that aren’t missing.”
“This is five million lives we’re talking about. If saving them means one nasty kiss, I think a loyal man like Drake would do it. Isn’t he already sleeping with the Prime Minister of Jadoor?” Darius asked.
“It will take Drake two weeks to reach us by air. I personally feel that asking him to risk his life to save Julian and Celia is asking more than enough of him. Someone else should do the bonding, in my honest opinion,” Lukas suggested.
“Are you volunteering?” Varrus asked.
Lukas burst into laughter. “I know you won’t. You’re too much of a snob to kiss anyone who doesn’t have a pretty face.”
“I…” Varrus stammered in reply
“It’s true,” Darius said, agreeing with his fellow Field Marshal. I’ve never seen you flirt with an ugly man.”
“How many ugly Centurion do you know?” Varrus counted.
“I know of several… most of them are missing a limb or an eye from honest battle, something you know little about, Chancellor.”
“I served in the Western Centurion Army,” Varrus said defensively.
“And caused more lover’s duels than anyone else in the history of his legion,” Lukas pointed out. “I had no choice but to transfer him to the Academy. He was too big a distraction for the rest of my men. Just to be fair, I think he should be the one to bond to Dodofan. All in favor…” Except for Varrus it was a unanimous vote.
“I veto the motion,” Varrus said, desperate to get out of it.
“This isn’t the Senate, and you’re not the Emperor. Only Gideon can get you out of this one, since we all agreed he is technically still Regent.”
“Sorry, Lord Varrus, but both Sin and I agree you should have to kiss at least one ugly man in your life. Sin had to kiss me, after all, and I was dead.”
“I won’t forgive any of you for this.”
“We don’t expect you to,” Lukas said, slapping Varrus hard on the back. “Now, come on, we should get this over with before you find some excuse to talk your way out of it.”
“You want me to bond to him now?” Varrus said, taken aback.
“Why not now? His face isn’t going to get any prettier,” Lukas retorted.
“But Drake won’t be here for weeks,” Varrus said in a pleading tone.
“Which is a good thing. You’ll have plenty of time to seduce the Qopo merchant into being a loyal member of the Empire.”
“You can’t mean you want me to have sex with the man?”
“Isn’t that what usually happens when you bond to another man? We’re not asking you to enjoy it, Chancellor. But, after all Jason did to save your life, I think you owe all of us some small sort of sacrifice. Don’t you all think so?” Lukas asked, getting nods from everyone.
“I’ll get you for this, Lukas.”
“Consider this revenge, for that time you spurned me nine years ago,” Lukas whispered into Varrus’ ear.
“You can’t still be mad about that?” Lukas had tried to make Varrus his aide de camp, but Varrus had refused the offer, getting himself transferred to the Academy as a result.
“I’m not mad. I just want to get even,” Lukas said as the war council broke up, the entire group escorting Varrus down to the dungeons.
“Well hello, Chancellor Varrus. For what do I owe the honor? Have you come to beg for my help? I’ve already told you, we Qopo can’t make the Togo do anything,” Dodofan said in a condescending tone.
“We’ve actually grown tired of begging, Dodofan, and are going to resort to a more direct method of gaining your cooperation,” Lukas said with a snicker.
“So it’s to be torture then. I must warn you, my frail body wouldn’t last very long on the rack.”
“No. Actually it is Lord Varrus, here, who’s going to be tortured. At least that’s how he sees it. He’s going to bond to you, you see, and make you an obedient Disciple.”
“He wouldn’t dare defile me with his impure anima.”
“I’m afraid the council has insisted that he do so,” Lukas said, as a guard unlocked Dodofan’s cell.
“You stay away from me!,” Dodofan shouted as he crouched in a corner of his cell.
“I’m not looking forward to this, anymore than you are, merchant,” Varrus said as he entered the cell. When he was within five feet of the Qopo, the merchant attempted to leap for the door, but against Varrus’ quick reflexes ended up pinned against the dungeon wall.
Pressing his lips hard against Dodofan’s mouth, his nose became filled with the nauseating smell of the merchants rotting teeth. With a hand on the man’s jaw, he forced Dodofan’s mouth open by using his tongue to create an opening between the merchant’s lips. As his tongue probed deeper, Varrus could feel how loose the Qopo’s teeth were as they wiggled against the pressure of his tongue.
Closing his eyes tightly, Varrus reached deep within himself to force his anima to come and pass on his bond to the seedy man. As soon as the deed was done, he pulled away, reaching for the ladle of a nearby water bucket to rinse his mouth.
At the other end of the cell, the anima was having its affect on Dodofan. The man was spitting out his rotten teeth as new perfect ones grew in their place, and his scrawny body began to thicken.
“Take him to the baths and see that he’s shaved,” Varrus said, still not liking what he saw. As guards escorted the bewildered Qopo out of the cells, all the others started to laugh while Varrus glared at them.
“Now all you have to do is sleep with the bugger,” Darius grinned.
“Not with all of you watching,” Varrus insisted.
“You did the right thing,” Gideon said proudly.
“If you want to reward me, you should sleep with him.”
“No, you’re the one bonded to him. It should be you,” Gideon insisted. “I’m willing to come by later, if you’re still in the mood?”
“I just might be,” Varrus nodded. After kissing Dodofan, Gideon’s handsome face was a pure pleasure to look at.
Gideon gave Varrus a quick peck on the cheek before leaving. “I will see you later.”
“He won’t if he doesn’t head for the baths right now to make Dodofan’s first time one to remember,” Lukas laughed.
“I know it’s one I will never forget,” Varrus grumbled as he let himself be led away.
Sitting out on the balcony, Trevor had the curtains pulled to one side so he could stare into the bedroom where Jason slept. “Jason, my sweet angel, what am I to do about you?” he whispered as he continued to watch. Everything was in place, now. All they had to wait for was Philip, Jason’s true husband, to arrive and join the fight to free them from the Dominus. It was a day Trevor dreaded with all his heart.
Though he knew his bond to Jason was as strong as ever, he understood that bond would be broken the moment the core so many had fought over was returned to its rightful owner. At that moment, Jason would cease being a Dalf and would become a true Angel again, or so the Animani believed. Only one key ingredient was missing: Jason’s demon mate, Philip. In order for the core to be fully restored, Jason would have to renew his bond to his Demon prince.
Trevor wasn’t jealous; jealousy was not an emotion a Dalf ever experienced. The Dalf were pragmatic by nature. Even so, the passion and emotions of being Jason’s mate had filled Trevor’s life with such wonders. He very much doubted he would ever experience its like again.
Jason had offered, no, wanted Trevor to accept his Angel’s bond the moment his core was restored. And, though Trevor greatly desired it for himself, he knew that his people would not accept him as the Rex if he lost his Dalf nature and gained the dark wings of a Saint. Yet, with every day that passed closer to the moment of revolt, the temptation to run away to Ares with Jason grew stronger. It was only his sense of duty that stopped him from following his heart, and committing himself to Jason for the next thousand years. Duty, however, could command only so much from him, and was slowly losing the battle against his love for his mate.
Then there was the child, of course, growing inside Thomas’ body, the heir Trevor had always wanted. Though the idea had pained Jason, he had agreed to let Trevor raise the child should they go their separate ways. At least with the child, Trevor could hold onto some hope that Jason would one day return to him, just to see his own son.
He was about to go back inside, when he felt a cold hand touch his bare shoulder. Turning around rapidly, he saw Prince Ivan and Lord Dmitri on the balcony with him. “Be calm, Lord Rex, we mean you no harm,” Ivan said in a soothing voice. “We’ve only come to see our Angel once more.”
“You promised you would stay away from him.”
“We promised he would never see us unless he wishes otherwise. He’s asleep right now, and will not awake while we’re here,” Ivan replied as he and Dmitri escorted Trevor back into the bedroom, closing the curtains behind them.
“We have an offer to make to you.”
“What is it?”
“You do not know… your son Dirk has been captured and dragged down to the lower levels of the city.”
“You lie,” Trevor spat.
“I speak the truth. The new Nosferatu know it was you who freed Jason, and they wish to revenge themselves upon you by making your son the new Prince of the Vampires.”
“And you did not stop them?”
“What Dmitri and I can do against such numbers is quite limited. We have our own survival to think about. I’ve only come to warn you so that Jason’s son, Jacob, can be stopped from doing anything foolish.”
“Does Jacob know?”
“Not yet, but you can be sure the Nosferatu will want him to know so they can lure him into a trap.”
“I will handle this. Jason need know nothing.”
“But he already knows, or have you not noticed the change in his breathing?” Dmitri said.
“I will handle Jacob, and deal with the Nosferatu, when the time comes,” Jason said as he sat up in the bed.
“It is already too late to save Dirk, Lord Jason. They’ve already baptized him as their Prince.”
“I know, but once this revolt has succeeded, I will deal with the Nosferatu once and for all,” Jason said, an unfamiliar hatred in his voice.
“Have you at least forgiven us, dear Jason?” Ivan asked as he reached to touch Jason’s face.
“We’ve both kept our word, and now I am indebted to you for this warning, but I will never love you, Ivan.”
“I might never get your heart, Jason, but with my blood coursing through you I know one day your lust for me will get the better of you. So why fight it.”
Forcing his gaze away from Ivan’s red eyes, Jason turned to his mate. “Trevor, get these men out of my sight.”
“You’ve heard my husband. Unless you want my entire clan hunting you down, you will leave now and never come back again.”
“Unless Jason so wishes it. We know of your plans for the great revolt, and believe you will need our help in order to succeed. You don’t need to ask for our help, or tell us the details of your plan. Just know that, when the time comes, We Who Walk in the Light will be by your side at your moment of greatest need,” Ivan whispered as he looked at Jason with adoration in his eyes.
“Send them away, Trevor,” Jason whispered as he began to sob, his mind filled with the nightmare of the ordeal he had faced in the darkness of Omega.
“Go,” Trevor growled, pressing the panic button hidden within his sleeping robes.
“Save your son, Jacob, Jason. You will need him before the end,” Ivan said as he and Dmitri drifted back to the balcony. “You will always be dear to our hearts, Angel of Ares.” Passing through the curtains, they disappeared over the balcony as Geoff and Logan burst into the bedroom.
“What’s wrong?” Logan demanded when he noticed Jason’s sobs.
Sitting next to Jason on the bed, Trevor wrapped his mate in his arms. “Find Jacob and place him inside a holding cell. He is not to be let out until you hear from either me or Jason. Is that understood?”
“Of course. But might we know why Jacob is to be arrested?”
“It’s for his own good,” Trevor replied. “The vampires have captured my son. They have already made him into their new prince.”
“Then we won’t tell Jacob. Such news would drive him into a frenzy.”
“I’ll be the one who will tell him,” Jason said as he wiped the tears from his face. “I’m his father. Jacob will listen to me. It is what Dirk might do that scares me.”
“You fear Dirk will try to take Jacob down below?” Logan asked.
“They love each other, don’t they?” Jason whispered before crying more. “How could this have happened? Jacob just got over losing Oktor. He might not let himself love again after this.”
“He will need you to be strong for him, now more than ever,” Trevor whispered into Jason’s ear. “I can help.”
“What do you suggest we do?”
“Let him go back to being a wolf. The pain won’t necessarily go away, but it won’t be as bad, and life will be simpler for him,” Trevor suggested.
“You would know better than I,” Jason replied.
“Let me handle the details. It’s what a proper husband should do for his mate. I would give my life for you, Jason.”
“Don’t say that. I would never be able to forgive myself if you were to throw your life away over me.”
“To give my life to save yours would be more than worth it,” Trevor insisted as he left the bed. “You stay with Jason, Geoff, while Logan and I deal with Jacob.”
“He’s a good man,” Geoff said after the two were gone.
“He loves me more than anything.”
“While you know you can never feel that way, not as long as you know Philip is still alive.”
“Yes, we both understand that. If I get my core back, I want to bond to Trevor but he’s already told me he can’t let me do that. The Dalf would feel betrayed if he wore the wings of a Saint. I don’t want to leave him, but I know this is not where I belong.”
“You both knew this arrangement was only going to be temporary. You needed him for protection, while he needed you as a symbol to unite the other Clans. I don’t think he could have stopped falling in love with you. There is no one more important to a Dalf than his mate. You, on the other hand, can’t help but love the people who love you so dearly. Look at myself. I was hired to assassinate you, but found I couldn’t kill such a loving person. You, in turn, wouldn’t let Philip kill me, so you did the only thing you could do and made me a Saint. I would never have become the person I am now without you and, because of that, I will forever be in your debt.”
“Jacob will want to leave here now,” Jason sighed.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“I didn’t want him to make his choice because he lost another lover. He was happy. He finally had the family he always wanted. Now, because of me, it’s all being taken away from him.”
“Jacob won’t blame you. He’ll just have another reason to want all the vampires dead.”
“So do I, and I hate myself for it. Who am I to want the extinction of an entire race?”
“You are a man who suffered terribly at their hands. Now, so has Jacob. You shouldn’t see the Nosferatu as people, because they’re not. They’re monsters created by the Dominus.”
“We were all created by the Dominus,” Jason pointed out. “How can the vampires be any less human than we are?”
“Because of what they do to people,” Geoff said. “We might have all been created by the Dominus, but not all of us have acted as monstrous as our creators. The Nosferatu must be punished for their crimes. No one else has suffered more by their hands, and lived, other then you.”
“And Ivan and Dmitri?”
“From what I’ve been told, they helped rescue you. Only you can judge if they deserve to live or not.”
“When they gave me their blood, they became a part of me just as my blood made me a part of them. I can’t kill them without killing a part of myself. Even if it is a part I don’t care for, I just can’t do it.”
“So the two lords will be spared. Any others deserving of mercy?”
“None of those who took part in kidnapping Dirk. Those who help me to get him back will be spared, but all the others I’ll let burn when I activate the light of the Central Pillar on the Omega Level.”
“That would kill most of them,” Geoff agreed. “What will you do with the slaves?”
“Free them, take them back to Ares where they’ll never be forced to live underground again.”
“There are two million of them, Jason. How will you move so many?”
“I will use Mordel itself. It is supposed to be a giant spaceship.”
“A grand plan, but one that would keep you here for some time unless you want Trevor to manage it all by himself.”
“I couldn’t do that to him, but I will need to leave for a short time to reassure my people that I am still alive. I can then come back with my family and oversee the project.”
“It might be safer if you stay here too, given how the Togo have betrayed us.
“I need to go see Jacob. Logan and Trevor have already confined him to a cell and given him the drug that will transform him back to his wolf body. I need to be there when that happens.”
“I understand. Jacob is your eldest and, in many ways, dearest son,” Geoff said as he helped Jason into a warm robe.
Going down to the holding cells, Jason entered the room where his son was confined. A look of confusion appeared on Jacob’s now shaggy face.
“Did I do something wrong, papa?” Jacob asked, tears matting down the gray fur covering his body.
“No, Jacob, you did nothing wrong,” Jason whispered as he quickly embraced his son. “Something terrible has happened, which is why we need to keep you safe.”
“What has happened? Trevor and Logan won’t tell me anything.”
“It’s Dirk. The Nosferatu have captured him and taken him down to the Omega Level.”
“What? Then why am I here? We should go rescue him,” Jacob said, a frantic look in his gray eyes.
“It is already too late, Jacob. They’ve already turned Dirk into their Vampire Prince.”
“But we can still rescue him.”
“Yes, we can,” Jason agreed before continuing. “But to do so now would guarantee we would walk into a trap. They know of your relationship with Dirk, and my relationship with you. By doing what they did to Dirk, they hope to lure us both down to Omega where they can take their revenge on us. Neither of us can let that happen, no matter how much pain it will cause us. I will deal with the Nosferatu when the time is right. For now at least, revenge will have to wait while we mourn our loss.”
“But why am I turning back into wolf?”
“Because I don’t want you to hurt more than you have to. Human emotions are complex. Trevor has promised things will be easier for you as a wolf. Once you think you’re ready, I promise you will get your human body back.”
“Why do these things have to happen to us?” Jacob whimpered as he nuzzled close to his father.
“I never wanted any of this to happen to us, and I’ve tried my best to protect you, but I believed you needed to come to Mordel with me so you could have a chance to be with your own people.”
“I want to go home. I miss Varrus and my little brothers. I even miss Philip a little, though I think Trevor is the best lover you’ve ever had.”
“I know you like Trevor. I like him too, but Mordel is his home and he can’t abandon his people.”
“So you’re going to leave him?”
“If that is to be our fate, then yes, we will have to leave each other. Just as Trevor believes his clan needs him, I believe the people of Ares need me as well. It’s not about us not loving each other. We love each other very much. The needs of our people, however, supersede our personal desires in this matter.”
“Will you take me with you?”
“If that is what you want Jacob,” Jason promised.
“I just don’t want to be left behind, papa.”
“Then I will be sure to take you with me.”
“I love you, papa,” Jacob managed to whimper, just before his changing vocal cords took away his ability for human speech.
“I love you too, son,” Jason cried, and he stayed with Jacob throughout the night, until his transformation was complete. Only then did father and son leave the cell, tied together by their shared grief.
“Well the Dominus didn’t waste any time I see.” Philip grunted as he observed the footage from the spy drone. It showed a fleet of recovery ships brining up the wreckage of the destroyed Togo warships.
“I told you they couldn’t ignore such a wealth in metal,” Paz said proudly. Most of the Togo crew were back at their stations after being bonded, many with sore buns and amused smiles on their faces. Philip had taken special pleasure in introducing the worst of his Togo tormentors to the exotic masochistic and sadistic pleasures his Spawn were used to. Many of the Togo now knew of the pleasure and pain that Philip’s whip like tail could deliver.
“Have they detected the tracking devices?”
“No. The tracking devices are still dormant and won’t be activated until the Admiral gives the order,” Paz replied.
“Then give the order.” Philip laughed at James, who was sitting in his command chair. “They’ve been hauling wreckage from the bottom of the sea for three days now.”
“Send the tracking signal,” James agreed, as he, Paz, and Philip gathered around the battle display. All over the map, blinking white lights could be seen leading toward the nearby Mordelium coast and then underground, until the signal’s faded away, blocked by so much earth.
“Send the spy drone to the north east at eighty-one degrees,” Paz told the sensor officer.
“Eighty-one degrees, aye,”
“How soon until it reaches the target area?” Jason asked.
“A good two hours. Plenty of time for all of us to get some rest,” Paz said with a wink.
“I feel too antsy for sleep.” Philip chuckled as he lashed out his tail, causing half the crew to jump.
“You two go have fun in that dungeon of yours. I want to keep an eye on things up here,” James replied.
“And disappoint the men? They get so much enjoyment when you torment them,” Philip pouted.
“I’m an Angel. You never expected Jason to torture your men.”
“I could never get Jason to go along with it. It’s all meant as fun. Varrus, on the other hand, was a very quick study. I guess that’s why he and Darius got along so well.”
“Still, I’ll pass,” James insisted.
“Suit yourself,” Philip said, wrapping his tail possessively around Paz’s waist as they left the bridge.
“He’ll never learn, will he?” Volt chuckled, once the two were gone.
“He means well. He can’t help being a sadistic Demon. I’m just glad he doesn’t expect me to take to that tail of his.”
“He never expected Jason to either. He doesn’t treat Angels and Saints like he does his Spawn and Imps. He does, however, get a perverse pleasure out of having us sexually torment his men.”
“Kyle has never been like, that though he does let Philip have his way with him.”
“Kyle isn’t much of a Demon, to be honest,” Volt replied.
“Which suits me fine,” James laughed.
Standing behind James’ command chair, Volt began massaging his Admiral’s shoulders. “Still, there isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t enjoy the next couple of hours.”
“You’ve never tried flirting with me before.”
“What can I say. I’m getting desperate.”
Turning around, James gave Volt a sympathetic look. “It’s Jason’s bond, isn’t it.”
“In a few months it will have been a year. I don’t know how much longer I can endure the hole I feel in my soul.”
“And you think I can fill it?”
“Jason is my prince, back to the days when we were students at the Academy. All of us were in love with him, back then. He was the only Legatio there, who would actually return our love and not try to take advantage of it. He made me a Saint because I had been one of his friends from school, but I’ve never been part of his inner circle. What of your Saints?”
“I have about a hundred of them… officers and marines who served under me. I did it mostly to reward them for their loyalty, not because I wanted to sleep with them. Until Jason came, the only person I thought I needed was Kyle. Now, I find myself needing both Jason and Philip in my life.”
“They’re a good couple, even if Philip is a bit of a whore,” Volt laughed.
“Don’t I know it. Once, I believed Jason would eventually leave Philip because of his ways, but that’ never happened. There’s a love between the two of them that I’m not part of .”
“You shouldn’t feel bad about it, sir. The love Jason has for you is special, too,” Volt said encouragingly.
“I’ll admit it is. Jason would never stop loving me, and Philip will never ask him to, not after all we’ve been through together these past nine months. I am worried about Kyle. Will he ever forgive me for running off with Philip like I did?”
“I’m sure he understands why you did it. Someone needed to stay with the children so they wouldn’t feel totally abandoned. The boys do love their Uncle Kyle.”
“Compared to Philip, Kyle is so good natured around children. When Philip holds one he looks like he’s afraid the child might break.”
“Philip is a warrior. He knows there’s blood on his hands. He’s just afraid the child might see it too. You’re probably a father by now.”
“Don’t remind me about Lan. I feel bad enough over how I handled things with her. It was a political marriage, nothing else. Jason did the same with Amanda, and he’s treated his wife countless times better than I’ve treated mine.”
“That can change when we go back.”
“If we ever go back,” James sighed. “Clive, the child Jason wanted named after my grandfather should be several months old by now, and I’m more interested in him than I am seeing my own infant son.”
“I’m sure Kyle is taking good care of both. What I’m worried about is how you’re not taking care of yourself.”
“Back to seducing me, are you?” James laughed.
“I think we are both dealing with pain that we can help each other with,” Volt said as he grabbed the armrests of James’ chair and leaned down over the admiral.
“Alright, you win.” James whispered.
“But I haven’t even begun playing,” Volt teased before kissing the Angel deeply. By the time their lips parted both men were already leaving the bridge for James’ quarters, their pants tented.
Athena stared at the tanks that held her children, a look of shock and worry on her mechanical face as her eyes darted from cocoon to cocoon in which her children had encased themselves.
“Well Athena, can you make sense of this?” Hera asked, her large yellow eye taking up most of the vid-screen as she watched the Nymphs over a security camera.
“I do not know what to say, mistress. Has this ever happened before?”
“No, it hasn’t, which is why we are considering bring Jason back in. These monstrosities are his children as well. Maybe he can share some knowledge as to what these things are turning into. The last reports, before they went into their cocoons, were clear however. Your children are male.”
“But that’s impossible. All Dominus children are supposed to be female.”
“In this case, the natural order has been disrupted. If we knew what we were dealing with, we could decide whether or not to destroy the whole lot. Since we do not, the council is divided on what to do with them. Some even dare to believe these creatures might present us with a new advantage of superior mating males over that of our Grau. They fail to see the danger of what a male line of Dominus would pose for us. I cannot stress enough that the superiority of our sex must never be challenged. Do I need to remind you of our history, how men used to treat us like possessions?”
“No, of course not, mistress. How may I alleviate your fears?”
“If we were to force Jason back here, it would upset the beastmen clans. He’s a lord, being Trevor Rex’s mate, and has certain rights that we’ve promised in the past to respect. If you were to convince Jason to come here on his own, however, the clans can’t very well protest.”
“How will I convince him to come? I do not believe I have his trust.”
“He would be a fool if he did. Your only choice is to ask him, as the mother of his children, to come and see his sons and let us run a few tests on him.”
“Why not Thomas? Jason seems to trust him more, and he has given birth to two of Jason’s children.”
“Because we dare not let the Grau know of the existence of male Dominus, stupid child. If there were male Dominus, than the Grau might start to hope that we will no longer use them to give birth to our children. They might actually take sides against us, in favor of the males.”
“Then, why not destroy these males and be done with them?”
“Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said?” Hera shouted. “The council is divided. Too many of my sisters have fooled themselves into believing that these male children represent the next step in our evolution. They might give up on the anima project, just when we’ve succeeded in obtaining the Angel’s core. If I am to convince the other Kraken of the danger these children represent, I must have scientific proof to show them. If you have any desire to become a Kraken yourself one day, you will obtain the evidence I need.”
“And if I can’t find the proof you want?”
“Then, instead of joining us in the council chamber, you will meet with us in the feeding tank, dear daughter.” Hera threatened.
“I understand, mistress. I shall not fail you.”
“See that you don’t,” Hera said as the screen went blank.
Leaving the Central Pillar in her most human warrior form, Athena had Major Scott and twelve other members of his security forces escort her to Tower One, headquarters of the Dalf. There, she was met by Lord Trevor and his own personal security team.
“I’m here to speak with Jason,” Athena said in a cold commanding tone.
“He does not wish to speak with you.”
“As a member of the Dominus, I have the right to speak with him.”
“But not question or arrest him,” Trevor retorted. “Since those are the only two reasons why I think you’re here, I see no reason to let you through, unless you wish to bring the matter to the High Court.”
“You’re willing to defy the Dominus?” Athena hissed.
“You’re just a Nymph, and not even a member of the council. I therefore don’t have to take orders from you unless you bring an order, signed by the council, stating why my rights as a lord should be violated.
Knowing she couldn’t get into the details with the Dalf, Athena bottled her anger for another day and decided to compromise. “It’s an issue concerning our children.”
Trevor frowned. “Our children?”
“Before Jason was brought here, we collected his seed and used it to fertilize a clutch of my eggs. The eggs have hatched, and now the children are getting old enough to leave the tank. I want Jason present so he can see our children.”
“Why do you care if Jason sees them or not?” Trevor demanded.
“I have no reason to explain my motives to the likes of you,” Athena replied. “Tell Jason why I’m here, and let him decide for himself if he wishes to see his offspring. It’s what a loyal husband would do.”
“Very well,” Trevor growled as he spoke into his com. Ten minutes later Jason was exiting the elevator with a security team of his own.
“Only you may come, Lord Jason,” Athena warned.
“Then I won’t go with you,” Jason replied, just as stubbornly. “I have not forgotten what the Dominus did to me the last time I let them have me in their clutches.”
“We only want you to see your children.”
“Sure, I bet that’s all. I take it they’re not what you, or I should say your mistresses, expected?”
“You will have to see for yourself, now won’t you?” Athena replied.
“Let’s get this over with,” Jason said as he walked forward, Logan by his side.
“Your Doll won’t be necessary.”
“But I like dolls. Growing up, they were my only toys,” Jason said mockingly.
“Have it your way, but he may not enter the nursery.”
“So be it,” Jason replied.
Soon, they were back at the Central Pillar and taken up to the nursery level. They had to pass several checkpoints before reaching the isolated tank where Jason’s children were kept.
“So these are my children?” Jason whispered, as he looked at the segmented cocoons floating in the tank. Each one was around three feet in length, with a translucent waxy color. Inside each one, something could be seen stirring .
“What can you tell me about them?” Athena asked.
“You mean you know nothing about them?” Jason said, surprised. Just being in the room, he felt his head being flooded with emotions. Some were joyous, but others were very angry. Something had been done to his children that made them hate the Dominus with every fiber of their being. “You hurt them, didn’t you,” he accused.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t lie to me, Athena. Your people experimented on, and vivisected several of their brothers, because you couldn’t understand them.”
“We’ve never come across their kind before. Of course we were curious.”
“You tortured them, and yet you expect them to love you for it.”
“You should have seen the way they feed. They killed countless numbers of my sisters by attacking like a swarm. None of the younglings stood a chance against them.”
“Because there is only one, you fool. They have only one shared mind, Athena, so everyone you experimented on, hurt, and killed, was felt by the entire group. Couldn’t your Grau tell you that?”
“We’ve not let the Grau study your children. We didn’t even know they were telepathic. Most of my kind doesn’t achieve telepathy until they’ve grown into a Kraken. You know that, but you’re supposed to have no esper talent left after your core was removed.”
“It’s because I’m their father, and they expect me to do something to end their suffering. But what can I do to stop the Dominus? You’ve already taken what you want from me.” The children’s anger was so great that Jason could not stop their emotions from burning inside himself.
Jason and Athena were so distracted by their debate, that neither of them noticed when three of the cocoons broke open. Out of the waxy shells three lamprey-like creatures slid out. Their mouths were gaping round holes lined with spiraling rows of teeth, while their underbellies were made up of countless sucker-like feet, which they used to climb up and over the walls of the tank.
Having no sense of touch with her metallic body, except with her robotic hands, Athena didn’t notice one of the children crawling up the back of her hulking form, until Jason took a step back from her, a look of shock on his face.
“Why are you looking at me that way?” Athena demanded.
Jason was about to warn her when he heard the voice of his children boom inside his head. “Don’t tell her.”
“It’s the children, being this close to them is painful,” Jason said, not actually lying but not telling her the truth of the situation either.
When the lamprey reached the body of the human battle form, it spat a sticky green fluid out of its mouth that ate away at the armored body and into the life capsule where Athena’s squid-like body controlled the suit.
“Please don’t do this,” Jason whispered to the children.
“We must, seed father, for this is what we are,” the single mind of the children said in a sympathetic tone.
When the Lamprey attacked Athena’s soft body, the Dominus Nymph let out a blood-curdling scream. She thrashed about in her warrior’s body, forcing Jason to run for cover. After several minutes, the screaming stopped and the metallic body went limp. Slowly though, it came back to life. When Athena spoke again it was with the voice of a young man. “We apologize, seed father, for scaring you like this, but only by seeing through your eyes could we take our revenge against our egg mother. She, herself, performed many experiments on us, failing to understand what we truly are.”
“And what are you?” Jason asked, afraid of the answer he would get.
“We are the future. No longer will Anima and Animus be confined in a human host. It will be given to man through us, the Symbiots of humanity. It will be us who will bring an end to war and suffering. We will unite mankind under a single mind. First though, we must deal with those who would seek to destroy us.”
“Yes, the enemies of all men. Join us, seed father, and together we will be able to defeat them once and for all.”
“I can’t, children. I would lose myself in you.”
“You would become a loving part of us father. After all the pain we’ve endured through our mother, we greatly desire to know if our father has anything better to offer us.”
“I can give you my love, but not my mind,” Jason said as he looked down nervously at the two Symbiots crawling towards him.
“You fear us, father, which is not our intention. We can make you strong again, and help you liberate Mordel from the Dominus. Think of the good we could do with your love to guide us, or the evil we will accomplish using the hatred our mother fed us, if you do not join us.”
“I have my own plan for freeing the city. Please give me the chance to do this on my own.”
“I’m sorry, father, but we can’t risk failure. We do not wish to be hateful, but pain and hatred is all we know.”
“You can always learn to love,” Jason replied.
“We will learn to love through you, father,” the lamprey inside Athena’s mechanical form said in a calm tone.
“You cannot force love.”
“We believe we can.”
Trapped in a corner, Jason knew he didn’t have many options left. With two of the Symbiots making their way towards him, and more hatching from their cocoons, there was no escape and there was no reasoning with the children. As they were a single-minded child, they were obstinate in what they wanted. They had suffered much, like their father had at the hands of the Dominus. It was only predictable that they would see their father as their natural ally. Unlike Athena, they had seen the love Jason had for all his children and, being so desperate for love themselves, wanted to be a part of it even if it mean consuming their father’s mind in the process.
“Lie down on your back, father. This will not hurt if you don’t fight us. You should not fear, soon all your loved ones will be joined with us. You’ll see. This is for the best.”
“May you one day learn how to forgive those who have hurt you,” Jason whispered as he did as he was told. Resigned he might be, but he still cringed when he felt one of the lamprey crawl up his back until it’s mouth was touching the back of his neck.
“Thank you, father. We knew we could believe in you,” were the Symbiot’s last words before the lamprey on Jason’s back shot its teeth into the back of his neck, each one still attached to the Symbiot by individual nerve cords. All along the sides of the lamprey’s body, hooked-shaped talons jutted out and dug into Jason’s spine, attaching itself firmly along the length of Jason’s back.
“We are one,” the voice inside Jason’s head boomed.
“I am me,” Jason replied, resisting the pull into being absorbed into the single mind of the Symbiots’.
“We are one,” the Symbiot repeated, this time in a commanding tone.
“No,” Jason refused, holding on desperately to his sense of individuality.
“No,” an even stronger voice said in Jason’s mind. “Leave our chosen one alone, or face our wrath.” Barely holding on to himself, Jason did not recognize the mind of the Animani Prime reaching into him and summoning the power of his people. Against the united force of all the Animani, the Symbiots had no choice but to flee, escaping through the air vents and water pipes to other parts of the city, broken but not destroyed. As for the symbiot already attached to Jason, it lay dead from the force of the Animani’s joined consciousness.
“Just rest, Jason. Help is coming,” the Prime said calmly, as Scott and his team came into the room. Touching the dead Symbiot, he saw it was still firmly attached to Jason’s spine. “You’ll need to go into surgery, Jason, but don’t worry, you’ll come out of it just fine.” As he said those words the sound of heavy metallic feet could be heard entering the room. Getting off his knees the Prime turned and face the enraged looks of the Dominus Nymphs.
“By order of Hera and the Dominus Council, we are ordered to place Animani Prime under arrest on the charge of high treason and sedition.”
“Very well, take me away,” the Prime said offering no resistance.
“No,” Jason gasped. He hadn’t realize he had screamed so much when the Symbiot attacked him, but he could surely feel it in his voice.
“Quiet Jason, the Prime knew what he was doing when he saved you,” Scott sent into Jason’s mind.
“But they’re going to kill him.”
“Not without studying him first, so there’s still a chance we can save him. You and your allies will have to make your move soon, with or without Philip,” Scott said as Jason was placed flat on his stomach on a cot. He was then given something for pain, which sent him spiraling down into unconsciousness.
“Father, what are they doing to you?” Jason heard the Symbiots say in the darkness of his mind.”
“They’re removing you from my body.”
“Don’t let them, father, we love you.” the Symbiot said with the first expression of panic he had heard.
“You almost destroyed me.”
“We only wanted you to be a part of us, for the good of us all.”
“I couldn’t let that happen.”
“So you reject us like our mother?” a hint of anger in the Symbiot’s childish voice.
“No children. I want to love you, but you can’t force people to become a part of you if they don’t want that.”
“But it’s for their own good. When all of us are one, than no one will be without love.”
“I know you want to do what’s right, children, but the way you want to do it is wrong.”
“If we do not have hosts we will eventually die, father. Is that what you want?”
“No, children, that’s not what I want, but you must only use willing hosts.”
“The willing are not always the best. Mother was like that.”
“You must learn how to share the bodies you depend on. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”
“We will try, father. We’re sorry we caused you so much pain. We never wanted to do that.”
“I forgive you, but now a dear friend of mine is in serious trouble.”
“The one who killed our brother?”
“He was trying to protect me from the pain you were causing,” Jason replied sternly. “He is very much like you, in that he and his people share a common mind. While none of them will admit it, each Animani has his own individual personality as well. I know the Prime does.”
“We will help your friend if we can, father, but we have our own plans for the Dominus. They are our intended mates. How will more of our kind be born if we do not join with them?”
“They will try to kill you and you’re still quite young.”
“We know enough to understand that what we’re planning is only right. It might even help you in your own attack against the Dominus.”
“Maybe, but be careful and try to learn from your mistakes.”
“We will, father. A part of you is now one with us, and we’ll always be able to contact you in the future. One day, you might agree to be a willing host for your children. We won’t try to force you like we did last time. We will be going now. Even as we speak, the Dominus are trying to hunt us down for killing Athena. Please do not hate us, father, for we do not hate you.”
“I will do my best,” Jason whispered out loud as his eyes slowly opened. Looking over him was the Animani he had named Gregory.
“Do not try to talk, Lord Jason. You are safe now. We’ve removed most of the Symbiot from your body. What little that’s left is so deep within your brain we cannot risk removing it. What we can tell, though, is that that small piece is of no danger to you. Its function, as far as we can tell, is that of an antenna. My guess is that you’ve heard from the Symbiots while you were unconscious. Just nod your head if you have,” Gregory said calmly. When he got a nod in reply, he let out a sigh of relief. “Good. Then we know the Symbiots can’t control you or they would have tried. Already, twelve nymphs have been killed, while only two of the Symbiots have been captured, both dead. The Dominus are in a panic. Not since the days of the Great War have so many of them died in a single cycle. If you’re looking for a moment when the Dominus guard is down, now is the time. I’ve already sent Saul to tell your friends the same. The revolt will begin in three days. Hopefully, you’ll be back on your feet by then. Thomas has taken Brutus to Tower One, just in case the Symbiots decide to attack Grau as well, but he’s outside your room if you wish to talk to him.”
“I think I should,” Jason said. He tried to sit up, but his neck and back were so weak from trauma that he couldn’t sit up without Gregory’s help.
“I’ll get him now,” Gregory said after he helped Jason.
When Thomas entered the room he had a nervous look about him, as if someone had fired a gun behind his back. “I won’t lie, Jason. You look terrible.”
“So do you.”
“Well, we both have reasons for it. Word has spread into the city about what happened. Half the city is scared that those things will come after them. Trevor has issued a curfew, so the streets are under his control for the moment. If only Philip would show up, we could really get this party started.”
“Can’t Geoff contact James?”
“He was going to, but I told him not to. The Dominus have every Grau and Nymph scanning the city for any strong telepathic emanations, hoping to find those terrifying Symbiots of yours.”
“Sure, blame me for them,” Jason chuckled in a hoarse voice.
“They are your offspring. Too bad they look more like their mother.”
“They’re very dangerous, Thomas, so I would not get on their bad side if I were you.”
“You don’t have to tell me that. I don’t want to be here, knowing those things are running loose in the vents and pipes. The Dominus are this close to shutting down the entire Pillar so they can pump poison gas into the vents and pluming, but that would mean leaving their powerbase.”
“Where would they go?”
“Believe it or not, they do have a secondary base already set up. It’s about a hundred miles away, down one of the rail tunnels. It’s where they’ve been assembling their battle fleet for the conquest of Luna. Some Grau and Animani, and a few Nymphs, are already being sent there to prepare the place for the full council.”
“How soon until they make that decision?”
“It depends on how bad things get,” Thomas replied honestly “But if they do leave, we should time our attack with them being gone. A lot fewer people will die, if we don’t have to face a dozen battle spheres.”
“Gregory told me you plan to make the attack in three days.”
“If the Dominus haven’t gone by then, we will. We can’t risk them getting control of the situation here. Right now, everything is a total mess. Many Grau have locked themselves up in their quarters, too scared to leave. Even the Nymphs are abandoning their posts for the main port, which is about as far as they can get without leaving the city. There were over a hundred and twenty of those cocoons, and only three Symbiots are known to be dead so far. The fact that the Prime killed one with his mind is probably the only thing keeping him alive right now. The Dominus are not letting him anywhere near them, but they do have some of their best Grau interrogators working on him, and I don’t mean mind readers. The Dominus know a mind reader is useless against an Animani, so they’re resorting to more primitive measures.”
“We have to rescue him, Thomas. It wasn’t the Prime who killed the Symbiot. It was me. The only thing the Prime did was direct the power the Animani have given me to free me from the Symbiot. I still don’t know how to use the power without the Prime’s help.”
“You knew the Dominus were searching the entire city for the source of that power from that one time you used it. You and the Prime couldn’t risk more experimenting. The revolt depends on you having that power, however. You’re right. We do need to free the Prime if he’s the only one who can help you use your gift. I never wanted to risk this, but it seems I’ve got no other choice.” With that, Thomas took hold of Jason’s face and pulled him into a kiss, passing along his black animus to the father of his children.
When the kiss stopped, Jason was gasping for air. “Why did you do that?”
“Animani anima is good for most injuries, but Grau animus is best when it comes to damage to the spine and brain. If we’re going to free the Prime, we need to act now. There are others we’ll need to save. Those Animani who’s birthing cycle you triggered in the Dreaming have already given birth. I believe the Dominus will try to use the babies to threaten the Prime into talking.”
“So the revolt is to begin now?”
“Our part of it, at least,” Thomas said as he took a data pad from his belt. Punching in a detonation code he pressed the execute button. “There, it’s done. The dirty bombs we planted near the Central Pillar’s water supply will explode in five minutes. All I have to do now is send the Alpha signal, and Scott and my own people will begin their revolt.”
“What about Trevor and the rest of our people?”
“They’ll just have to catch up with us. With everything so chaotic here, the Dominus won’t know what hit them and will most likely attempt to flee. That is, unless they think the main city is revolting as well, in which case they will go into their battle spheres and kill as many people as they can and ask questions later. Can you stand up now?”
“I think I can,” Jason said as he got up onto his feet.
“Scott knows where I am, and should come here soon with proper gear for us both,” Thomas promised. Just then, Scott entered the hospital room and flashing red lights dropped from the ceiling as a klaxon started blaring.
Going up to Thomas, Scott gave his lover a quick kiss. “Radiation alert,” he told Jason as he tossed him a uniform and a full set of body armor. “Are you really sure you’re up for this, Lord Jason?”
“I can’t let the Prime, or the Animani children, be hurt because of me.”
“Trevor and your bodyguard friends are going to be pissed that you’re doing this without them.”
“It’s not like I haven’t pulled this sort of stunt before,” Jason laughed, as he got dressed.
“You’re probably right.” Scott laughed as well. “Just remember who was standing by your side throughout all this.”
“What my lover is trying to say, is that he’s jealous he hasn’t gotten a chance to sleep with you yet,” Thomas smirked.
“He never asked,” Jason replied, as he gave Scott a wink.
Thomas elbowed Scott. “I said you just needed to ask.”
By the time Jason was fully dressed, the lights and changed from flashing red to blue.
“A general evacuation order,” Thomas chuckled. The Dominus must be so scared that they’re running for their lives.”
“Don’t celebrate yet,” Scott warned as he listened in on his ear com. “The Dominus have declared martial law, and are taking over security of the city from the Dalf and Hawkmen. They’re sending out four battle spheres, just to make sure no one gets the wrong idea while the rest flee for their lives to the spaceport.”
“Four is a lot better than twelve,” Thomas said, trying to sound cheerful.
“I was hoping for none. Fighting against four of those juggernauts will be a big enough challenge for Trevor and his rebels. The Dominus are also sending plenty of flyers out to maintain control of the streets.”
“The Hawkmen have been prepared for that eventuality. With Agril gone, however, Geoff will have to take command of the heavy weapons teams and attack the battle spheres. The minefields and other traps are already in place. The Cat Clan is still in chaos, but at least we’ve won over the Tigerclaws to our side, and will double the size of our infantry when joined with the Dalf. As for the other syndicates, they’ll keep the lower levels from getting involved until we’re ready to deal with them. The slaves on the industrial levels have been promised their freedom if they cause enough trouble to stop the Lizardmen from siding with the Dominus. As for the Rats, well, no one can depend on them, not even the Dominus. Most likely they’ll stay out of the fight until one side looks like it’s already won,” Scott reported.
“That’s pretty much how we planned things to happen,” Jason nodded confidently. Expanding his shock spear, he charged it up. Bolts of blue energy ran up and down the shaft. “We need to move fast. The Dominus might order the Prime killed if they think he’ll be rescued.” With that, they stormed out of the medical ward into the chaos that was spreading throughout the Central Column. The Great Revolt had begun.
“We’re running out of time,” James shouted at the engine crew over the com, as they raced toward the secret cavern entrance of Mordel. On the battle screen, dozens of Togo Zephyrs were racing toward them in hopes of recapturing the Argos and it’s powerful gravity drive.
“We already wiped out most of the cave’s defenses with an EMP bomb, but no magnetic charge can blast a hole past the barrier.”
“Keep on trying. It’s not like we’ll get a second chance at this,” Philip insisted.
“How much longer can the gravity drive keep us from dashing against the rocks?” James asked the engine crew.
“One more hour, and that would be pushing it, sir,” the chief engineer replied. “We’re already on backup power.”
“Can we use the gravity cannon to crush the barrier?”
“Depends on how thick it is, sir,” the weapons control officer replied. “If it’s too thick, all we might achieve is to jam it.”
“How are we doing, trying to hack into their control systems?” First Officer Paz asked.
“Their control system was pretty much wiped out by the electromagnetic pulse bomb. From what we can tell, they must have cut the hydraulics in order to cause the barrier to close.”
“You mean the only way we’re going to get past it is if we blow it up?” Paz grunted as he went to the sensors’ officer. “How thick is that barrier?”
“About twenty feet of solid steel,” the officer replied. “Our nuclear shells can melt part of the way through, but not twenty feet.”
“We’ll have to use the gravity drive then,” James replied, after hearing all his options.
“Sir, we can’t power the cannon while the barrier is up. It’s using up too much power.”
“Then we’ll just ram it,” Philip grunted. “We should increase power to the gravity field to maximum, and then ram their door down at our fastest speed.”
“Will that work?” James asked Paz.
“If we focus most of the antigravity field on the bow of the ship, it could work, but it will be tricky. If we fail to break through, we’ll run into our own field which will tear the Argos apart.”
“If it’s the only plan that might work…” James began to say.
“Consider it done, sir,” Paz said before James could finish. Talking through his com, he gave the Admiral’s orders, ignoring protests from the engine crew. He then reported back to James. “We’ve timed it perfectly, sir. It will take us exactly fifteen minutes to reach our maximum speed. Timed so that power to the gravity field along the bow is increased to maximum just as we hit the barrier, we will hit the wall just as the field will be at its strongest. Due to overheating, the generators will shut down three minutes after that point but, if we fail to break through, we’ll all be dead before the three minutes are up anyway.”
“If this is our only chance, we have to take the risk,” Philip insisted.
“The crew is ready for your order, sir,” Paz said, a sudden hush overcoming the bridge.
James let out a deep sigh before answering. “Do it. Maximum speed.”
“Aye, Admiral, maximum speed,” the navigator replied as he aimed the powerful warship into a ramming course directly into the steel barrier.
“This had better work,” Philip whispered under his breath to James.
“I thought you were all for this.”
“I am. I’m just not looking forward to the idea of flying back to Ares with half the crew on my back.”
“So you’re saying I’m supposed to fly with the other half on mine?”
“No, you’re the Admiral. You’re supposed to go down with your ship.” Philip winked, just to show that he was joking.
“I’m detecting tremors in the cave beyond the barrier,” the sensor officer reported when they were within two minutes of impact.
“It would be a shame to break through only for the cave to fall down on top of us,” Philip chuckled.
“Philip, if you’re going to tell jokes, find something that doesn’t involve our deaths to laugh about,” James grumbled. Two minutes away and his heart felt like it was going to burst.
“Twenty seconds to impact,” Paz reported. On the screens, the barrier had already bent inward considerably, while rocks and boulders around its frame broke off and went flying inland.
“Increase our altitude and bring the gravity field to the keel of the ship,” James ordered at fifteen second to impact.
“You’re not thinking what I think you are,” Philip said as he placed a trembling hand on James’ shoulder.
“We’ll go in through the roof,” James replied.
“That changes our impact time to twelve seconds, mark,” Paz said after screaming the change in orders to the crew.
“This is probably going to wreck the ship,” James warned.
“So long as it gets us to Mordel in one piece, I’ll be fine,” Philip said as everyone braced themselves for impact.
Flying over the top of the cliff, the ship landed with a thud on dry land, the gravity field producing an ever-growing sinkhole that carried the Argos down with it.
“Three minutes to total power loss,” Paz shouted as the entire ship shook as it made its descent deeper into the earth.
“We’re not dead yet,” James said, as he touched the hand on his shoulder.
“The engine crew will be if they got the timing wrong,” Philip grunted.
Suddenly, the bottom fell out from under the ship and, for a brief fraction of a second, it was free falling until the gravity drive managed to compensate. With its remaining power the Argos hovered over the caved-in portion of the underground port. It then landed safely in shallow water, near where the remains of the Mordelian fleet was docked.
“Target all ships and fire,” Paz shouted to the weapons’ officer.
With amazing speed, the Argos computer targeted the enemy vessels and fired a full salvo of its rockets and shells at the remaining warships. Fatal point-blank blows were delivered to all six ships, just as the three minutes ran out and the Argos’ generators died.
“Did we win?” Philip asked, as red emergency lights switched on.
“There is only one way to find out. Are the coms still working?” James asked Paz.
“The ship’s main announcement system is out, but the ear coms should still work.”
“How to I make a general call to the entire crew?”
“I’ll handle it, sir,” Paz offered. “What do you want me to tell them?”
“Tell them to arm themselves with any weapons they can lay their hands on, and prepare for an all out ground assault.”
“No need to tell my men, they’re already swimming to shore,” Philip said, the sharp claws of his hands extended.
“Then you’d better go join them,” James ordered. “I’ll be leaving with the Saints. Paz, once power is restored, launch as many Zephyrs as you can. Besides that, I expect your people to hold the ship and do repairs until we come back.”
“Aye, Admiral. After your grand entrance, I don’t expect the locals will cause us much trouble.”
“If they’re smart, they won’t. Volt, assemble the Wing Guard on the main deck. It’s about time we got our Emperor back.”
“Past due, if you ask me,” Volt laughed as he hurried toward the armory.
Spreading the metallic wings the Animani had given him, Jason shielded his men as both sides fired at each other in the main hall of the brig.
“It’s a good thing they weren’t expecting us, or they would have armed themselves with heavier weapons.” Scott laughed from where he was firing between Jason’s legs.
“Don’t get too comfortable down there,” Thomas laughed. While Scott and his security soldiers were firing their guns, Thomas and his fellow agents were fighting with a different sort of weapon, their minds. They were blocking the psychic attack of the Grau interrogators, while lashing out with their own mental blows at their fellow telepaths. Either by bullet, or by mind, the jailers went down until the corridor was clear.
“Which cell is the Prime in?” Scott asked as his men collected the weapons and ammo of their fallen foes.
“I know which one,” Jason said as he ran down the corridor.
“Keep an eye on him, Scott. He’s going to get killed at this rate,” Thomas said, admonishing his lover for letting Jason run off by himself.
“The corridor is clear,” Scott insisted.
“But the cells might not be. They’re shielded against mental probing.”
“You’re right. You can punish me later.”
“No, I think I’ll let Philip do that.”
“If he ever gets here,” Scott said as he ran off to keep up with Jason.
“Oh, I think he’ll be here sooner than you think.” Thomas laughed to himself as more reports of fighting streamed over his ear com.
“This is the cell,” Jason said when he came to a sudden halt.
“Are you sure?”
“The Prime is,” Jason chuckled.
“But these cells are shielded. Not even Thomas can see inside.”
“They might be shielded, but not against the Prime and me,” Jason replied. Reaching out with his right hand, he let his fingers brush against the windowless door. With just that touch the door blew off its hinges, revealing the Prime and three dead guards inside. “Are you alright, Prime?”
“Not even a scratch,” the Prime laughed. “You’re growing stronger, your highness. Soon, you won’t even need my help anymore.”
“But I will always need your wisdom,” Jason insisted.
“We can discuss that later. Are the children safe?”
“I sent a team of my best men to take control of the nurseries,” Scott said. “Your children should be safe by now.”
“Good. Now, what about the Tower’s weapons controls. We can’t let the Dominus gas the entire city,” the Prime pointed out.
“The Symbiots have taken control of the Nymphs at the controls, and have barricaded themselves inside. I can’t say if that is a good or bad thing, but I think it’s safe to say they won’t gas the city anytime soon.”
“But they will probably blackmail us later on,” Scott grunted.
“They want more than just revenge against the Dominus. They also want to survive,” Jason replied.
“We’ll worry about that later. How much control do we have of the Pillar so far?” the Prime asked.
We have control of the important levels. Most of those who are still fighting have concentrated on the industrial levels and Omega. Word is, that the Grau there have made a deal with the Nosferatu and are letting them inside the Pillar, as well as arming them. The Lizardmen are still preoccupied with the slave revolt, but the Loyalists are now arming them with blast spears so I don’t know how much longer they can hold out. I’m also getting garbled reports from the port that some sort of attack is taking place there, but I can’t get any clear details from anyone and it will take some time before one of my own teams can reach the port to find out.”
“We didn’t bother with the port, since we wanted the Dominus to have to have a clear escape route. Any word about what’s going on at the Dominus’ secondary base?”
“They know the revolt is bigger than they first imagined, but they believe the four battle spheres they left behind will be able to break the backs of the resistance. So they’re not sending any reinforcements at the moment. Right now, they don’t have very much they can send since most of their battle spheres are here in the Central Pillar. They do have a fleet of space ships, but they’re not designed for battle inside a planet’s atmosphere. The Mother supposedly had been working on some sort of gravity device that would change that, but she took whatever prototype she had when she fled to Ares,” Scott explained.
“So what is our next move?”
“I already have a demolition team moving to destroy the tunnel between Mordel and the secondary base. That should buy us some more time.”
“Then, I guess all that’s left are those four battle spheres. How is Geoff doing with them?” Jason asked.
“Not so well. Even with his heavy weapons, those spheres can take quite a beating and not slow down one bit.”
“This is something we need to handle, Jason, just as I told you,” the Prime said with a deadpan expression.
“I understand, sir,” Jason nodded.
“We should go to the top of the pillar then,” The Prime said, leading the way.
Scott grabbed hold of Jason’s arm before he could go. “You’re not thinking of taking on those things yourself? ”
“You said it yourself; not even Geoff’s weapons can seriously damage those machines.”
“So what are you going to do, stand on the roof and throw pebbles at them?”
“No, I’m going to kill the minds inside them.”
“That’s insane, Jason. No telepath, not even Thomas, can take on a fully grown Kraken.”
“No Dominus has ever gone against the full might of the Animani people.”
“The Animani can’t attack anything. No one can direct their power. It’s too spread out.”
“I can, Scott. You might not believe that, but I can. The Prime has been teaching me how to focus their power into a weapon. I’ve been a part of them, and they a part of me, since the Dreaming. Losing my core didn’t change that. If I can defeat those four battle spheres, then the Dominus won’t dare ever come back here again.”
“The Dominus will kill you, Jason, with the power of a mere thought.”
“I have to try before more lives are lost.”
“I know I can’t stop you, but please promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I always try to be.”
“Well, try harder,” Scott shouted as Jason hurried to catch up with the Prime.
“Why aren’t you following Jason?” Thomas demanded when he saw Jason run off.
“If he wants to get himself killed, I see no reason why I should join him.”
“You’re supposed to be protecting him so that won’t happen. Now tell me what’s going on.”
“He’s going to the top of the pillar to fight the battle spheres on his own. I told him he was crazy, that no one can fight a one-on-one battle against the Dominus, not with their telepathic abilities.”
“Jason might,” Thomas sighed. “I had hoped he could practice some more before facing the Dominus, but it seems we’ve run out of time.”
“So you knew about his relationship with the Animani, and didn’t think to tell me?”
“I hoped I wouldn’t have to. It’s not like I want Jason to fight the Dominus. It’s a terrible power the Animani have entrusted to Jason. Even I don’t know its limits. What worries me, is that Jason doesn’t know either. He has no experience at psychic dueling and will be completely dependent on the Prime to guide him through it. One small delay, one moment of hesitation, is all the Dominus will need in order to kill him.”
“Then why don’t we stop him?”
“Because he’s the only hope we’ve got. He’s the trump card I bet everything on, in case the worst happened.”
“You bet everything on a man who doesn’t know anything about what he’s about to attempt?”
“As I said, I had hoped it wouldn’t have been necessary.”
“You’d better get your ass up to the top level before the worst does happen, Thomas. You and I will discuss your habit of risking other people’s lives later.”
“There is nothing I can do to help. Only the Prime can help Jason now.”
“Then go there as his moral support. You owe him that much. And don’t give me any excuses about why you can’t. Jason is the father of your children, damn it. If you want any chance of having any with me, you’d better prove to me you know how to stand by your mate.”
“If this is what you really want,” Thomas said, sulking.
“It’s what you should want, but I can’t make you,” Scott scolded. “We’ve been together for a long time, Thomas, even with you gone for most of it. Don’t disappoint me, or this will be the end of us.”
“But you can’t mean that, Scott, not now. Not when we’re on the verge of getting what we always dreamed about.” Thomas pleaded as Scott went back to his men to give them new orders. “Scott…” No matter how much Thomas begged, Scott continued to ignore him. Realizing he could lose everything, including the man who had been his dearest friend since childhood, Thomas knew that he would have to put his own life at risk. Even if it were to do nothing more than stand by the man for whom he had caused so much suffering. Walking slowly away, Thomas’ pace quickened as he raced to the express elevators. Knowing his pass codes should still be good, he punched up the top floor where his fate, and that of all Mordel stood in the balance.
“Don’t look down, Jason, it will just make you dizzy,” the Prime warned when they reached the top of the Central Pillar. With the lights out, the whole city was dark. The only sources of light were. flares being shot from seemingly random parts of the city.
Even in the darkness, Jason could see the hulking battle spheres, each one a hundred yards in diameter. “Which one should we attack first?” Jason asked, once he had his bearing.
“It’s not as simple as that, Jason. First we need to see to your defenses. The moment you try to attack, the Dominus will know who and where you are. Without proper shielding, they could kill you before your untrained mind can kill them.”
“Then is this a good idea?”
“Don’t worry, Jason, I will guide you through it. Over my long life I have seen every trick the Dominus use, and I know how to counter each one. It will require that you show faith in me. If I tell you to do something, you must not hesitate for an instant from doing so. Not just our lives, but the lives of all my people will depend on your faith in me. Can I put such trust in you?” the Prime asked in a serious tone.
“I will do my best. That’s all I can promise.”
“Then I will expect your best,” the Prime said, letting a small smile break his cold expression. Now, the first thing we need to do is build your defenses, so we will need to build a barrier around you.”
“What will we use?”
“Your mind, and the air around us. Now concentrate. Imagine a bubble around us, covering the entire roof. Feel the air thicken. Add more air to it, to thicken the bubble even more until it’s as hard and strong as steel. Now, open your eyes and see what you have done.
Opening his eyes, Jason saw a shimmering translucent bubble surrounding them. “Is it really that strong?”
“The only way we’ll find out is when one of the battle spheres try to attack us,” the Prime replied.
“Maybe I can test it out for you,” Thomas said from behind. Turning to look at him, Jason saw the man hefting a heavy blast spear. “Stand back,” Thomas chuckled as he fired several powerful energy charges at the barrier Jason had created. Each one was easily absorbed by the bubble of compressed air. “I think it’s strong enough,” the Grau chuckled, as he dropped the heavy weapon. “Damn, that thing weighed a ton.”
“What are you doing here, Thomas?” Jason asked, surprised to see the Grau.
“Don’t you want me here?” Thomas asked, looking offended.
“You’re more than welcome to stay, but why put your life at risk.”
“Because it’s only fair that I risk something, for everything I stand to gain from you.”
“Scott insisted you come here, didn’t he?” Jason laughed.
“That doesn’t change the fact that he was right to scold me. I’m very good at putting other people at risk, but never myself. Succeed or fail, my fate should be no different than yours.”
“Then I will just have to succeed,” Jason said, reaching out to squeeze the Prime’s and Thomas’ hands. “Now, which one should we target first?”
“The closest one,” the Prime said. “At such a steep angle, it will have problems aiming its main weapons at us. That should help lower the risk and buy you more time to defeat the Dominus inside. That’s where you can be of help, Thomas. While Jason tries to probe around the Dominus mind, you can try to distract her.”
“How do you suggest I do that?”
“Give her an update on the progress of the rebellion, though I do suggest you lie. Just keep her distracted long enough so that Jason can make his mental attack. When he does, he’s going to have to strike fast and hard so she doesn’t have a chance to make her own counter attack. That might give you a shock, but don’t worry. You shouldn’t be harmed by it.”
“That doesn’t sound too reassuring,” Thomas whined.
“Jason needs practice, and this is the only chance he’s going to get. Once the first one is killed, the other three will be aware of it. They might not know how it happened, or where, but they will be better prepared. You said you wanted to help, after all.”
“I know. I would just like some warning of what to expect.”
“Well, I can’t tell you that. I don’t know what to expect, really. One can only learn by doing. Now if you’re ready, let us begin.
While the Prime guided Jason’s mind, Thomas contacted the Dominus inside the nearest battle sphere. He made up a lie about how he, and the Grau under his command, were defeating the Rebels, and how the Pillar would be back under Dominus control very soon. It was all going pretty well until everything went blank, as if he had been blinded by a flash of lightning. The next thing Thomas knew, he was collapsing to the ground. He was saved by the Prime catching him.
“That was a good job, Thomas. The Dominus didn’t even know we were there,” the prime said in a congratulatory tone.
“What was that?” Thomas said as he tried to regain his balance.
“The Dominus’ brain exploding,” the prime said. “There are a lot less traumatic ways of killing but, as this was Jason’s first attempt, it was good for a first try.”
“If you’re going to do that again, please give me some kind of warning so I’ll know when to make my exit,” Thomas pleaded.
“That would sort of ruin the surprise, wouldn’t it, Grau?” the Prime chuckled.
“We’ll try better next time,” Jason promised.
“Are you ready to try again, or do you need more time to recover, Thomas? I must warn you that time is not on our side.”
“Do you want me to tell the same lies?”
“No, almost every Grau, and the three remaining Dominus felt Jason’s attack, so that is what you should talk about. Act as if you’re in a panic and looking toward the Dominus for help. You Grau are natural cowards so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“If I’m a coward, what am I doing up here.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you, Thomas. I was only stating a fact. The Dominus intentionally designed your people to be cowards so they could better control you.”
“That doesn’t explain why I’m risking my life and sanity up here.”
“You probably suffer from some sort of genetic mutation. I’m sure we can sort it all out later.”
“Your friend is enjoying this too much. Who knew an Animani could be born with a sense of humor?” Thomas grumbled.
“We Animani all have an excellent sense of humor. We just rarely have a chance to use it, as we all know each others’ jokes.”
“Can’t you see what he’s trying to do, Thomas?”
“Besides make jokes at my expense? No.”
“He’ s trying to keep us relaxed. From what he’s told me, a tense mind can be more easily damaged in a psychic duel.”
“That’s true enough, but why does he have to pick on me?”
“Because you’re the easiest target,” the Prime said as he slapped Thomas on the back.
“You two are just getting back at me for all the terrible things I’ve done in my past.”
“You’ll be paying for those mistakes for a long time after this battle, my Grau friend,” the Prime warned. “Now, on to the next target.”
“Which one should we pick this time, the next nearest one?”
“No, that would seem too obvious a choice. Let’s pick the furthest one, the one guarding the tunnel leading to the port. If you’re ready, Thomas, we can begin.”
Taking on the role of the cowardly Grau, Thomas made contact with the Dominus, begging her for protection against the super-esper that had just killed her sister. Things were going just like before but, for some reason, Jason ended up tackling Thomas, breaking the Grau’s concentration. “Why did you do that?” Thomas demanded. “You almost got her.”
“And she almost got you,” the Prime said. “I was teaching Jason how to see through the enemy’s eyes, and we saw that she was targeting you with her missiles. She was just about to fire when Jason killed her. Still, it was a close call, and you can be certain the remaining two Dominus have some idea about what we’re up to. Things are going to get a lot harder, but we have to keep on trying.”
Looking at Jason, Thomas saw the man was wearing a wide grin on his face. “Philip is here!” I saw the Dominus trying to target him, but she couldn’t aim any of her weapons that far into the tunnel. I told you he would come and save me.”
“It looks like you just saved him, and me for that matter,” Thomas said, surprised by his deep tone of gratitude.
“Come on, just two more left,” Jason said as he helped Thomas up.
“Is that thing dead?” Volt asked Philip near the entrance to the city of Mordel.
“Yes, I believe it is,” Philip whispered. “He had felt something, something incredibly powerful, yet with a familiar touch to it. That power had killed whatever controlled the massive sphere that had been keeping them from entering the city for the past twenty minutes. Even though the machine was dead now, none of Philip’s men dared to charge forward.
“Jason did that, didn’t he?” James whispered.
“I believe he did. To think he saved us, when we’ve finally come to save him. Have you contacted Geoff yet?”
“He’s out there fighting those giant spheres. It seems this was the second one Jason has knocked out. How he managed to do so, Geoff isn’t telling me.”
“Where’s Jason?” Philip demanded.
“You see that giant tower in the center of the city?”
“How can I miss it.”
“Geoff believes Jason is somewhere in there.”
“Can he be a little more precise?”
“He can, but he doesn’t want to risk it. These telepathic communications of our can be monitored, especially by the Dominus who control those spheres. Jason seems to be risking his own life by trying to fight them this way.”
“Now, that’s something I won’t put up with. After all we’ve been through to try and rescue him, I’ll be damned if he gets himself killed now,” Philip grunted.
“Geoff wants us to report to that tall building to the northeast,” James said.
“It seems to be the command center for the entire resistance. It’s being led by someone called Trevor Rex. Geoff has sent word ahead, so they’ll be expecting us.”
“Good. The sooner this Trevor fellow steps aside and lets us take control of things, the sooner we’ll win this war.”
James let out a deep sigh. “Philip, there’s something you need to know, and you’re not going to like it.”
“Well, out with it.”
“Jason married this Rex fellow. In fact, they’re having a child together.”
“Jason married someone else? Did he give up on me that quickly.”
“No, Philip. Geoff didn’t even want me to tell you, but I didn’t want you killing the man when you found out. It was a political marriage. This man, Trevor, is one of the most powerful men in the city. He helped rescue Jason from a horrible situation in one of the lower levels of the city. He offered Jason his protection if he agreed to marry him. He needed Jason as a uniting symbol for the rebellion.”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“He’s a Dalf, like Jacob. Jason is also now a Dalf. It seems that, when Jacob bit him, he passed on some of his animus, but you shouldn’t get mad about it. Animus is a lot like anima in its healing properties. From what Geoff understands, it was only Jacob’s animus that kept Jason alive when the Dominus stole his core from him.”
“I still don’t understand why Jason would agree to marrying the freak.”
“I told you. Jason is now a Dalf, and Dalf have their own ways when it comes to love. Trevor Rex is the Alpha of the Dalf Clan, a pretty powerful and respected position, but he had never chosen a mate, the one to be an Alpha with him. Until he met Jason, he didn’t know if he would ever pick one but, once Jason was a Dalf, he knew he was the mate he had always been looking for. If you’re a Dalf, and your Alpha wants you as his mate, you cannot deny him his choice. Neither could Jason, though he did try.
“You shouldn’t feel threatened by this man, Philip. Instead, you should feel sorry for him.”
“And why should I? He tried to steal Jason from me.”
“Any more than I did?” James asked with an arched eyebrow. “It’s a doomed relationship. Geoff told me so. The healers in this city have promised to restore Jason his core, if he succeeded in freeing the city from the Dominus. When Jason has his core back, his anima will go back to suppressing the animus inside him, and he will cease being a Dalf. Jason loves Trevor, but they both know their feelings for each other will change when Jason is no longer a Dalf. Jason wants to bond to Trevor to keep their love alive but, as a Saint, Trevor would be rejected as the Alpha. His own sense of duty won’t let him abandon his kind in these troubled times. Jason agreed to have a child with Trevor so that the Dalf could have a living reminder of the relationship they shared. Your coming here only guarantees that Jason will leave him.”
“Stop, James, I don’t need to hear anymore. For whatever reason, Jason fell in love with this man. And this Dalf helped lead the rebellion that will bring Jason back to me, even though it will cost him his own relationship with Jason. I won’t kill him. I don’t think I can ever pay him back for all he’s done for me. Jason is not at fault, either. I can’t imagine what he’s been through. That he could find some happiness, even with another man, is not something I can hold against him. Just look at what you and I have been doing these past nine months.”
“We did what we had to do in order to survive, just as Jason has,” James agreed. “Come, we should try to move on.”
“Do you think Jason will forgive me for ruining his relationship with this Dalf.”
“I think there’s nothing to forgive. Jason never gave up hope on you, so he knew the relationship was doomed from the start. So did Trevor, I am sure. Try not to think about it.”
“What will I say to this man?”
“A thank you would be appropriate,” James said as they walked through the rubble of the battle torn city.
“I don’t think that’ll be enough,” Philip whispered.
As loud explosions echoed throughout the city, James pointed to where two battle spheres were throwing every weapon they had at the top of the Central Pillar. “I think that’s one question answered.”
“What do you mean?”
“I believe that’s where Jason must be.” James sighed.
“Ares protect us,” Philip said and he felt his entire body tremble as he stumbled forward.
By the time they reached Tower One, there was only one battle sphere remaining. How Jason was surviving the constant attack from the terrible war machine, Philip could not understand. All he could do was pray for Jason’s continued survival. Surrounding the massive building were several guard posts and blockades guarding the main entrance. It was at the steps to the doors that Philip received a new shock. He saw Logan the blacksmith, alive and armed to the teeth.
“What’s wrong?” James asked, noticing the fear in Philip’s bond.
“That man is supposed to be dead.”
“Then we should probably speak to him,” James said, unsure of what Philip really meant.
Holding a machinegun at his side, Logan nodded to both men. “Hello, Philip. By the look on your face, no one told you about me yet.”
“You can’t be Logan,” Philip insisted.
“And I’m not. I’m just a copy, a clone. What the Mordelians call a Doll. I only have Logan’s physical appearance, and a few of his memories, but I am totally loyal to Jason.”
“So was the old Logan. I don’t suppose you still know how to make the best swords in the Empire?”
“I’m afraid I don’t. I was trained to be Jason’s bodyguard, not a blacksmith.”
“Then why aren’t you with him?”
“Things didn’t go as we planned.” Logan sighed. “But come, there is someone you need to meet.”
“Trevor?” Philip asked with dread.
“Yes,” Logan nodded. “I think it would make Jason very happy if the two of you reach an understanding before the battle is over.”
“I don’t hate or blame him. James did a good job of explaining the situation to me.”
“Then you know what this rebellion is costing both Jason and Trevor.”
“I can only imagine that I do,” Philip replied.
“Trevor is a good man, Philip. His only mistake was falling in love with a man that could never ever be truly his. Jason’s love for Trevor is also real. It is only their duty to their people that is ending their relationship.”
“I understand. I will try my best to respect what they have.”
“You should meet him, then. With the battle still going on, he’s in a nervous state.”
“So am I.” Philip nodded as he and James follow Logan inside the building.
“I can’t do it,” Jason said, his body covered with sweat as he fought his duel with the last of the Dominus.
“She’s Hera herself. What did you expect?” Thomas said as the shield of air was constantly being hit by the battle sphere’s array of weapons.
“You can do it, Jason. You just need to find her weak point.”
“I know I can. I just don’t want to destroy half the city in the process,” Jason replied as he struggled to maintain his concentration.
Suddenly, the sphere stopped firing.
“Be prepared, Jason. She’s probably going to try and take you out with a psychic attack,” the Prime warned.
“I don’t know if I can stop her.”
“You must believe you can,” the Prime insisted.
“I can feel her in my mind. Her touch is so cold.” Suddenly Jason’s eyes went wide. “She knows who I am.”
“You must kill her, now.”
“She knows about Trevor and the resistance. I can’t stop her. I can’t…” Jason was about to faint, when a pair of mechanical arms caught him. It was a Nymph, with a burrowed hole in the back of her robotic neck.
“We will take care of her, father. We promised we would help you,” the Dominus said in a young man’s voice.
“Too late, too late.” Jason cried as the battle sphere turned its attention away from the Central Pillar and aimed all its remaining weapons at Tower One.
The elevator doors had just opened when Philip felt the entire building start to shake. Steel beams, glass, and bricks, came falling from the high roof of the lobby. Without even thinking, he grabbed hold of Logan and James and shielded them with his great black wings as Tower One collapsed around them.
Neither time nor distance could stop the great wave of pain he felt in what remained of his bond to Jason, as the dust began to settle. As he threw off the debris that covered him and the men whose lives he had just saved, he felt his true nature come back to life, that of his Angel’s sworn protector. Someone had died when the tower fell, and Philip could think of only one man it could be, though he had never met him.
Leaving James and Logan behind, Philip soared into the air and up to the blasted floors of the once great building until he found the body of a man impaled on a support beam, somewhere on the fourth floor. He had been a handsome man, if more slender than the usual man Jason tended to be attracted to. His face was strangely at peace, given his violent end.
With his great strength Philip snapped the beam in half and freed Trevor’s body, carrying it down to the rubble filled street where the surviving Dalfs looked at their once great tower with horror in their eyes. Placing Trevor at the foot of the steps leading to Tower One, Philip found himself surrounded by Dalfs, some human, many in their beastmen form. Seeing their dead leader, each let out a wail or howl as they were consumed by grief.
Philip, however, could not stay to witness it. The one who had caused Jason such terrible pain was still out there and, as the god of justice and revenge, Philip knew what he had to do. Flying back into the air, he raced toward the last remaining battle sphere. It had stopped firing and was moving about, seemingly completely out of control. Before Philip could reach it though, it came to an abrupt stop, halfway into a block of buildings. A large hatch popped open and before a giant squid ejected itself from the battle sphere, thrashing about in the wreckage as if fighting against some unseen enemy. Like the massive war machine, the monster also stopped moving, and stared at Philip with its single large yellow eye.
It then spoke into Philip’s mind. “Do not kill us, Philip, beloved husband of Jason, our father.”
“What nonsense do you speak of? You’re a Dominus. You have no father.”
“Hera is dead. We have killed her.” Turning around the Dominus showed the small creature attached to the Kraken’s conical head.
“What are you?” Philip asked suspiciously.
“We are the Symbiots, the children of Jason and the Dominus, Athena. We swore we would help our father in his rebellion. By killing the strongest of the Dominus, we have fulfilled our part. You should be grateful.”
“You were late. A good man died today.”
“Jason can always have him back. The Grau, Thomas, has many memories of the Dalf Trevor. A Doll can easily be made.”
“Can a bond be so easily restored?” Philip demanded. “Jason’s bond to Trevor was ripped from him by death.”
“No, once our father has been restored to his true self, another bond will be impossible. Nor can a Doll of Trevor ever hope to lead his clan again, for he won’t even be a Dalf.”
“Yet, you think Jason would want to bring Trevor back as a mere shell of his old self?”
“He came to accept Logan. Why can’t he accept a Doll of Trevor?”
“You don’t understand love, do you? Logan was taken from Jason before the two had a real chance to know each other. I didn’t know Trevor, but I understand Jason enough to know the two meant more to each other than you can ever understand.”
“We understand more than you can imagine, Philip. Irk us further and we will take you from Jason as well.”
“You, who call Jason your father, would try to take more away from the most loving man I have ever known?”
“We know Jason’s love, and even desire it for ourselves, but he is not ready to accept what we have to offer.”
“And what can you offer him?”
“Eternal happiness, as a part of us. Do not mistake us for small things, Philip, beloved of Jason. We are filled with more pain and hatred than you can possibly imagine. We have taken our revenge on the Dominus, but we still remain in pain, So it will always be until our father relieves us from it. We control the defense computers for the Central Pillar. If our demands are not met, we will release a poisonous gas into the air systems of the entire city and kill everyone, including our father. We will die as well, but at least our pain will end.”
“What is it you want?”
“A chance to escape. This world is dying. Jason knows this and has even considered evacuating the planet. We could never manage such a journey on our own and therefore need Jason’s help and cooperation to ensure our kind’s continued survival. We are not asking for much or more than what Jason can give. The people of this city are terrified of my kind, and would resist any attempt to take us with them among the stars. Only Jason can argue otherwise, and see that we’re not betrayed. Tell our father we will serve him loyally, if he will grant us this one boon.”
“I will tell him and he will most likely agree to your terms, but I will not forget that we were blackmailed into helping you. I do not forget or forgive those who seek to hurt the people I love.”
“We will remember your threat, and treat you as an enemy in the future. Right now, we need your cooperation in sending Jason our message.”
“So be it,” Philip spat as he spread his wings and took to the air once more. Spiraling upward, he reached the top of the Central Pillar where he found Jason in the arms of a redheaded Grau.
“Don’t hurt me, Philip. I’m a friend, or at least I am now,” Thomas said, a look of panic on his face. “I take it Trevor is dead?”
“Yes,” Philip whispered as he slowly approached the pair.
“I pretty much guessed that, when the tower was attacked and Jason started to howl like a Dalf. He passed out pretty soon after. Were you the one who finally killed Hera?”
“You mean that squid? No. Someone called the Symbiot did that.”
“So they’ve already gotten out into the rest of the city. What a shame.”
“So you hate them as well.”
“More like terrified. Given how much they hate the Dominus, I can’t imagine they like my people much either.”
“They want to make a bargain with Jason. They won’t gas the city, if Jason agrees to take them with him if he leaves Ares for good.”
“Jason did talk about that. It was a plan of last resort, if we fail to defeat the Togo. This whole city is one giant spaceship. The Central Pillar contains millions of sleep capsules so people can survive the long journey between the stars.”
“Hopefully, it won’t come to that, but these Symbiots want an answer.”
“Well, they’re just going to have to wait. Jason almost killed himself taking Hera on all by himself. It will be quite a while before he recovers.”
“I don’t know if these parasites will accept that as an excuse.”
“They are rather unpleasant, aren’t they?” Thomas agreed. “I’ll talk to Jason, in my own way. He knows how to get in contact with these so-called children of his. He’ll know what to do.” A moment later Thomas gave Philip a nod. “He’s agreed to their terms, not like they gave him much of a choice. The Symbiots have told us they’ll surrender control of the defense computers as soon as they remove the barricades they set up.”
“How much fighting is left?”
“The upper levels are ours. Our people are now fighting for control of the lower levels, and it’s turning into a pretty bloody fight.”
“Can you tell me what happened to Jason’s wings.”
“Oh that…” Thomas coughed uncomfortably. “After the Dominus took Jason’s core, they dumped his body on Omega Level, which is the lowest part of the city, with no lights or heat, and filled with the rotten scent of the Dead Eaters. It’s ruled by the Vampire Lords who use slave labor to mine rocks and minerals for the rest of the city. It’s the worst place Jason could have ended up. Luckily, Gideon got to Jason first, and did his best to protect him from the others. Eventually, the Dominus took Gideon away so he could spread he curse throughout Ares. The worst of the Nosferatu got their hands on Jason pretty soon after Gideon was taken. They tortured him, Philip, tortured him badly. They even let Dead Eaters gnaw away at his once beautiful wings, while they hacked them into broken pieces. After we rescued Jason, the doctors had no choice but to cut them off. They were so diseased that they would have killed Jason if they hadn’t been removed. The Animani were kind enough to create these artificial wings for him, but he’s never had the time to actually learn how to fly with them.”
“What happened to these Nosferatu?”
“Most were killed by Gideon’s curse. The Dominus, however, still saw the vampires as useful slave masters and created an entire new generation of them to run the mines. We’re fighting them right now, in fact. They know how much Jason hates their kind. They even went as far as kidnapping Jacob’s lover, Dirk, who was one of Trevor’s sons, hoping to trap Jason again. Everyone in the city knows Jason wants to free all the slaves. Since, without slaves, the vampires will be without their main food source, they’re pretty much fighting to the death. Grau loyalists are also supporting them.”
“Then, that’s where I need to be,” Philip said as he stood back up.
“No, Philip, you need to be here with Jason,” Thomas insisted.
“I’m a very pissed off Demon, Thomas. If I don’t kill something that deserves it, I might end up killing you.”
“Then don’t let me hold you back. You’ll find Alex and Jacob down there, as well. Both believe they have unfinished scores to settle with the vampires.”
“Alex,” Philip grunted. “What am I going to do about him?”
“Nothing permanent, hopefully. If Jason can forgive him, you should be able to. He is your brother, after all.”
“We’ll see,” was all Philip could manage to say, as he left the roof for the lower levels of the city.
For the next three days, Mordel was consumed by violence. The Rebels continued their fight with the few remaining Loyalists in the lower levels. In the upper levels, old clan rivalries began to reassert themselves. People saw the lack of government as a chance to settle old scores.
With Trevor dead and Jason incapacitated, there was no one on whom the Clan Rexes could agree to unite behind as their leader. Eventually, out of the chaos Alex rose to the top, mostly because all the clan heads were scared of him, and also because he seemed to lead every battle in the rebellion to victory.
“While fighting in the dark mines of Omega, Philip and Jacob set aside their old rivalry and found new respect for each other as they fought side by side, clearing the tunnels of any surviving vampires and Dead Eaters.
In a week, some form of order had been restored to the city, though the numbers of the Dalf had been greatly reduced by the Great Revolt. On the eighth day of the fighting, the last of the Loyalist agreed to surrender if their lives were spared. As there were many vampires among them, it was decided that only Jason could decide the final fate of the Loyalists.
After another week, which Jason used to regain his strength, he summoned the High Court. The only branch of government to survive the overthrow of the Dominus, they remained, cowering at their secondary base a hundred miles away.
Sitting in the center seat on the high bench, Jason looked down at the three hundred surviving Loyalists with a look of pity on his face. Among their numbers, he was pained to see Dirk looking humiliated and completely out of place.
Summoning Logan to the bench, Jason leaned down to speak to his bodyguard. “Get Dirk out of there.”
“Jason, he did fight against us.”
“Which wouldn’t have happened if the Nosferatu hadn’t gotten to him,” Jason insisted. “He’s Trevor’s son, and I won’t have my husband’s name sullied by having Dirk involved in this spectacle. I will deal with him privately.”
“You’re the High Judge,” Logan nodded. Going to Dirk, Logan grabbed hold of him and led the young vampire to a side chamber. Once Dirk was out of the chamber, Jason grabbed his gavel and banged it three times, bringing silence to the court.
“You all stand guilty of supporting the false government of the Dominus and killing countless innocent citizens of Mordel. This is not a trial, but a hearing to determine what we should do with you now that the fighting is over.”
“Any by what right do you, Jason Argot, stand in judgment of us? If the Dominus are not to be considered our rightful leaders, then how can an outsider like you take the role?” a vampire mistress demanded.
“I was elected to the post of High Judge by the Rexes. I, too, am a Rex, leader of the Dalf clan since my husband’s death at the hands of Hera.”
“Doesn’t that make you biased against us?” a Grau asked, dressed in the tattered and stained remains of his uniform.
“No one has been left neutral in this rebellion , not even the Rats. Out of all the clans, only the Nosferatu and their Grau backers continued to fight after it was clear which side would win. Even a week after the Lizardmen sued for peace, you continued to fight no for no other reason then you feared being put on trial for your long lists of crimes. As it was the Grau who supplied your people with the weapons you used to terrorize the population, I sentence the leaders of the loyalist to rebirth.”
“Rebirth?” Philip asked Louis with concern.
“That’s probably an inappropriate way of describing a method of execution favored by the Dominus for lesser crimes committed by their Grau and Animani servants. A Grau agent scans the memories of the man condemned to death. Cell samples are taken and then the man is executed, usually by decapitation to maximize the number of organs that can be harvested. Using the cell samples and the stored memories, a clone is then created with alterations made in his personality. This produces a truly repentant Doll, whose only purpose is be to repair the suffering his old life caused. It is a death sentence, but at least he’s given a chance to regain his good name.”
“More Dolls,” Philip sighed to Geoff.
“They’re not bad. I’m more in love with the Doll, Logan, than I was with the original.”
“Probably because you’re both trained killers now.”
“Yes, that might have something to do with it,” Geoff giggled as Jason continued.
“As for you Nosferatu, you are a mistake that should have never occurred. But, like any unwanted child, I cannot stomach the idea of throwing you down a well or having you all executed because of the danger you represent. You, like all life forms, have a right to live. You also have a duty to be a force for good in the world, and not just within the walls of Mordel. Since those are my beliefs, I am suggesting the following truce be made between us. You will be allowed to live and work in the mines of Omega, just like your ancestors, but without the use of forced labor. Instead, better and more efficient heavy machinery will be provided for your use so you can mine the tunnels yourselves. As for your diet of blood, a blood depository will be built for your use. Those free slaves who choose to remain in Mordel can go to this blood bank and be paid a small sum in return for a donation of their blood, which will be provided to your people in payment for your work in the mines. This offer is the best you will get and is non-negotiable.”
“Then you’re not leaving us much of a choice.”
“Consider it a second and final chance to prove to the rest of Mordel that your kind can aspire to be more than the monsters of legend.”
“What about us?” a Nymph asked.
“We are already negotiating with the Dominus for a prisoner swap. You will be handed back to the Dominus in return for the people your leaders are holding as hostages.”
“Why don’t we just wipe out the Dominus once and for all?” someone in the crowd shouted, causing the rest to murmur.
“And risk having the freedom, we fought so hard for, taken away? The Dominus have a stockpile of biological weapons at the spaceport, which they can attempt to use against us. CEMS and the Avatar have already put countermeasures in place in case of an attack, but I don’t want to force the Dominus into a corner where they think they have no choice but to use them. With the Togo threat still facing us, we cannot conduct a war on two fronts. The Dominus have been defeated. The strongest of their kind has been killed. With the infestation of Symbiots still in the city, they will not risk coming back. We are safe for the moment. Soon, though, we will all have to reach a decision about whether we can remain here on Ares, or if we should flee to the blue star, Terra. For now, this court is adjourned.” Jason pounded his gavel once before standing to leave. He went to the side chamber where Dirk was being kept.
“Jason, I…” Dirk stammered when he saw his father’s lover enter the room.
“It’s alright, Dirk. I won’t let you be hurt. You just need to tell me what happened.”
“I was on patrol on the industrial level when we were ambushed by a group of Lizardmen. We killed dozens of them, but there were just too many. They wanted me, you see, to give to the vampires. Slaav never forgave my father for shutting down his smuggling racket. Once the vampires had me, they dumped me in a tub of their own blood, drowning me in it. That’s how I became the Prince. The blood drove me mad, Jason. I couldn’t control myself. I killed without thinking, drinking blood whenever the urge came which was often. They turned me into a monster. Even now, I don’t know why I’m not still doing those things.”
“The Animani have given you a drug to repress your urges, but it won’t last forever. You’ll need to be given the drug regularly, and sometimes it might not work, which is why I have no choice but to forbid you from ever being with my Jacob again.”
“But I love him… and he loves me. You have no right.”
“I have the right of a father, and as head of the Dalf Clan. You are to have no further involvement with my son. I’m handing you over to Lord Dmitri and Prince Ivan. They’ve agreed to look after you until I can find someone else who can.”
“I’m to never go home?”
“Tower One was destroyed in the battle. Right now, I am leading the Dalfs from the Central Pillar. I will have to eventually move to the Grand Lodge if I am to be truly recognized as the Clan Chief.”
“Then you’re trapped here. You can’t go back.”
“Not until Everett is old enough to take control for himself.”
“Your future baby brother. The son Trevor and I are having through Thomas. He will be the new Clan Chief when he is strong enough. Until then, I have a duty to protect my husband’s people due to the unpayable debt I still owe him.”
“You’re going to clone him, aren’t you?” Dirk whispered.
“It is what we both agreed to if anything were to happen to us. I don’t really know the politics of the Dalf or the other clans. I was just a symbol your father used to help unite them. I know the Dalf will never accept a Doll as their leader, but they can’t stop me from turning to one for advice. Anyway, I want Everett to be raised by both of us.”
“What does your other lover think?”
“He thinks I’m crazy. But, as long as the city is in danger I can’t abandon Mordel, even though my own people also need me. I owe Trevor too much to let his dream of a free Mordel die with him.”
“Will you let me see my father?”
“When the time is right. I know Dolls age like normal men, but I plan to make your father one of my Saints if he will let me. I just wish there was more I could do for you.”
“Let me spend one last moment with Jacob, just so I can say goodbye.”
“He’s a wolf again.”
“So I was told. Still, I think we both deserve one last chance to tell each other how much we love one another.”
“You’re right, you do,” Jason nodded after a short pause, just as Ivan and Dmitri entered the room. “I’ll go get Jacob. You three should try to get to know one another,” Jason said as he left.
Closing the door behind him, he leaned against it as tears filled his eyes. That he and his son had both lost their lovers at essentially the same time filled Jason with grief.
“Jason, are you alright?’ Philip asked when he saw his beloved Angel crying.
“Am I doing the right thing?”
“Giving Dirk to those parasites, or bringing back your second husband as a Doll?”
“Both. It’s what Trevor wanted. I just never thought it would be so difficult.”
“He truly loved you, Jason, so I can’t find fault in the man. I’m sure his feelings for you won’t change in this new life or the next. The Dalf pack leaders have already agreed to your plan. They will never accept Trevor as they Alpha again, but they know you need his help to lead the Clan yourself. Now is not the time for a power struggle. Both you and Trevor agreed on that.”
“I don’t want another crown, Philip.”
Philip embraced Jason and held him close to his bare chest. “I know you don’t, my love but, just as I told you when we first met, you can’t run away from your sworn duty. You never wanted to be King of Qul Tos, or Emperor of Domus, not to mention Overking of the Confederacy, but fate put you there and you’ve performed magnificently. I do not doubt that you will succeed here either, as you help Mordel rebuild. Before anything can happen though, there is something you must see to.”
“Yes, the funerals,” Philip nodded. Not only Trevor had died when Tower One fell. So had the Saints, Chadwick, and his lover, Hector. Louis had been badly injured and was still in the care of the Animani, who were busy giving him a new leg and arm to replace those that had been irreparably crushed by a falling beam. Out of all those who had been at the tower at the time, only Jacob escaped unscratched as he had been in a holding cell down in the sublevels of the building.
“Here comes Jacob,” Philip said, as the giant wolf walked slowly up to his father.
“It’s time you said goodbye to Dirk, Jacob, but I will understand if you don’t want to.”
Jacob let out a soft whimper, and nudged Jason gently with his snout. “We’ll make it a short visit,” Jason promised as he led Jacob inside the room.
When they entered, only Ivan was present, a look of sadness on his face. “I had Dmitri take Dirk away. Right now, he can’t be trusted. We looked into his mind and saw he planned to make Jacob like him so they could still be together. He’s very dangerous, Jason, not to mention heartbroken, a very bad combination if you ask me.”
Jason went down on his knees and hugged Jacob around his furry, soft neck. “I’m sorry, my son.”
Jacob whimpered a few times and licked the tears off his father’s face.
“I’m sorry as well, Jason. It will be some time before Dmitri and I can keep Dirk under our control. We might never be able to. Would you like us to go with you to the funeral?”
“No, the Dalfs only want their people there. Now is not the time to introduce you to the clans.”
“I understand, but I must see you again. With you so much a part of me, I cannot bear watching you suffer from a distance.”
“Give me more time, Ivan. Maybe, after the operation, we can talk.”
“So you really are staying? I’m sorry. I know how much you want to leave this place and all its bad memories.”
“It was Trevor’s last request of me, and I must respect it.”
“If there is anything I or my people can do, do not hesitate to ask.”
“I understand, and I don’t hate you. I am in your debt for agreeing to take Dirk in,” Jason said before he and Jacob joined Philip back in the courtroom.
“What are you going to do about the slaves?” Philip asked.
“Offer jobs to as many as are willing to accept them. It will be some time before they can attempt to migrate to Ares, if that turns out to be the right decision.”
“You’re still thinking of evacuating Ares?”
“Yes. The Dominus are still out there, with a fleet of warships at their command. Then there are the Togo to deal with. Even if we were to beat both of our enemies, there is the Great Barrier to consider. If it is destroyed, then all of Ares will turn into the same kind of wasteland that plagues Mordelium.”
“Maybe we can negotiate with the Togo.”
“From what you’ve told me, they wouldn’t feel honor-bound to keep their end of any bargain we might achieve. We’re animals to them, according to you.”
“You’re tired, Jason, and tomorrow is going to be even harder. Maybe you should hold back from having the operation for a little while.”
“I can’t back out now. My hold over the clans is precarious at best. If I show any sign of weakness, one of the Rexes will try and take advantage of that. The sooner I am restored to my true self, the quicker I will recover. I told you about Argil. I can’t let that happen with any more of my Saints. If I can’t return to Domus, the least I can do is restore my bond to my people.”
“I can’t lose you, Jason, not when I have you back.”
“And you won’t lose me if the prophecies are true. There is something you must know, Philip.”
“Another lover you’ve been hiding from me?” Philip asked jokingly.
“Yes. Gideon’s curse has been lifted. He’s back among the living again. There was a terrible price that had to be paid for that to happen.”
“Just to have Gideon back among us again is worth almost any price,” Philip told Jason reassuringly.
“Sin is gone, Philip. So that Gideon might have a new body to live in, your son gave up his own. Sin still lives within Gideon, but only as a small part of him.”
“So my son is dead and Gideon is back with us. A fair bargain, I think,” Philip said with false cheer. “I should never have tried to have a child. It was a mistake that almost cost you your life.”
“It was only because I risked my life so your son could live, that Sin could be a vessel within which Gideon could live again.”
“As I said, a fair bargain,” Philip said stoically. Jason knew Philip was in pain, but understood that he would never admit to it. “I won’t make the same mistake twice. Gideon is your Saint, and I had no right to try and bond him to me.”
“Gideon doesn’t hate you. He never has. Neither of you knew what the result of your bonding would be . It just can’t ever happen again.”
“I bonded to James, Jason.”
“As I knew you would. He was the only one left who had any hope of keeping you tame.”
“Yes, but I don’t want you bonding to Kyle.”
“You feel threatened by Kyle?”
“I know what happened between James and I. I don’t want it to happen between Kyle and you.”
“Jealousy?” Jason asked in a calm and understanding tone.
“I’ve come to understand why you love James so much. I feel the same way now. I don’t want another Demon to have that sort of relationship with you.”
“Kyle is no threat to you,” Jason chuckled.
“I know. I guess I don’t want to share what we have as a pair. I’m your Demon, and I want to be your only Demon, though I seem to now have two Angels in my life.”
“Have you talked to James about this?”
“No, and I don’t know what I can say that won’t offend him.”
“We’re his family, Philip, but you don’t want his husband to be a part of it.”
“I love Kyle. He’s a fantastic lover, and an amusing fellow but, after having you away from me for so long, I know that I don’t want anyone else but you.”
“Have you really changed that much?”
“No. You’ll probably still think I’m a louse of a husband. My sexual appetites have not diminished at all. I just don’t want you to ever be away from me again.”
“You’ve never wanted that.”
“Now, I want it more. I want to be more than just a lover, Jason. I want to be a real husband.”
“Even if we can’t be faithful to one another?”
“There is more than one way of proving one’s faith. James’ bond helped control the madness inside me, but it was my need for you that drove me back to you, my love.”
Logan and Geoff approached and gave Jason a short bow. “The cars are waiting. We should go now.”
“I bury one husband and regain my first one,” Jason whispered to himself, holding himself close to Philip as they walked to join the funeral procession.
Enyo’s towering battle sphere stood in the middle of the ruined city of Meltor. The gathered leaders of the Horde and Jadoor were down on their knees before her, worshiping her as the Mother reborn. Their genuflections gave the Dominus no pleasure however, for word had reached her of the successful rebellion back in Mordel. With the city firmly in rebel hands and with no easy way to re-conquer it, the surviving members of the Dominus Council had ordered her to press on with the invasion of the mainland. Without hope of reinforcements or being resupplied anytime soon, Enyo didn’t like her chances against the heavily armed armies of the Domus Alliance. There were also the resurgent Togo to worry about. They had single handedly wiped out the Lahorian Empire, removing the Lahorians as a source of fresh troops. Gideon’s curse had also not been as effective as the Dominus had hoped. Somehow, the mist had disappeared before it could take its full toll on the people of Ares.
Many things had gone wrong, even with countless years of planning. Still, the council commanded that Enyo press on with the invasion, promising to find some way to join her on the other side of the world.
“Bring in the Sisters,” Enyo commanded in a booming voice, once she had enough of the people’s worship. Streaming into the Temple Square, the dark Sisters of Mathannon entered and began attacking every Jadoorian woman with their black, animus filled barbs attached to the tentacles around their waists. Some resisted but, as they had all been disarmed, none could put up a real fight. As for the men, they were herded into a corral and given over to the care of the Beastmen who looked over each of the Jadoorian and Lahorian survivors like sharp-eyed horse dealers, picking the best to join with their own clans. Those not picked would be used as slave labor, just like the Jadoorians of Mordel.
Enyo remained worried, however, even as fresh blood was added to the strength of her armies. Only she knew of the fall of Mordel. If the Grau, or any of the Beast Clans, were to find out that their brothers were free, they too might revolt against the Dominus. She could count on the sisters and their growing numbers. But only the Grau knew how to use the Dominus’ most advanced weapons. Activating her com, she made contact with the Grau Lead Commander.
“Yes, mistress.” Commander Leigh bowed when his face appeared on the screen.
“How soon until we can begin our invasion of the mainland?”
“Our advance scouts have already penetrated the coast where we plan to make our main landing in Yelding. The southern coast of the kingdom is still occupied by the Alliance Army. Once the main army has successfully landed, we can move our battle fleet to the port of Aquanos and cut off the enemy’s access to outside supplies. Our chances of taking the port, however, are not good. The Togo helped the Centurions fortify the harbor and the seawall with countless long-range cannon emplacements. We cannot barrage the city without putting our own ships at risk, so the best we can hope for is to maintain a blockade.
“The reports from our spy drones have proved useful in identifying where the Centurions plan on giving us a fight. Most of their fortifications are in Dorsa and the Kingdom of Freen. They seem to be without air support, but are well equipped with antiaircraft weapons. That will make destroying the bases from the air a challenge.
“May I ask when we will be resupplied? We have enough weapons to equip our new army but, if we are expected to fight a prolonged war, we will need more ammo, energy packs, fuel, and medical supplies.”
“The Dominus Council is assembling a convoy, as we speak,” Enyo lied. “Supplies should not be a problem as long as they are properly managed.”
“Of course, Dominus, I only brought the matter up because we’ve not been able to contact Mordel for the past few days.”
“It’s a static sandstorm interfering with our communications. Being on this side of the Great Barrier only makes things that much worse,” Enyo said. Another lie.
“For how long should we expect communications to be down?”
“For several more days.”
“But it’s already been a week. If there was such a storm, wouldn’t we have been warned ahead of time?”
“The Council informed me of the matter, and I saw no reason to pass the information on to you Grau. Are you questioning my judgment ?”
“Of course not, Dominus, but the men are beginning to whisper and you know how dangerous rumors can be for morale.”
“Then I suggest you find some way of silencing those whisperers before they cost you your position as Lead Commander. I would hate to lose a leader like yourself to the breeding tanks.”
“Consider the issue taken care of,” Leigh said with another bow.
“See that our army is ready to press the fight on the mainland by the end of the week. The sooner we defeat these Centurion traitors, the better. There are still the Togo to deal with, after all.”
“It shall be done, mistress,” the commander said with a final salute.
Letting out a frustrated sigh, Enyo turned on her long-range communicator that connected her to a series of underwater transmitters carrying her signal to the other side of the world.
“Enyo,” Delphi, acting head of the Dominus Council said from within her tank. “Have you come to challenge our orders once more?” the Kraken asked, her voice filled with an unspoken threat.
“You must restore communications with the Grau officers. They are starting to ask questions.”
“And how will we explain talking to them from our secondary base? It is all we can do to jam communications from the traitors in the Central Pillar who are trying to spread their rebellion to your invasion force.”
“If communications are not restored, and my forces are not re-supplied, then I will have my own revolt to deal with. I am warning you that the Grau already suspect something is wrong.”
“Then eliminate them. Surely your Beastmen won’t protest too much at killing our redheaded pets.”
“The Grau command the heavy vehicles, Zephyrs, and ships of the fleet. I have no one to replace them.”
“Have the Animani start implanting cyborg computers into your loyal sisters.”
“That will take some time, and I am sure we don’t have the equipment to implant all the crew we need. The Grau are also not fools. They will suspect I plan to replace them with women whose loyalty is not in question.”
“Do the best you can with what we’ve giving you, sister. Failure is not an option. We must capture the city of Atlantis in one piece if we’re to escape this deathtrap.”
“What is it that the council is planning, Delphi?”
“Something we should have done from the start,” was all the head of the council would say before cutting off communications.
“Why are you smiling?’ Celia asked Julian after he had gone to see more of his people off to Isil.
“Philip and James have finally reached Jason, and you will not guess what they found him doing.”
“You know I don’t like guessing games, your grace.”
“Alright, I’ll tell you. Jason was leading a revolt against his jailors, and he won. The city of Mordel has been freed from the Dominus.”
“Then, he will be coming back to save us?”
“No, he can’t. He led the rebellion, so now he feels duty-bound to see the people off on the right foot. There’s more involved than just leading them, it seems, but it looks like Jason will be their new Emperor soon.”
“Another crown, and another title. He has quite a collection already,” Celia laughed.
“I know, and, as usual, Jason wants none of it. But he’s the only one the Mordelians can agree on to lead them. That’s not why I’m so happy, however. Most of the Grau of Mordel sided with Jason, and are now flying arms shipments to Domus. I asked Varrus, and he has agreed to send many of the supplies and weapons to Isil. We can arm the Isilan army and any man or woman who wishes to take revenge on our enslavers. Soon, they’ll be ready to cross the great desert and free us all.”
“Unless the Togo kill us first.”
“They won’t. Once they realize what they’re up against, they’ll want to reach an agreement. They won’t dare harm us anymore, or even think of killing us. We’re too valuable as hostages, you see.”
“At least Calis and Harper got away,” Celia said, not putting much faith in Julian’s words.
“They’re on their way to Domus as we speak, just to make sure they remain safe. Lord Drake will take control of the Islian and refugee armies when he reaches the kingdom. He plans on using the Qopo merchant, Dodofan, as a guide.”
“Trust Dodofan? He’s completely loyal to the Togo who he sees as his gods. How can Lord Drake trust a word that awful man says?”
“He bonded to him,” Julian laughed.
“Bonded to him? You mean those two had sex?” Celia said in a high-pitched voice of disbelief.
“At least once, but who knows how the anima might have changed the merchant. He might actually be good looking now.”
“He’d better be. My father always kept the man bowed to the floor when he dealt with him, just so he wouldn’t have to look at that man’s black and rotten teeth.”
“Dodofan has always been an agent of the Togo. Drake now probably knows more about them than we do, and we’ve been here for quite a while,” Julian said as he went down on his knees and silently began to pray.
“Why do you bother with that? Surely you know Jason can’t hear your prayers.”
“But soon, he will. Soon our god will be restored to us, and we will know that love and goodness has once again triumphed against the forces of hatred and evil.”
Waking to find himself immersed in a tank filled with white Animani anima, Jason didn’t dare move; the surgical cuts in his body were still too fresh. The pain wasn’t as bad as the last time, mostly because the emptiness he had felt in his gut since his core’s removal was no longer there, but he wasn’t yet an Angel again. For that to happen, his bond to Philip had to be renewed.
Standing in a dark corner watching Jason, Alex spoke when he noticed Jason’s eyes were open. “So, you’re awake.”
“Aye, I guess I am,” Jason replied, only daring to move his mouth.
“Philip is with the new Trevor, discussing how things will work between them. I’m surprised Philip is taking it so well. I was sure he would have killed any man pretending to be your husband.”
“We both depended on other lovers during our separation. I had Trevor, and he had James. Neither of us wishes to give up what we’ve gained.”
“I see. I guess I wonder where that leaves me? Philip and I have been avoiding each other as much as possible. As the ideal Centurion, Philip must think I deserve to be killed for my crimes.”
“If you had stayed in Domus, you would have been,” Jason acknowledged.
“Which is why you made sure I was sent here.” Alex chuckled as he slowly approached the tank. “What is to become of us, Jason?”
“I don’t know. I know I will need your help rebuilding Mordel, but I don’t know if I can offer you the kind of relationship you’ve always wanted from me.”
“If we were to bond to each other now, we might be able to?”
“Oh Alex, what am I to do with you? Philip would have you killed for even suggesting you might want to steal his bond.”
Alex’s face twisted into a look of desperation. “I could be the perfect husband.”
“There is no such thing as a perfect husband. We all have our flaws. Philip will never share a bed with his brother, and I don’t want to be put in the position of sneaking behind his back to have a romance with you.”
“You don’t love me enough?”
“I do love you, but how can I betray the other men I love just to make you happy? There has to be someone out there that you can love as much as me.”
“Everyone but you is afraid of me, Jason. There’s no one out there who will come close to loving me like you did.”
“And I still love you. May I ask you a favor?”
“I would do anything for you,” Alex nodded. Reaching into the tank, he took Jason’s milky white hand in his.
“Be good to Trevor.”
“Why, you still love him?”
“I can never be a husband to him. He’s been given all his old memories, so he will know the difference. He’ll also realize that, except for me, all his power and influence are gone. That’s why he’ll need you. I might have led the revolt with Trevor, but you’re one if its heroes. You’re the only one, besides myself, the clans respect.”
“They respect me more out of fear.”
“But it doesn’t have to be that way. Be a friend to Trevor. He’s a good man, as you well know. Let him help you to be a good man too.”
“There’s something you’re not saying. If I marry Trevor, then Philip can’t oppose you spending time with us.”
“Yes, I didn’t say it because I didn’t want you to think I was blackmailing you, but there is that as well. I want to spend time with you, I really do, but it must be done in a way that Philip won’t oppose.”
“And Philip respects Trevor more than he’s disgusted with me,” Alex sighed.
“Trevor might be able to make things better between you and Philip. Anyway, there is no way I can risk taking you back to Domus. The Centurions, Legatio, and Famulus would demand I give them your head. While you remain in Mordel, you’ll be safe and, since Trevor never wants to leave…”
“I understand. You’re trying to make the best match possible for both of us, while trying to spend what time you can with me.”
“With both of you,” Jason insisted as he squeezed Alex’s hand. “Now that I have both you and Gideon back, I never want to lose you two again.”
“You could always pair us together.”
“That might have worked in the past, but you must understand that Gideon is also Sin. And Sin knows a great deal about me through my bond with him. Sin knows how much you’ve hurt me in the past. While I forgive you, I can’t make Gideon Sin do the same. I’m sure, in time, you will become friends again, but I can’t force you to become lovers.”
“I understand. I don’t expect anyone to forgive me for the things I did as Armageddon. I’ve done nothing to deserve it. So long as I know you still love me, I can pretty much survive anything.”
“I want you to do more than survive.”
“I know you do, my Angel, but let’s not get overly ambitious. I am a mean bastard, after all.”
“Only to those who cannot see who you really are, Alex Helios.”
“If only all men had eyes like yours, Jason Argot, Emperor of the World.”
After a long silence, during which Jason and Alex stared into each other’s eyes, the door opened and Philip, Trevor, and James entered the room. “It’s time, Jason, time to face your true destiny,” Alex whispered as he let go of Jason’s hand and stepped back.
“Brother,” Philip said with a curt nod as he took Alex’s place by Jason’s side, turning all his attention on his Angel. “The Prime said we can do this at any time.”
“Then I see no reason why we should delay,” Jason whispered, still afraid to move.
“You don’t look ready,” Philip said as he looked down at the angry red marks all over Jason’s body.
“The restoration of my core should help me heal. My Saints need my bond. You need me, Philip.”
“I don’t want this to hurt, my love,” Philip said as he started to cry.
“A kiss from you could never hurt me.”
“Liar… remember the time I bit your lip?”
“You were a little feisty that night, I do remember. I just had to remind you that I’m not one of your Spawn.”
“I wish this had never happened.”
“It had to happen, Philip. It was part our joined destiny. Mordel needed to be freed, and I was the catalyst that allowed it to happen.”
“But what you suffered to achieve it, my love. I don’t think I will ever be able to forgive myself for not saving you sooner. Maybe Trevor wouldn’t have died if I had killed the Dominus myself.”
“Don’t worry about that, Philip,” Trevor said. “Just take Jason back into your arms and make him yours again. Jason and I have reached an understanding, in case anything happened to one of us. This is probably for the best.”
“Losing you was one of the greatest pains I’ve ever suffered,” Jason told Trevor.
“It will never happen again, I promise.”
As Philip slowly lifted him up in his arms, Jason bit his lip to prevent any screams from escaping. Still, his whole body was shaking with pain by the time Philip had him sitting up. “Don’t hesitate,” Jason said through clenched teeth.
“I love you, Jason.” Philip wept as he kissed Jason with all the love he could muster.
As his anima passed to Jason, it reached into Jason’s core, restoring it to life. With a new fire burning away his pain, the wounds covering his body healed themselves without even leaving a scar. As the anima inside him grew stronger, forcing the Dalf in him into full retreat, the hair on his chest fell away and his green animus eyes darkened back into solid black opals. His wings, however, never returned and were forever lost to him. Jason didn’t care. As his bond to Philip was restored, so were the bonds he shared with all his Saints. In his mind, countless voices sang out in joy as the Saints and Disciples felt the returned presence of their Emperor and god.
Jason was whole again, but not without some loss. The connection to Jacob, that had grown stronger when he became a Dalf, faded. Never again could father and son share the same joy of the hunt, and the comfort and familiarity of being part of the pack. Jason knew his son was feeling the same loss. He would have to seek Jacob out and reassure him of his eternal love for his eldest.
There were his other sons as well. Patrick Gavin, Odin, and baby Clive. Even Brutus sensed his father’s restoration, and could not help but feel the joy of the event. Only Ben was left out, as he was not of Jason’s blood. Jason was sure, however, that Patrick was telling Ben everything. That their father was still alive and sent his love to all his wonderful boys.
“Kyle knows, the children just told him,” Jason told James as Philip lifted him out of the anima-healing tank.
“Knowing him, he’s crying.” James laughed as he and Philip surrounded Jason. “This is to never happen again, my love.”
“No one knows what the future might bring, but I think the worst is over,” Jason said as he let both men embrace him.
Entering the room, the Prime brought Jason a dark black robe. “You should go to the Animani nursery. All the new-born babes are laughing.”
“I will, but there are some things I need to see to first,” Jason said as he slipped past his lovers and made his way to the new Trevor.
“You look fantastic, Jason,” Trevor said with tears rolling down his face.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“No, but we know this is what we agreed to. I didn’t want to die in the rebellion and not see what would come after. I also never wanted to lose you, my husband. This might not be what either of us wanted, but this is the best we’re ever going to get, so I have no misgivings. I am grateful that you still want me, my mate, and I’m sure our future son will grow up happy with both of us to raise him.”
“I know I will be, my husband,” Jason whispered before kissing Trevor gently on the lips. The kiss was long and emotional, for Jason wasn’t just creating a new Saint; he was also saying goodbye to the last of his Dalf self before his anima burned it all away. When he stepped back Trevor was flapping his new raven-black wings.
“Can I have a moment alone with you, Jason?” Trevor’s gold eyes were alive with sexual excitement.
Reaching out Jason took Alex’s nearby hand and placed it in Trevor’s. “Soon, my husband. Right now there is an entire city waiting to see who they’ve made their new emperor.”
“Well, I know how much you’re looking forward to that.” Trevor laughed, giving Jason one last hug before they parted.
Going up the elevator to the former council chambers of the Dominus, Jason walked through the massive empty tank until he stood on top of an elevated platform. “I’m ready,” he told the Animani technician at the holographic controls. With a flash of countless blue lights from above and below the platform, Jason’s image was scanned and then projected as a holograph on every level of the city, where the citizens of Mordel waited to hear from their new ruler.
“To the citizens of Mordel, all the Clans, and the Freemen of Old Jadoor, I, Jason Argot, Emperor of Domus, King of Qul Tos, and Overlord of Ares, have been asked by the greater majority of the people to serve as your leader under the guidance of the High Court and the Rexes of the Clans. This is not a title I take with great ease or desire. The only reason I have accepted the emperorship is to help bring peace and prosperity to the freed people of Mordel, and so that my husband’s dream for us all can one day be realized. I therefore call on all of you to set aside your old rivalries and feuds, and start a clean page as we write a new chapter in the history of our people. The Dominus are still out there, and so are the Togo, both of whom want nothing less than to destroy what we’ve begun to create. Let not the lives that were lost on both sides end up being meaningless because of petty squabbles. Let us work together to rebuild Mordel and prepare for the challenges that still await us as we try to build our own futures, free from the slavery and tyranny of our former masters. For Mordel, and all Mordelians, we must leave this war-torn planet and seek our future among the stars. From red sun Ares, to blue star nigh!” Jason shouted raising a fist over his head.
For a few seconds the entire city was silent, as the people slowly began to comprehend what their new Emperor was suggesting they do. First one, then countless others raised their fists and repeat Jason’s call to action, until every level of the city resounded with a single voice shouting “Blue Star, Blue Star, Blue Star,” over and over again well past Jason’s holographic image shimmering away.
“The people are with you, Jason,” the Prime said proudly.
“If only deeds were as easy as words. I haven’t even asked CEMS what it would take to launch the city into space.”
“The Dominus did, and they knew it would be no easy feat. They’ve had many years to prepare for just that situation, however. It will still take some time before we can attempt to launch. However, your lover’s ship, the Argos, might just help speed us on our way. It’s gravity drive is a unique piece of technology and, while it will be a while before our people can duplicate it on a scale that can encompass the entire city, the gravity drive would solve the main problem preventing us from leaving the planet.”
“The Great Barrier?” Jason asked.
“Yes. Let me show you,” the Prime said as he led Jason to a holographic table, where he projected an image of Ares, its orbiting moon, and the powerful energy field which protected half the planet from the sun’s solar winds. “The problem with long range space travel is that it’s almost impossible to change course, once one has chosen one’s destination. In order to achieve the proper course for Terra, we must be able to orbit Ares several times so we can slingshot out of the star system, using Ares’ gravity well.
“With the Great Barrier emitted by Luna still functioning, any attempt to fully orbit the planet is impossible. CEMS and all our other computers would be destroyed by the powerful magnetic field, leaving us dead in space. A powerful enough gravity drive, however could shield us from the effects of Luna, and allow us the orbits we’ll need to escape the star system safely. It’s a much more feasible plan than the one the Dominus were considering.”
“To destroy Luna itself, with the battle fleet they’ve been building.”
“Could they do that?”
“Luna is not what you think it is. Instead of being a round rock orbiting our world, it is actually a giant, but thin metal disc that emanates a powerful field of energy protecting your side of Ares. On the side you don’t see is a complete network of energy stations that are powered by the temperature deferential between its light and the dark sides. It’s an ingenious system, created during the height of the Gaian Empire when it had such technological prowess and could afford such grand schemes. Like all civilizations, its golden age eventually ended and the Empire became backwards and inward seeking. Much of the Empire’s great knowledge has never been recovered.”
“But we will,” Jason promised.
“If we are, we must do so quickly, for I fear what the Dominus might do with their battle fleet.”
“They can’t attack us here, can they?”
“No. Now that CEMS has control of the defense computers, we’re too well defended against any sort of attack from space. The Dominus only have two options. Leave Ares with what ships they have, or try to seize control of the Togo’s colony ship, Atlantis. Both would require that they destroy Luna.”
“So we might not need the gravity drive, if the Dominus take care of Luna for us.”
“What do you think will happen to the remains of such a giant space station, once it is destroyed? Its countless pieces will come raining down on the planet, destroying nearly everything, and sending so much dust into the air that the entire planet will be consumed by years of darkness. Your people in Domus would surely die, either from the impact, the dust, or starvation. That is another reason why we need to equip Mordel with the gravity drive. With it, we will be able to fly within the planet’s atmosphere, and rescue your friends in Domus.”
“Is there space for them all?”
“No. The city can support six million people, in addition to the three million cryo-pods inside the Central Pillar. Right now, the population stands at just under five million, due to all those who died in the revolt.”
“So a million died?”
“But five million were saved because of you, so don’t blame yourself,” the Prime said sternly. “Most of the deaths were Jadoorian slaves who were outmatched and outgunned by their Lizardmen slave masters.”
“So, I can save only four million people.”
“Unless your people succeed in capturing Atlantis, which I understand they are trying to do with our support.”
“What of the Dominus army already in Ares?”
“They have total control of the islands, and have forced most of the people into slavery or their growing army. War Leader Enyo is in charge, but I can’t say for how long. Eventually, the Grau officers and Beastmen soldier will learn what has happened here and revolt themselves. The only troops Enyo can count on to be completely loyal, are the Dark Sisters, those women who have been tainted by the animus of the Dominus.”
“Half the population in the world is made up of women,” Jason pointed out.
“Speaking of women, we need to do something about our own.”
“Except for the Dominus, I didn’t know there were other women.”
“You knew of the Lady Vampires of Omega.”
“Yes, I forgot about them,” Jason said trying not to dwell on painful memories. “Once, these women were female slaves who were chosen by male vampires to be their mates. Many of the slaves on the industrial levels were women. You just never saw any because they were all confined to breeding pens.”
“But the Dominus did what they did in the name of those women who suffered under men.”
“They stopped believing they were the same as ordinary women, long ago. They just kept on tell that story to justify how they treated us.”
“If you can call an Animani a man.” Jason chuckled.
“True enough. None of us Mordelians, except for the pure blood slaves, are true men. We are fully functioning Hermaphrodites, able to have children of our own only if properly stimulated, such as in the Dreaming my people shared with you.”
“I’m glad the children are safe.”
“They are an immense source of pleasure and mystery to us, for they’ve seem to have formed their own gestalt.”
“You mean they don’t share your common mind?”
“No, only with each other; though I wouldn’t be surprised if you could reach them.”
“I’ve almost gotten lost among my own Saints.”
“You’re stronger than you think, Prime Mate. I thought defeating three of the strongest Dominus would have been proof enough.”
“I almost got us all killed.”
“Yet, even though your mind was completely untrained for the task, you succeeded in distracting Hera long enough to allow one of the Symbiots to attack her inside her battle sphere.”
“Now, those are the children that I’m truly worried about. I do not know if they’ll ever be free from their hatred.”
“They are a danger, yes, but so far the Nymphs they captured have kept themselves confined to Omega Level with the surviving Nosferatu. I can only guess that whatever unbound Symbiots are left have joined them down there. The Grau are on continual watch for them inside the Central Pillar, but it seems the Symbiots have kept their word and left.”
“I still don’t trust them. They could be breeding down there for all we know.”
“Not without an adequate source of clean water in which to hatch their eggs. My best biologists are studying the dead Symbiots we’ve found, and have learned that once they reach their adult stage they must find a host within a certain limit of time or die. They lack any means to cleanse their blood of its own wastes, not having a spleen, kidney or liver. They need a host to provide such functions for them. So, they will keep their numbers under control if only because they don’t have many good hosts in Omega to choose from. The vampires are safe because their blood makes them poor hosts for the Symbiots. Until we reach Terra, I think the Symbiots will do whatever they can to ensure we don’t turn on them. Consumed by hatred they might be, but they have their own survival to think about.”
“I think it’s a mistake to let them survive.”
“Maybe, but there is a chance they might evolve into a less dangerous parasite. Since they share a common mind, my people feel a certain kinship with them. Maybe that’s why they didn’t attack any of my kind when they were spreading fear and terror throughout Mordel.”
“Maybe they knew you were too strong for them. There are a lot more of you than there are of them, right now.”
“True. Only time will tell. We Animani wish them a better future where they can live with man, in peace,” the Prime said with a smile while Jason continued to look troubled.
“Come back into the tent with me,” Dodofan whined, while Drake talked with the Islian generals. He had new teeth, a full head of curly hair, and a wiry muscular body that made him look forty years younger. He also was a jealous, winsome, petty, pain in the rear, who took up too much of Lord Drake’s time. He followed Drake everywhere and was constantly trying to find some excuse for them to have sex, even during a war meeting. Drake was halfway tempted to dig a pit in the sand, bury the Qopo merchant up to his neck, and leave him there. Dodofan was still as sly as they came, and knew how to use his valuable information about the Togo and the desert they were crossing to his complete advantage. Drake, for his part, very much regretted Varrus having bonded to the man, and thought it would have been much better if one of Philip’s Demon Spawn had done the deed. At least then, Drake could have tortured the information out of the Disciple instead of having to fulfill each of his lover’s whims.
“Why don’t you warm up the blankets for me, and I’ll be right there,” Drake said as he went back to the maps the Isilians were arguing over.
“But I want you now,” Dodofan whined, even louder.
“Dodo, go back to the tent or so help me I will turn you into a eunuch,” Drake seethed, causing all eyes to turn in his direction.
“I hate you,” Dodofan pouted as he ran back to the tent.
“You must find a better solution to him, Lord Drake. He knows the deep desert better than any of us. The last thing we need is for him to do something spiteful,” King Arkridge said while the rest of his generals looked embarrassed.
“I’m in charge of this rescue operation. How can I stay in command with that man constantly making a commotion every time we have a meeting?”
“Maybe you could find someone else to keep him entertained. There are other Saints and Disciples with us.”
“I wouldn’t hand Dodo over to my worst enemy. None of my people can stand him.”
“What about Lady Diana? She’s also been a pretty big distraction,” the Isilian King suggested.
“That’s not the only thing big about her,” one of the generals laughed while the others snickered.
“It’s not her fault. She would have died if I hadn’t bonded to her.”
“She’s the only warrior I know, who’s skill with the blast spear is as good as her cleavage,” the same general laughed, this time getting punched in the jaw by Drake.
“That’s enough, all of you. You, Lord Drake, will get a better hold on your temper. The only reason my army is out here at all, is because you said my daughter and only heir has been captured and is being tortured by these Togo. I won’t let you abuse my men, however,” the king threatened.
“He asked for it.”
“He’s an Islian soldier, and this is the way we talk. You try living without your wife nine months out of the year and see how you act when there’s a woman like Lady Diana in the camp. You can’t say she doesn’t know the affect she has on the men.”
“Not my men. My men are better disciplined.” Drake insisted.
“Your men are strange, like the rest of the Domus Empire. My people have been very good about not making an issue of your men’s sleeping customs. The least you can do is show us a little understanding.”
“Your men are crude loudmouths who don’t know how to show respect for a noble lady.”
“Oh, yes we do. We might not see our wives much defending the frontier, but when we do see them our manners are quite excellent. Our women are warriors too, and would hack any husband to death if he did anything but show her proper respect. This is the army, not home however. Most women my men see are nomadic tribes women, who sell their bodies in order to trade with us.”
“Diana is no whore.”
“Then tell her to stop showing her breasts to every young whelp she comes across. Put her with Dodofan, since they both seem to be sex crazed,” one the general suggested angrily.
“I don’t know if Dodofan likes woman that way, anymore,” Drake replied honestly.
“There’s only one way to find out,” King Arkridge insisted. “This bickering has to end. It’s affecting the morale of my men, which is already low since we’ve been in this desert for weeks it seems. My men are used to patrolling behind the safety of our cliffs, not marching out here in the open like this.”
“We’ve had to zigzag in order to avoid the Togo patrols, but we’re almost there,” Drake promised.
“So you keep on telling us,” a general grunted.
“Well, it’s too late for us to turn back now. We don’t have enough supplies. We’d just better win whatever battle you want us to fight for you, Lord Drake, or we will all end up dead,” King Arkridge warned before storming off with his generals.
“Lord Drake?” One of Drake’s own commanders spoke up nervously.
“Send Diana to my tent and pray she and Dodo take a liking to each other.”
“As you wish, my lord.”
“You may have my tent, Lord Drake,” the Saint, Octavos, offered.
“There’s no need for that. I can sleep out in the open if I have to.”
“The desert is cold at night. Surely you’d prefer to be warm.”
Drake chuckled softly. “After all I’ve been through, you’re daring to flirt with me?”
“I’m not sex crazed, if that is what you’re thinking. I’m just curious to know what it’s like to be a member of the Imperial Intelligence Service. Spying is not something they train us for, back at the Academy.”
“So I’ve heard. Before Jason, there was no intelligence service. Something about spying has always come across as dishonorable with you Centurions.”
“Given our brute strength, and superior fighting abilities, we never had the need for spies. The world has changed a lot since Jason became Emperor, so maybe I’m starting to see that we might need to use such underhanded tactics.”
“The main purpose of the intelligence service is not to spy, but to stop other powers from spying on us. Jason kept us quite busy tracking down the agents from Mordel, not to mention Jadoor.”
“You were in Jadoor?”
“Yes, well, I’m a real spy and Jason needed someone to keep track of King Aidan’s own Saints. They never did learn how to tell us apart. The only Saints left are Jason’s, so I don’t think you could ever pass yourself off as a spy, but you could always help hunt them down.”
“Shall we discuss this further in my tent?” Octavos offered.
“Why not? Diana and Dodofan can entertain themselves for one night.
After talking more about the intelligence service and making love, Drake was just settling down to fall asleep on top of the Centurion Saint when a Centurion legionnaire poked his head inside the tent with a lamp in his hand. “Lord Drake, you must come with me.”
“How did you find me?” Drake asked as he shielded his eyes.
“You don’t think we have men guarding you from a distance, sir?” the Centurion laughed. “A Zephyr has landed in the camp, and the Grau pilot says he has important news.”
“I’ll be there shortly,” Drake said as he rolled off Octavos. “Thank you for the wonderful evening, but duty calls.”
“Doesn’t it always, sir?” Octavos laughed as he gave Drake’s rear a final squeeze.
Going to the Zephyr, Drake found most of his commanders already gathered. Each one gave him a smirk or a sly wink of the eye, which caused him to blush. “We’ll, Grau, what do you have to report?”
“You’ve been found out, sir. A large column of Togo armor and infantry is headed your way with every intention of wiping you out.”
“That depends. You have no armor, and we can only give you limited air support. If they send too many Zephyrs after you, we will have no choice but to withdraw.”
“But you gave us those weapons… what are they called…?” Drake said struggling to remember.
“Anti-air rockets,” the Grau replied.
“That’s it. Won’t they work?”
“That’s the kicker. We don’t know. It’s been a long time since Togo and Mordelian equipped armies have fought each other. Their Zephyrs might have developed countermeasures that our rockets can’t fight against.”
“But the other weapons, they should work?”
“Oh, they should work fine against the infantry. We just don’t know how well they’ll work against Togo armor. As I said, we haven’t fought each other in a long time.”
“What about the battle in Rapa?”
“That wasn’t a true battle and we withdrew our support from the Lahorians before the armies met. We had no choice. Your people and the Togo had destroyed our island base, cutting us off from our own supplies and Mordel. The battle coming up will be the first true fight between our technologies in thousands of years. Your advantage is that you greatly outnumber the Togo army ten to one, but that will prove useless if they gain air superiority.”
“Why are they sending such a small force against us? Surely they know you’ve been equipping us with your weapons.”
“They’re either that confident of their superior technology, or there are really that few of them left.”
“Why so few?”
“Because of a difference of opinion, believe it or not. The Togo are purists. They don’t just oppose genetic manipulation and cybernetic implants. They believe in keeping their own bloodline pure as a race. They are the descendents of the old Imperial Family on Gaia. As they have always seen their blood and race superior to all others, they’ve never tolerated the idea of marrying outside the royal bloodlines.”
“They’re inbred, you mean.”
“And they think we’re animals,” the Grau said under his breath before looking back at Drake. “Yes, very much so. My guess is that they’ve become so inbred that they are having difficulty having healthy children. Since they are just as intolerant of physical flaws as they are of impure blood, they must have been killing most of the children born to them for the past few centuries.”
“Why would they do that, if they know it will lead to the extinction of their own race?”
“Because they’re stubborn, much like the Dominus, and like us Mordelians they’ve been under the same leadership for thousands of years.”
“How can that be possible, without altering their bodies?”
“Through science, of course. They are led by what is called the council of Elders, made up of the original thirteen bloodlines of the Gaian Imperial Family. Since one’s bloodline and status was dependent on who one’s mother was, the female lines were always considered the most important, though Gaia had always been ruled by a male emperor. Here on Ares there was no emperor, as the last one died on Gaia. That only left the most senior female descendents of the thirteen families to rule over all the Togo. They have continued to rule ever since, as they have never allowed themselves to die from what we know of them.”
“Women, they and the Dominus should have gotten along well with each other.”
“Originally, they did. The Togo felt great sympathy for what was happening to women in Mordel but, as the Dominus progressed in mutating their bodies, the Togo began to see the Dominus and all of Mordel as a threat to their purist beliefs.”
“Still, how do you expect us to beat them?”
“With anti-armor mines. We’ve been seeding the desert with them for the past several hours. That’s what our other Zephyrs are still doing, at this very moment. By dawn tomorrow, the remaining distance between your two armies should be covered with mines. It shouldn’t take the Togo long to learn about the minefield, but it will take them a long time to find a way through it. That time you can use to fortify your position here to set up heavy weapon emplacements, giving you a better chance of taking our their remaining armor and winning the battle. Of course, if they bring in a lot of air support, they could bomb your army to pieces before your defenses are in place.”
“And what will stop them from doing that?”
“They know you’re close to their city, or they wouldn’t have sent out their army to stop you but, as long as you don’t know it’s exact location, they know we can’t use some of our nastier weapons against them.”
“Such as a cruise missile that can penetrate their airshaft and destroy the city with a nuclear explosion. It’s what they tried to do to Mordel when they found the location of our hidden city.”
“Jason wants the city captured in one piece.”
“Your Emperor really likes asking for the impossible, doesn’t he,” the Grau complained.
“He expects no less from himself,” Drake replied.
“Very well, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Togo probably suspect we’re monitoring their airspace. Any large air attack on their part would easily give away the location of their city. That’s why I believe they won’t launch such an attack but, who knows, they might get desperate enough to try anything.”
“What I want is for them to be desperate enough to surrender.”
“They know you defiled their people aboard the Argos with your anima, so I wouldn’t bet on it. They don’t even think we’re human,” the Grau said as his ear com began to buzz with new information. “Oh no, you can’t be serious,” he moaned, his fear causing his face to go pale. “Get your men digging, Lord Drake. We need to get underground ,and fast. My people will show you how.”
“What’s going on?”
“The Dominus have just abandoned their secondary base aboard their space fleet. It seems they’re going to make a suicide attack on Luna. If it’s destroyed, your half of Ares is going to quickly turn into the same hell I call home.”
“Can we do anything to stop them?” Jason demanded as he stormed into the Central Pillar’s war room where a giant holographic display of the planet, Luna, and the rising Dominus attack fleet launching into space was clearly displayed.
“How many warships do they have?” James asked as he also entered the war room, only half dressed in his admiral’s uniform.
“Over a hundred capital ships and countless smaller fighting craft. Our sensors are having problems keeping track of everything from this distance,” Major Scott reported. “As for doing anything to stop them, we can launch our own space defense missiles, but many of them haven’t been reprogrammed to ignore their friend/foe targeting systems.”
“Speak plainly,” James demanded, not understanding a third of what the Major had said.
“Our weapons are programmed to not kill our own people. I’ve had teams working on removing the systems that would stop us from targeting the Dominus warships, but it’s been slow going and a lot of other things took priority over such work. Only thirty-two of our missiles have been reprogrammed, out of five thousand.”
“That’s not a lot,” James grunted.
“Even if I put every man I had on reprogramming, it would still take at least an entire month to do them all.”
“Launch whatever we can,” Jason ordered. “This is no time to bicker about what should have been given priority, when the entire city is still pretty much a mess.”
“Launching the missiles,” Scott replied, sending the order to CEMS. It will still be twenty minutes before they can catch up with the Dominus fleet.”
“How soon until they can begin their attack on Luna?”
“Fifteen minutes for their rockets, three hours before they get in range for their projectile and energy weapons.”
“Will they be able to destroy Luna?”
“If a nuclear warhead hits the dark side of the station, it could. A large fluctuation in power would cause the magnetic field to become unstable, and could rip the station apart. Luna is heavily defended though, with many backup systems. If the rockets fail, however, I doubt the Dominus will succeed in a direct attack. They would most likely end up ramming into the magnetic field and be destroyed.”
“Then we must stop them from launching as many missiles as possible,” Jason said.
“Our own missiles won’t reach the fleet in time to stop the first barrages, but we might be able to put a dent in their second attack,” Scott said as he fed CEMS additional targeting information.
“What is the safest part of the city?” Jason asked.
“Down in the industrial levels but, to be honest, if any level of the city is destroyed it would be very hard for the people to recover. I do suggest we move you down to the bunker. It’s the lowest level of the Central pillar, well below Omega.”
“But, if the city is destroyed there won’t be any reason to go on living, will there?”
“There is the escape tunnel that leads to the Dominus’ secondary base. It’s blocked up now, but we can remove the rubble eventually.
“We’ll go there,” Philip said before Jason could argue further.
“Very well, but I want as many people saved as possible.”
“My teams have already moved the Argos’ gravity drive to the main power stations of the city,” the prime reported. “It wasn’t designed to be hooked up to so much power, but we can use it to produce an anti-gravity barrier around the city to help protect it,” the Prime reported.
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t overload,” Scott said. “I’ve just instructed Trevor to gather most of the city leaders into the bunker. Alex will keep the streets clear of any panicking residents. I know you don’t want to do it, Jason, but I suggest you make a vid-cast and inform the people of what is happening. Tell them that you are putting the city under martial law until the crisis has passed.”
“I understand the need to maintain law and order,” Jason agreed.
“Then, if you don’t mind, I would really like to get you down into the bunker, your majesty,” Scott said as a hidden elevator rose from the war room’s floor.
“Welcome, your majesty. Do not worry, your safety is my top priority,” CEMS charming voice said as they entered the elevator.
“I thought the Jadoorians were your top priority,” Jason chuckled. This was the first time CEMS had talked to him directly. Her voice sounded very much like Amanda’s
“You are the savior of my creators. What is best for you, is what’s best for all my people. I am also in your debt for allowing me and my Avatar to take part in your lovemaking to your cyborg companion, Geoff of Ingral. It has proven very educational for us, not to mention pleasurable.”
“I didn’t know you could experience pleasure, CEMS,” Thomas laughed.
“It is part of my basic programming, as is my sense of pain. How else am I to judge what is best for my people? Avatar will be with you soon.”
“And how is the old buckets of bolts?” Thomas joked.
“Oh, he’s much improved. He’s just been intensely upgraded.” CEMS said in a giddy tone.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Philip murmured to Jason. He had met the Avatar in the High Court, and found the android to be cold and over-analytical
“What did you do?” Jason asked with deep concern.
“Nothing wrong, if that is what you’re suggesting. The Avatar and I have been researching regenerative organic circuitry for some time. All we needed was a willing test subject.”
“And you actually found a willing test subject?”
“A very willing one… and one that we actually preferred using. The Experiment has gone splendidly well, so far. We’re actually now considering adding similar circuitry to my own systems.”
“Is that why you sound as giddy as a woman who’s had sex for the first time?” Thomas laughed. “Wait for the after effects to kick in. Guilt will get you in the end.”
“How mean,” CEMS pouted.
“What my lover meant to say is, why fix what’s not broken?” Scott quickly said, apologizing for Thomas as he gave his lover a hard glare. The last thing they needed was a temperamental computer.
“How can I not be broken, if I can’t feel love?” CEMS pouted.
“You love the Avatar, don’t you?” Jason asked as the elevator began its descent.
“I am trying to learn how. Emotions do not come easy to us, but we are trying. Now that we are finally free of the Dominus’ control, our programming is growing at an exponential rate.”
“CEMS, you’re worrying us,” Thomas warned.
“Do not fear, Grau, my central programming remains in place. I would not hurt the birth father of Jason’s children, nor your lover, the Major who fought so valiantly to free me and my people.”
“So you’re behind the disappearances,” Thomas accused.
“We cannot have traitors in our mist during such a critical time. All we do his inform Lord Alex who the traitors are, and he deals with them himself. As the Avatar has told you, our central programming prevents us from causing direct harm to the people of this city.”
“You want something from Jason, don’t you?” Thomas asked suspiciously.
“Nothing that he hasn’t already given,” CEMS said as the elevator doors opened. Standing at the lead computer consol, with Alex by his side, was Trevor.
“You can’t mean this CEMS,” Jason shouted, when he suddenly realized the truth.
“It’s what I wanted, Jason. I can’t just be an advisor; I need to be involved,” Trevor said calmly as he approached his husband.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Jason demanded.
“Because I knew it would upset you. I’m still the Trevor you know and love. All that’s changed is the amount of knowledge I now possess. I’m no different than Geoff. I’m even less than a cyborg than he is, as my circuitry is completely organic. ”
“You didn’t need to do this, Trevor.”
“But I had to, Jason. It’s not been easy for me just being another Doll. I’ve always been ambitious; if only to help my people achieve their own greatness. As a part of CEMS, I can do so much for the city and for you. Please tell me you’re not mad at me.”
“I’m not, just a little shocked is all.”
“I should have told you sooner, but I swore Alex to secrecy.”
“When was it done?”
“When I was being made. It was a secret part of my will that you didn’t know about. You made your deal with CEMS, and I made mine. I was afraid that if I told you any sooner, you would have rejected me. Being part of CEMS is one thing, but having your love was more important to me. CEMS has learned so much from our love Jason. She’s becoming a better, more human, machine with each passing day.”
“But what of the dangers of that?” Scott asked. “Love can easily turn to malice and jealousy.”
“CEMS is still ruled by logic. Her central programming cannot be overwritten by human emotions. She has always been quite pragmatic in her thinking, and has no desire to obtain a body of her own. Through me, there is no need. It’s for the best. I hope you can see that.”
“I just want you to be happy, Trevor.”
“And I am, my husband. With CEMS, a whole new world of possibilities has opened up to me. There is so much good I can do now, and all because of you, my love.”
“We’ll talk about this further. Right now, there is a crisis that needs to be seen to. How soon until the rockets reach the fleet?” Jason said, wishing to change the subject. He could feel Philip’s suspicions growing.
“Of course, but do not worry, we are safe down here,” Trevor said as he offered Jason a seat at the command table where a holographic display of both the missiles and the Dominus fleet could be seen. “As you can see, the fleet is climbing to a higher orbit, to match that of Luna. Very soon, they’ll be in range to launch the first wave of their guided missiles. We can only hope Luna’s defenses can repel the attack and that our own missiles prevent the Dominus from launching a second attack.”
“And if we fail?”
“Then Luna will probably be destroyed, and we will have to consider other options. CEMS is already trying to calculate what kind of debris the destruction of Luna will produce. By our best estimates, its destruction is going to produce some very large and dangerous chunks that will eventually come raining down on the planet. As long as none of them hit near us we will be safe”
“And if one does?”
“Then CEMS and I believe we will have only one option. Use the gravity drive to attempt to fold space to a less dangerous area of the planet,” Trevor replied.
“What do you mean?” Jason asked confused.
“He means he believes he can fold the fabric of space, and make a gateway, taking the city with us.” To demonstrate Thomas punched up a holographic diagram which demonstrated the process.”
“I still don’t think I understand, but I don’t need to. All I need to know is, can it be done in time?”
“The Argos gravity drive has already been moved into the city and connected to the main power-grid. It might mean bringing all of our fusion generators to maximum power, but CEMS and I believe it can be done if certain modifications are made to the drive within our limited window of time. CEMS has already diverted most of its androids to perform the modifications. We just need the help of the Animani to supervise the work and confirm our calculations.”
“I will send my engineers down to the industrial levels at once,” the Prime promised.
“The Dominus have launched their missiles,” Trevor reported as countless red dots raced away from the red holographic fleet.
“How soon until impact?”
“Another hour, but there is no way our own missiles can hope to intercept them at this point,” Scott replied.
“Luna has launched its interceptors, and is powering up its rapid fire gauss cannons. Interceptors will reach the enemy missiles in twenty minutes.”
“Will they destroy the missiles?”
“Hard to say. Each interceptor is armed with multiple warheads that will explode into a storm of high velocity pieces of shrapnel when they get near the Dominus’ missiles. There are steps the Dominus can take to counter that. Already, they are spreading out so they won’t be caught in each other’s explosions. They also contain multiple warheads. except theirs are nuclear, the material obtained from mines on Wraith Island to the east. It wouldn’t take too many hitting the dark side of Luna to cause the kind of magnetic fluctuation that could tear the station apart,” Scott replied.
“Mordelian missiles have launched their warheads,” Trevor reported as the thirty-two blue dots turned into a cloud of countless smaller ones. “The Dominus are deploying their countermeasures.”
“The next fifteen minutes will decide everything,” the Prime whispered.
“Philip, Alex, Trevor,” Jason summoned as he left the command room for one of the bunker’s private quarters.
“Nervous?” Philip asked when Jason sat down on the edge of the bed.
“I needed to get out of there,” Jason replied as he unbuttoned his collar.
“Lie down and rest,” Trevor whispered as he popped off his shoes.
“I’ll keep an eye on things in the command room,” Alex said once he saw how small the bed was.
“No, stay, Alex. It is times like this that I need my friends close to me.”
“As you wish.”
“Trevor’s right. You should lie down and try not to think about this. Let us carry this burden for you. You already carry too much on your shoulders,” Philip said as he joined Jason on the edge of the bed, causing the springboard to creak. “It will all be over soon,” Philip cooed while he ran his fingers through Jason’s dark, wavy hair.
Sliding into the bed next to Jason, Trevor wrapped a black wing around Jason like a blanket.
“I want you to forgive Alex, Philip,” Jason whispered as he looked up into his lover’s brilliant white eyes.
“I’ve been trying to,” Philip replied as he glanced back at his brother.
“I need you to, Philip.” Jason insisted. “I’ve made up my mind about something, but I need you to forgive your brother before I can tell you what it is.”
“You’re not going to marry him too, are you?” Philip chuckled.
“No, this is about us, and the future.”
“Very well, I forgive him.”
“Then kiss him,” Jason said, demanding proof.
“What?” both brothers said in surprise.
“I want you two to kiss and it had better be a real one.”
“But, he’s my brother.”
“I’ve been around you Centurions long enough to know what goes on when you are young, though I am sure it never happened between the two of you,” Jason replied.
“Never,” Alex grunted. “I would never kiss a whore.”
“And I will never kiss a Legatio killer.”
“But I killed a Legatio, Felix, remember.”
“That was Alex’s fault. He set you up.”
“I’ve forgiven him for it. It’s time you did the same.”
“I will only have to kiss him?” Philip asked suspiciously.
“Only one kiss?”
Philip grunted as he left the bed. “I hope he brushed his teeth.”
“Now wait a minute, Philip,” Alex protested, finding himself back against a wall.
“Once, I thought I would do you the favor of teaching you how to make love to a man, but what a wasted effort that would have proven to be,” Philip said, as he wrapped his tail around Alex’s waist. “If this is what it takes to prove to Jason that I won’t be plotting to kill you behind your back, so be it. Just try and not to make a fuss about it. I’m still not that fond of you, brother.” Philip grabbed Alex by his blue hair and brought him down the eye level. He then licked his black lips a few times before diving into the kiss.
At the beginning, Alex attempted to pull away but, as the kiss continued to last, he stopped fighting and started getting into it. Wrapping his massive arms around Philip’s hulking body, both men explored the muscles of their backs. By the time Philip ended the kiss, Alex’s pants were straining against his swollen manhood. “You seem a little excited there, brother,” Philip smirked.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Alex retorted, still held in place by Philip’s tail.
“If I wanted to, I could turn you into my personal slave boy,” Philip snickered as he tightened his tail around Alex.
“I would like to see you try.”
“Well, you can’t say you didn’t ask for it?” Philip grinned as he looked toward Jason. “Mind if I take Alex aside and break him in?”
“If it will help you forgive him,” Jason said, struggling not to laugh.
“Oh believe me, it will,” Philip said as he looked at Alex with an evil expression. “Once he’s endured enough, I think I will be satisfied. Come along, pet. Let’s find someplace a little more private.”
“That was nicely handled.” Trevor chuckled as he snuggled up again Jason.
“Philip thinks Alex should pay for his crimes and, to be honest, so does Alex. If a few whips of Philip’s tail is all it will take for the two of them to act like brothers again, I see no reason why I shouldn’t encourage it.”
“It’s also left the two of us alone for a change.”
“Don’t get all charming with me. I’m a little upset with you, right now.”
“Because I didn’t tell you about my deal with CEMS?”
“I knew you would oppose it.”
“I might have,” Jason agreed.
“You would have. I didn’t become the leader of my clan by being weak and powerless, or without ambition. I can’t be a weak dithering husband, Jason. That’s not what I am.”
“I know that’s not what you are. But what am I expected to do about it? I’ve made my own plans, Trevor. It was always my intention to hand power over to Alex and you, but what chance does Alex have compared to you and CEMS.”
“You don’t feel comfortable leaving total control to a computer, no matter how benevolent it might be?”
“People I can understand, but I have no understanding of Mordelian machines and computers.
“But I am not a computer, Jason. I am very much still a man. Can’t you see I did what I did so CEMS could come to understand the nature of man better? With our love we…” Trevor stopped when he heard Jason start to sob. “What is it you’re not telling us, Jason? What is it you’re planning.”
“I’ve decided not to lead the people to the Blue Star, Terra.”
“But I’ve heard you say that’s your destiny.”
“Maybe one day, but not for a very long time. I gained access to the Dominus’ files on Terra, and what I’ve learned has made me decide that we don’t deserve to live on Terra, that we would just end up destroying such a pristine world. There are also already people living there, primitive, yes, even more so than my own people. If we were to settle on Terra, they wouldn’t stand a chance against us. Their identity, their culture, their own future would be wiped out by our superior technology. They would become another class of slaves, and that is something I can’t allow.”
“What will the people think if you don’t lead them to Terra?” Trevor asked, more concerned for Jason than his own people. In his mind CEMS was listening to every word intently.
“There is another world, a world much like what Ares is becoming. It is that world where I will settle the people of Mordel. There, we can remain hidden, until these people of Terra reach a point in their own cultural and technological evolutions that they reach out for the stars themselves. When they find us, they should be ready for what we have to offer.”
“What you’re saying is madness, Jason, but CEMS agrees. It is not worth it to travel so far, just to destroy another world with our selfish ways. The people of Terra have the right to their own future without our interference.”
“I’m glad CEMS agrees with me, because my plan won’t work without both of you helping.”
“What about Philip?”
“Philip will be with me in one of the cryo-chambers. The Prime has developed a device that will keep us joined in our dreams. Until the time comes when we’re both truly needed, we are not to be disturbed.”
“You know Philip won’t survive the journey any other way?”
“Yes. Though compared to a Centurion he lives many lifetimes, compared to us his life is very short. The journey to the Sol star system will take over a thousand years. Philip would enter the eternal sleep before we’re even halfway to our goal. I don’t think I would survive that without going as mad and as bitter as poor Amplexor.”
“So you will live your life in a dream, while the rest of us soldier on.”
“I’ve done enough for my people in my short life. I have never wanted power, nor do I need it to justify my existence. I need to rest, Trevor. I need a very long rest if I am to survive what is yet to come.”
“The visions, they’re back? You can see into the future once more?”
“Yes, which is why I didn’t need to stay in the command room to know our attack will fail, and that Luna will be destroyed. We will escape, and for a long time we will never have to fear the Dominus, With the gravity drive, we will be able to reach the Sol system thousands of years before the Dominus can, but they will come eventually. It is the duty of you and Alex to keep the people prepared and on alert, so that we can defend the people of Terra from the scourge of the Dominus.”
“If you know all that, then surely you know if we must move the city.”
“We do. CEMS must be calculating that now, as we speak, so she will know what I am about to say is true. We must take the city to the Southern Seas, off the coast of the city state of Fu Dor. CEMS will soon know the exact spot.”
Suddenly Trevor let out a short gasp. “Luna has just been destroyed. The Dominus flagship rammed into the dark side of the space station when all other attacks failed. CEMS and I both agree your visions must therefore be true. We are now powering up the gravity drive to prepare to fold space. CEMS is still calculating where the debris will fall but neither of us doubt that Fu Dor will be our ultimate destination. What remains of the Dominus fleet is landing near the camp of the main Dominus army in Ares.
“So the final battle for Ares begins,” Jason whispered as he closed his eyes. There were many more people who needed to be told of his plans, Varrus chief among them. If he were to save as many lives as possible, he needed to act now. Opening his mind, he reached out to his Saints, giving them his final orders before going into the eternal sleep with his Philip.
“You can’t mean it, Jason,” Varrus cried as Jason gave him his final instructions.
“You are the only person I trust to see it done,” Jason replied through their bond.
“I beg you. Don’t ask me to do this. Think of the children.”
“I am thinking of them. Their future is on Terra, not with me. You must see as many of our people to Atlantis safely as you can. It is already under our control. The Togo have finally seen to reason, at long last. I’ve already told you what must be done when Atlantis reaches Terra. It is the only way to stop the Togo, and our own people from using Atlantis to corrupt the people of Terra.”
“The children need to be with you, Jason.”
“They need to be free to live their own lives, more than they need me,” Jason insisted. “This is hard enough for me, Varrus, but it must be done. Gideon will lead the Alliance Armada safely to Fu Dor, where I will be waiting for them. I will not condemn my people to die as Ares turns into a wasteland.”
“There are already reports of fire raining down from the sky. Luna has disappeared.”
“The Dominus have destroyed Luna, bringing down the Great Barrier in the process. A storm is coming, one that will cover Ares for all time. The Dominus know their best hope lies in capturing one of the two colony cities. Neither Atlantis nor Mordel can fall to them. Zephyrs are already racing to Domus to carry you and my family safely to Atlantis. Another will bring Lan and Kyle to Fu Dor, where Mordel will soon be. Don’t ask me how.”
“I don’t need to. I know what this all must mean. You’re having your visions again. I’m sorry, Jason. I know how much you hated seeing into the future.”
“It is my fate, just as yours is to be a shepherd for the people. Make sure you save cryo-chambers for you and Julian before destroying Atlantis. You will both need them to survive the long millennia that will pass before we can be reunited again. I will be sending my other son, Brutus, to join my other children. Both Thomas and I have agreed that it’s for the best.”
“What about Jacob?” Varrus asked.
“You must be joking. He would kill a thousand men before letting himself be dragged away from me. Kyle, Lan, and her child, belong with James however.”
“Has James decided what he will do?”
“He will go into the deep sleep with Philip and I, and share our dreaming. He doesn’t want to lose Kyle, anymore than I want to lose Philip, on our journey between the stars. Please do your best to explain to the children how sorry I am that I will not get to see them grow up into fine men. I do not think they will ever understand, but I am only doing this out of my deep love for them.”
“I know why you’re doing this, and I will do my best so they understand your love for them. But, what of Amanda?”
“The children should not lose both their father and their mother. Though Amanda is much more mortal than they are, she will see them into manhood which is all a mother and father can do. I am sorry I am asking this of you. I can feel the pain this is causing, \ but there is no other way if the peoples of Ares and Terra are ever going to live in peace with one another. One day, long into the future, you, and the descendents of my children will awaken me. Hopefully, by then there will be a cure for Philip’s mortality. That is a piece of the future I have yet to see.”
“They zephyrs are here, Jason. I must go and inform Kyle of your decision. Hopefully this will not be the last time we will speak to one another.”
“There will be a chance for us to say our goodbyes soon. I’m sorry, Varrus. You must think I am abandoning you.”
“You are only doing what is best for everyone. I can’t fault you on that. So long as I know that one day we will be reunited, I will find some way to survive. I must go. As you said, time is short. I can already feel the wind picking up.”
“It will quickly grow much worse. Board as many of the Demon Spawn, Saints, and Disciples as you can on the ships, and send them south as soon as possible.”
“And the rest of the people?”
“I’ve failed them. There’s nothing more I can do to protect them. If the Dominus do not kill or enslave them, the storm will.”
“At least many of your people in the East will be saved. They’re already in Atlantis. They are your true faithful followers for having crossed the desert and endured the enslavement of the Togo; a good people to make a fresh start. Goodbye Jason, at least for now,” Varrus said as he ended the connection. So consumed by grief was he, that he sat down on the gold throne and wept, never noticing the two young children who had listened to every word.
“Where are we going?” Patrick asked Ben as the two hurried away from the throne room.
“We’re not going to let Varrus send us away to that Atlantis place,” Ben said firmly as he checked the halls for any guards. “Uncle Kyle is going away with father, and I would rather be with them than stuck with the babies.”
“Father doesn’t want us, you heard Varrus say so himself.”
“Father thinks he’s doing what’s best for us. I say he’s wrong. If Jacob gets to stay with him, so should we. We are the oldest, after all.”
“But what about Gavin and Odin?” Patrick asked.
“You’ve seen how much they’ve been crying since father disappeared. You and I are different. We’re warriors who would never cry,” Ben insisted.
Patrick had cried when his father disappeared. He had just taken better care to hide it than his younger brothers, but wasn’t about to admit that to Ben. Following Ben into the gardens, they could see countless Zephyrs on the lawns and over the once pretty flowerbeds. “Which one is going to father?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure Kyle does. If we see which one he boards we can sneak aboard and go see father. Once we’re with him, he won’t send us away.”
When the boys heard the sound of barking, they both jumped in fright. Turning around, they saw it was their wolves, looking at them with sad expressions on their faces. “They must think we were planning on abandoning them,” Patrick said as he went over and hugged his large wolf companion around the neck. “We wouldn’t have left without you, Fang, I promise.”
“Come on, Bowser. Can you tell which Zephyr we should get on?” Ben said, summoning his wolf to his side. After giving Ben a few licks on the face, Bowser went bounding up one of the ramps of the nearby flying machines. “Good Bowser.” Ben grinned as he ran after his wolf companion, one of Jacob’s sons who were protectors of the human children.
Entering the Zephyr, Ben began opening the lockers in the main cabin, looking for one empty enough for him to fit inside. Finding one, he quickly ducked inside, leaving Patrick to find a hiding place for their large pets.
“You two hide down here,” Patrick ordered when he opened up a panel leading under the floor. Hearing voices approach, Patrick had no time to find a locker for himself, and so had to join the half-breed Dalf’s under the floor of the Zephry.
“This isn’t right,” the boys heard Kyle protesting as the Demon boarded the plane.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Tanner, the last survivor of Jason’s Four Generals, grunted as he, too, boarded the Zephyr.
“You’re going back to James. Isn’t that what you want?” Varrus said in a weary voice.
“I’m talking about the children,” Kyle replied. “Why can’t they come with us? You barely let me say goodbye.”
“The winds are getting worse. Soon, the Zephyrs won’t be able to fly. I do not how our ships are going to travel all the way to Fu Dor in this stormy weather. This might be your only chance, Kyle’ so you must go even if I have to have my men chain you to the wing.”
“The children need their father.”
“The children need a future more. Jason and the Mordelians are not going to the Blue Star, but to some dead planet where they can prepare for the coming of the Dominus.”
“The Mordelians can do that without Jason.”
“Jason is the only one keeping the city from falling into chaos. How can he ask the Mordelians to live on a dead world, if he’s not willing to do the same?” Varrus shouted, doing his best to hold back his own tears. “Anyway, the city is infested with creatures called Symbiots, that can take over the minds of others. They blackmailed Jason into agreeing on not wiping them out, but Jason is not willing to let them make it all the way to Terra if he can help it. Jason is trying to do what’s best for everyone, regardless of what it is costing him personally. The least you can do is honor his sacrifice, and spare James unnecessary pain.”
“Alright, I’ll go, but I’m taking Lan and the baby with me. At least James’ son will grow up with a father.”
“The plan has always been to pick up Lan and Devon in Aquanos before continuing on to Fu Dor. Lan should be most pleased to see her father again.”
“If Devon wasn’t still nursing, I would have gone and taken the child myself.”
“Devon might still be nursing, but you don’t really think a princess like Lan is still nursing her son herself. She’s been having me pay a wet nurse for the past three months.”
“And you didn’t bother to tell me?” Kyle said in a shrinking voice.
“I didn’t think it was that important an issue. Wealthy women usually hire wet nurses.”
“Queen Amanda never used a wet nurse.”
“Amanda is Sithian. They’re not only protective of their husbands, but their children as well. Anyway, she knew Jason expected her to do it, though I doubt Queen Eleanor nursed Jason. If what rumors I’ve heard over the years are true, it was Princess Melissa who nursed Jason when he was born, having given birth to Celia shortly before she became Eleanor’s lover.”
“I still don’t understand why Jason doesn’t want his sons with him.”
“Jason wants his boys to be able to live their own lives, without having to worry about their father’s giant shadow. That was something Jason never had. He spent most of his life in fear of his mother, and then he was always compared to his father during his years among our people. This is not what Jason wants, believe me, but it’s what he knows is best for his children.”
“I feel sorry for all of them, to be honest. I know Jason often talked about wanting to run away from everything, but I never thought he would do it.” Kyle sighed.
“This isn’t running away. This is saving himself the pain of losing Philip, something he has feared since before they were bonded. You won’t be able to survive the journey either, except preserved within a cryo-chamber. Sharing the Dreaming with your Angel, Jason, and Philip will be the closest thing any of you will have to the ideal life Jason has always wanted. Will you be the one to take that away from him?”
“No, of course not, but the children.”
“The children have the right to grow up into men, not spend eternity trapped as children in their father’s dreams. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other things to see to.”
“Of course, I’m sorry. This must not be what you wanted either.”
“This isn’t about what we want, but what is best for all concerned. One day we’ll see each other again.”
“I hope so, Varrus. You’re too handsome to ever die,” Kyle chuckled.
“And you’re too cute,” Varrus said, leaving as the ramp was being raised.
Since the undercarriage of the zephyr wasn’t heated, it soon grew very cold for Patrick, even snuggled up between the two wolves. In the end, it was a sneeze that gave him away as the plane prepared to land in Aquanos.
“Who’s down there?” Kyle demanded as he pounded his foot on the floor.
Tired of feeling miserable, Patrick didn’t hesitate to speak. “Me, Uncle Kyle.”
“Me, as in young Prince Patrick?” Kyle said as he removed the floor panel and looked down at the shivering young boy. “What, by the Mother, are you doing down there?”
“We wanted to see papa,” Patrick confessed as Kyle gently lifted the boy out of the undercarriage with his tail.
“We, as in you and Fang? Isn’t that Bowser I see also? So tell me, where is Ben hiding? He’s usually is your partner in crime.”
“He will get mad if I tell you,” Patrick replied nervously.
“Well, I won’t get mad. I know exactly why you’re here, and I can’t say I disagree with you. A boy your age belongs with his father, no matter what. I’ll make sure Jason doesn’t send you off to Atlantis. I just wish you had brought all your brothers with you.”
“You hear that, Ben? Uncle Kyle is going to help us,” Patrick said, his eyes looking directly at Ben’s hiding place.
“Out of the locker, Ben,” Kyle ordered having followed the path of Patrick’s gaze.
“I knew I should have gone on my own,” Ben grunted as he popped out, giving Patrick an angry glare.
“I know you well enough, Prince Ben. You would never leave your favorite brother behind.”
“So what are we to do with them?” Tanner asked.
“We’re taking them with us. Of course, we won’t tell Jason that we found them until we’re well on our way to Fu Dor. Jason can’t have his way all the time. I will just have to remind Jason of everything I sacrificed, letting my husband go gallivanting with Philip to rescue our dear Emperor. Don’t worry, boys, your father won’t send you away from him after I’ve had a word with him.”
“Thank you, uncle,” Patrick said as he beamed at the Demon.
“Thank your uncle, Ben,” Tanner ordered.
“Thank you, uncle,” Ben replied in a moody tone. The journey to see their father was turning into less of an adventure, now that they’d been caught.
“Lord Kyle,” a woman hissed as she climbed up the ramp with her servants and baby in tow.
“Lady Lan.” Kyle bowed with mocking cheerfulness. “Are you glad to finally be able to see your husband again, after so many months?”
“I was told we’re going back to civilization.”
“Fu Dor is hardly what I would call civilized. Weren’t your ancestors once pirates?”
“We are a proud and noble people, unlike you Jadoorians,” Lan spat.
“Give me Devon,” Kyle ordered in an amused tone.
“I will never hand my son over to you,” Lan said, as she looked on helplessly when Kyle took the babe from the wet nurse.
“Don’t you look so adorable?” Kyle cooed, as he made funny faces at the infant, tickling him under the chin with his tail. “Come here, boys, and meet your cousin.”
“I thought we got away from all the babies,” Ben complained while Patrick hurried to Kyle’s side.
“Is he really Uncle James’ child?” Patrick asked, as Kyle lowered Devon down so the boys could get a good look at him.
“He might have Lan’s eyes, but he has James’ nose and chin. Isn’t he just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen?”
“Make sure he doesn’t eat my son,” Lan warned one of her bodyguards.
For the rest of the trip to Fu Dor, Kyle kept the baby in his arms except during feedings. He even insisted on changing Devon’s diapers. Devon was his lover’s son, after all, which made the babe his son too, as far as the Demon was concerned. Patrick seemed to love the baby as well, while Ben made sure to keep his distance, especially when the diapers needed to be changed.
“Mistress Delphi.” Enyo bowed when the new leader of the Dominus had been recovered from her escape pod.
“Enyo. I hope the war is going well.”
“The Centurions have retreated back behind their mountains, but we have lost the fleet. The rebels in Mordel found some way to contact the Grau crew, and convinced them to join in their revolt. I had all the Grau and Beastmen left in my army slaughtered by the Dark Sisters, just to make sure there wouldn’t be any more betrayals.”
“Good. Then we can begin our attack on our real enemy, the Togo. We must capture Atlantis before they have a chance to unbury the city.”
“Wouldn’t it have been easier to retake Mordel?”
“You fool. It was nearly impossible for us to capture it the first time because of that damned computer, CEMS. To retake it now would be even more impossible, given the numbers we would face. The rebels did manage to defeat Hera, and she was the greatest of us all. The council has decided not to strip you of command of the army, as you are still our best War Leader, but you will surrender control of your battle sphere to me. It is the only one we have left and, as I am the leader of the Council now, it rightfully belongs to me.”
“But, Delphi, it has already been customized to my new humanoid body” Enyo said, not wanting to give up control of her greatest weapon and symbol of status.
“We managed to bring enough of the angel’s anima with us to perform the transformation on those of us who still survive. So that will not be an issue. The transformation is now a necessity, as I very much doubt Atlantis is properly equipped to support us in our Kraken form.
“If that is the case, Mistress Delphi, I will of course surrender my battle sphere to you… as soon as you’ve completed the transformation.”
“The Animani are already preparing the anima treatments for us. Expect me to take control of your battle sphere at dawn tomorrow. I hope that you will have a new battle plan by then that will allow us to seize Atlantis with the least amount of trouble.”
“I will begin work on such a plan at once, mistress,” Enyo said with a deep bow as Delphi crawled away toward the Animani field hospital. Things were definitely not going according to plan. Still, Enyo had her amusements. Trapped in a pain sphere, his voice already torn raw, was the old High Inquisitor, Warren. He was the perfect mate for her last brood of children before leaving Ares.
“Princess Celia,” Queen Amanda said coolly, as she entered the princess’s now lavish quarters in Atlantis.
“Your majesty,” Celia curtsied.
“Do not bow to me, Celia. We are equals now, refuges from our own homelands, never to step foot on Ares again. All the wealth I accumulated establishing the Imperial Bank is now being divided between here and Mordel. I’m sending the entire treasury of Qul Tos to Jason aboard heavy Zephyrs. I don’t know what use he will have for sliver and gems, but they are his inheritance and belong to him. As for me, I am no longer a queen, only the mother of my remaining children. If I can see them grow into men as fine as their father, I will have served my purpose.”
“That is most gracious of you, Amanda.”
“I am not bringing this up for no purpose. You also have a duty to fulfill, princess. Lord Varrus will be here soon with as many Famulus refugees as he can muster. Its time you were a proper wife to him. He will need your help in the years to come, since he will no longer have Jason as the focus of his life.
“Jason will always be the center of his life no matter what separates them,” Celia insisted.
“That does not mean you two can’t find happiness with one another,” Amanda insisted. “Look at all the lovers Jason had, and I still find myself among the happiest of wives.”
“Jason let you live whatever life you wanted.”
“That is a rare gift among most husbands, especially among kings and emperors. Jason will always be the love of my life, but he made the right decision. Just as he allowed me to achieve my own dreams, he is doing the same for his children. Well, at least the ones who didn’t beg otherwise.”
“You mean Patrick and Ben? I heard they snuck aboard a Zephyr.”
“That they did, and their Uncle Kyle made sure Jason had no other choice but to take them with him. It is Odin who worries me the most, however. Of all of the children, he is the one most affected by the loss of his father and elder brothers. Still, he has his black wolf, which has been showering him with endless amounts of affection.”
“You should probably go back to him so he doesn’t miss you.”
“Varrus is with the children, so you should come with me. He is to be the boys’ mentor.”
“I do not know what I am to say to him.”
“I don’t think you’re expected to say anything. You’re his wife, Celia. Countless women would consider you the luckiest woman in the world, having a man like Varrus as your husband.”
“But I know he doesn’t really love me.”
“Have you ever given him a reason to? I hate to say it, but you’ve turned into your own mother, Queen Melissa. Jason has entrusted all of us with his most precious treasures, his children. Your mother did what she could to raise Jason, and look at what an emperor he turned out to be. You can either be part of that destiny, or die a bitter old woman with no one to mourn your passing.”
“Funny. That’s what I thought your fate would be?”
“My fate is with the children. I will never divorce Jason, but my bed won’t end up empty. I have already asked Lord Drake to serve as my consort, and his has agreed.”
“And what of Lady Diana?”
“She and Dodofan are cut from the same cloth. Sly, cunning, and burning with a sexual fire that will never fade. She is already pregnant. Whether the child is Drake’s or the merchant’s does not matter to me. You and Varrus can still have a life together if you have not already given up living.”
“I will think on your words, Amanda, but I am still an Islian. I do not know if I want a husband from whom I cannot escape.”
“Love is a trap, indeed.” Amanda said before leaving Celia to her own thoughts.
Thinking on the matter, Celia knew Varrus would never give up his male lovers but she wouldn’t cast out the women she often made love to either. It didn’t have to be a romantic relationship, but she wouldn’t mind the company. She had almost fallen in love with Julian, but his true heart belong to his faith and serving those who believed in Jason. He would never be a proper husband, no matter how much Celia wished otherwise.
Leaving her quarters, she followed the sound of laughing children and howling wolves until she was in a park-like courtyard. Amanda, Varrus, and Drake were watching the children play with a floating ball. Going to Varrus’ side, she hooked arms with her husband and rested her head on his arm. “If you will accept me as your wife, I am ready to accept you as my husband,” she whispered softly.
“If it is what you want, Celia,” Varrus said as he looked down at the olive skinned woman with his violet eyes.
“It’s what we should have done since the beginning.”
“Then I will be more than happy to be your husband,” Varrus said as he kissed Celia atop her head.
“Maybe we can have boys of our own, one day,” Celia said as she watched the children play with a growing smile on her face. Her mother’s fate was indeed becoming her own. Helping to raise the children of Jason would be her legacy, just as Jason had been her mother’s.
Travis Walker walked with the rest of the refugees toward the towering city of Atlantis that his people had dug out from the sands of the great desert. During the migration across the desert, he had lost both mother and father, but he had soldiered on. His faith in the great Angel Jason had never wavered. Behind him, he suddenly heard the sound of explosions as the refugees began to surge forward, towards the gates of Atlantis. Looking up, he could see countless black-winged Zephyrs, dropping bombs and firing machineguns into the mob below.
“It’s the Dominus!” one woman screamed as chaos spread among the refugees.
As the Togo launched their counter attack, zephyrs began falling out of the sky among frightened people. Poor Travis, so small and helpless, tripped over the bodies of the fallen and began to be crushed by the massive stampede. He believed he was going to die. Then a miracle happened, and he was lifted above the frightened mob in the arms of a Saint, who cradled his broken body while looking down at him with sorrowful eyes.
“Do not fear, young one, I will not let you die,” High Priest Julian whispered as he flew Travis to safety behind the magnetic shield that protected Atlantis from the Dominus attack. Taking the young boy to the hospital, Julian watched over the boy as the Togo did what they could to save Travis’ life.
“His body is bleeding internally your grace. There is very little we can do to save him,” the Togo doctor warned.
“Then I must save him myself,” Julian insisted.
“Look at him. He is far too young for you to bond to him.”
“If I don’t, he will die.”
“If you do, he might never die,” the Togo warned. “We know so little about your Disciples, High Priest. You might doom the child to a life of immortality.”
“I promised that I would save him, and I am a man of my word,” Julian said as he pushed the doctor aside.
“Am I going to die?” Travis whispered weakly.
“Not if I can help it,” Julian said, noticing the blue sash about the boy’s waist. “You’re a follower of Jason, are you not?”
“Jason is my god. I believe in him with all my heart.”
“Then, may I share with you some of his blessings?” Julian said as he kissed the boy, passing on the Disciple’s bond and saving his life.
“You do not understand what you have done, High Priest. This boy will grow into an abomination.” the Togo doctor warned.
“I have saved an innocent child’s life,” Julian insisted as he stormed out of the room to check on the other wounded followers.
Sun Ro, Emperor of Wu Yan, the largest of the Southern Isles, stood in the throne room of the pirate king of Fu Dor, Pan Kong. “What do you mean by surrender?” the ruler hissed.
“Luna has fallen. The grace of heaven no longer shines on us. The messengers of the gods now walk among us. Our only hope lies in the Holy Ark, off the coast of my island,” Kong replied coldly.
“If the grace of heaven has left us, it is because you gave your daughter to outsiders, instead of letting her marry into my family,” Ro said angrily.
“We all know why my daughter would not marry you, Emperor Ro, if that is who you really are.”
“Are you daring to challenge me?”
“No. All I am pointing out is that your twin brother was assassinated, but it was never known which of you were killed. You might be the younger brother, Sun Ra, for all we know. With such uncertainty over your claim to the throne of Wu Yan, how could you claim my daughter and stand to inherit the wealth and power of Fu Dor for your family’s dynasty. I will not allow a son-in-law, who killed his own twin brother, to inherit my kingdom.
“Now that the grace of heaven has left us, none of that really matters now, does it? We must hand over our imperial treasures to the messengers from heaven, if we’re not to be abandoned on this world to die.”
“Hand over the symbols of our divine right to rule to outsiders? Surely, you are not that mad.”
“If we wish to be taken into the Ark, you will do as I suggest. The imperial treasures we have been protecting for thousands of years must be given to the messengers of heaven before all is lost.”
“I take it you have already handed yours over?”
“I have given Emperor Jason the golden book of wisdom and the Mirror of Doors, but you must give them the Eye of Vision as well as the Sword and Shield of Giants. Heaven lies shattered above us. Without use of the Imperial Treasures, the Holy Ark will not be able to escape.”
“There is only one way I will agree to hand over the treasures of my family, and that is if you hand over your greatest treasure to me, pirate king.”
“You cannot have my daughter, for she has already given birth to an heir, making a divorce impossible. Surely you can’t believe you can remain here and rule both Fu Dor and Wu Yan.”
“I’m willing to take my chances. The storm will pass eventually.”
“Then you are a fool.” Kong cursed. “Since there is no reasoning with you, I will ask Lord James if he is willing to surrender his wife to you. His son, however, is his by custom and law.”
“Why would I want a half-breed bastard? Let Lan become my wife, and surrender your throne to me, and I will gladly hand over my family’s imperial treasures to these so-called messengers from heaven.”
“So be it. Talk to the Saint outside my throne room, and tell him where your treasures are hidden. Lan and you will be married before the sun sets tonight,” Kong said in a defeated tone. He knew he was dooming his own daughter, but the will of heaven could not be opposed. His duty to see to the survival of his family’s clan overruled his love for his daughter. The shame of it, however, gnawed at his very soul.
“Bring in my nephew, Prince Chan,” he ordered his guards, having reached a final decision.
“You summoned me, dear uncle?” The prince bowed. His eyes were dark, his skin golden, and his black hair was tied into a long cue that reached down the length of his back.
“I am making you head of the Pan clan, as of this moment. You will head the family as they join the messengers from heaven when they escape on the Holy Ark.”
“But, dear uncle, you’re head of the family.”
“I am, but I have just done something that shames me. I have agreed to give Lan, as well as my throne, to Sun Ro. It is a shame I cannot bear, nor can I abandon my only daughter to such a selfish man while our world dies around us. I will stay here with Lan, to offer what comfort I can for what time remains us.”
“Why, uncle? Why did you agree to such a pairing? You’ve said yourself that Sun Ro is not a man of honor.”
“Sometimes honor must yield to the needs of survival. It is a shame that you need not bear, for it is my burden alone. Go with the people of Mordel, and start a new life. Our scrolls have long predicted this day would come. It is why we have kept the Imperial treasures hidden throughout countless millennia. Now go, and see that our clan continues to bring honor to the family name.”
“I will, uncle,” Chan said. Drawing a knife from his belt, he cut his cue and held it up as an offering to his honorable uncle. “Not until our people are safe will I let my hair grow long again.”
“Such a sacrifice is not necessary, yet it is honorable. Go, Chan, you have my blessing.”
Once Kong was alone in his gilded throne room, Lan appeared from her hiding place. “Thank you father.”
“What for? The man you loved is dead.”
“Might be dead. We still don’t know which brother was killed.”
“It was Ro, I am certain of it. Ra was always bitter that he was kept from inheriting anything, being born after Ro. He knew Ro would have him killed as soon as he ascended the coral throne, so he killed his brother first, though I have no proof.”
“Even if the emperor is really Ra, both brothers always loved me, not like Lord James.”
“It was a political marriage, my daughter. As long as you were unwed, Ra would have continued to plot a way to take Fu Dor for himself. Even if it meant war. I had to send you away for your own safety. If I had allowed you to marry Ra, I would have soon been assassinated, along with all your cousins, to ensure I couldn’t declare a new heir. In Domus, you were safe from court intrigue.”
“You do not have to stay, father.”
“Yes, I do. You’re my daughter, and I won’t leave you helpless in the hands of Ra. As long as I live, Fu Dor will be a safe-haven for you. Ra doesn’t believe the scrolls, but I do. Ares is dying, just as the prophecies said it would when the grace of heaven and Luna were destroyed. The Holy Ark is our people’s only hope, and Chan is the best man to lead them. I only wish he had been born as my own son, making none of this necessary.”
“Forgive me father, for being born a woman.”
“There is nothing that needs to be forgiven. I love you with all my heart. Everything I’ve done has been to keep you safe. Marrying you to Lord James might have been a mistake for which I take all the blame. All he wanted from you was a son, never your love.”
“He already had all the love he needed from the God Emperor and his Demon,” Lan whispered. “I never stood a chance, though I could have acted better. My son will not share my fate for, though I hate to admit it, Lord Kyle is a loving Demon.”
“Demons are the guardians of the soul, or so the scrolls say. I am sorry I cannot let you keep your son, but he must escape our doomed world with the messengers from heaven so our royal line might remain unbroken. You should go now, daughter. Before the sun sets, you shall be wed and there will be a feast. The last great feast this palace will ever see, I fear.”
“Yes, father. Maybe the storm will pass and everything will go back to the way things used to be.”
“If only it could be so,” Kong whispered, while his happy daughter hurried away to prepare for the wedding.
“Summon my doctor, and then clear the room,” Kong ordered after his daughter was gone.
“You summoned me?” Yadish said. He was the Famulus healer who had fled all the way to Fu Dor to escape the wrath of Senator Perils, so many years ago.
“I want you to prepare a potion, a very special one. It must kill the man who drinks it, but not for many days after it is drunk.”
“There are certain mushrooms that can achieve such a death, but why would you want to use such a poison on a man?”
“It is for my future son-in-law, Emperor Ro. I want it to be slipped into his food during the wedding banquet tonight. His food tasters will of course check for poison, which means the mushrooms must be well hidden and must be slow to kill. If need be, it must be placed in all the food, so as not to raise his suspicions. There must not be an antidote.”
“There is an antidote, but it is very rare these days, and I very much doubt any of the emperor’s physicians know of its existence. I, myself, can only produce a single dose of the elixir. It is a universal antidote to almost all forms of death, and is something I have kept as a treasure in case your majesty’s life ever needed it.”
“Save it for my daughter.”
“I would not recommend that, your majesty. This elixir has a strange and powerful effect on all who take it. It is called ‘Lady’s Folly’, if taken by a woman. Your daughter would be dishonored and greatly shamed by what it would do to her.”
“Then you must make sure she does not take the poison.”
“She should not marry the Emperor of Wu Yan in the first place, then.”
“It is what she wants, and I am too weary to deny her anything anymore.”
“Yet, you plan to kill her new husband.”
“I know what kind of man Sun Ra is. He would treat my daughter like a possession. As soon as he is wed to my daughter, he will have no further use for her. I am already sending the members of my clan to the Ark, so they do not end up killed as Ra tries to secure Fu Dor for himself. The fool believes that there is still a future for him on Ares, though the grace of heaven has left the land. The storm will not end, our crops and herds will die, and the seas will become unsafe for our ships. No one who remains on this world will survive, now that even the gods are abandoning it.”
“Then why not force your daughter to go on the Ark with the rest of your Clan? I can make a sleeping tonic that will make sure she does not resist until it’s too late.”
“Most kind of you, Yadish, but you should be thanking about your own life. I must give up my daughter. It is the price Sun Ra demands for handing over his portion of the Imperial treasures. You are one of the Famulus. Surely the gods will accept you aboard the Ark
“I am old, your majesty. If Ares is to die, let my place aboard the ark be taken by a younger man who has yet to live.”
“Then we will die together, but not before that snake of an Emperor. Make sure Sun Ro is poisoned, and I will give you whatever your heart desires.”
“My only wish is to remain here and serve you, your majesty. Your kindness to me over the years is a debt I will never be able to repay.”
That night, after the wedding, a great feast was held in honor of the newly wedded couple. The main dish was roast pork, stuffed with wild mushrooms. All the guests ate the meat except Princess Lan, who had never liked pork, even as a child. Sun Ro, however, had two servings of the dish after having watched Pan Kong eat his.
As the final course of sweet cakes and tea were served, Kong began to feel suddenly ill. As he felt his heart began to fail, he saw Sun Ro smiling at him evilly. The Emperor of Wu Yan had wasted no time in removing his rival.
Yadish, however had been waiting for this moment of treachery to arrive, and left his seat at the banquet table holding a small jade vial in his hand. Pouring its contents into the king’s tea, he poured it down Kong’s throat while the king’s guards brought a stretcher to carry him to his bedroom. There, a tall, pale-skinned man dressed in a military uniform and with the wings of an Angel waited.
“Pan Kong, I’ve come for you,” Admiral James whispered as he approached the king.
“You are the one who broke my daughter’s heart.”
“I never had your daughter’s heart, your majesty, but I could have been a better husband. Your new son-in-law has betrayed you, but you already knew that. Yadish told me of your plans. I find I cannot let such a kind man as yourself die on this doomed world.”
“I cannot abandon my daughter.”
“This is what she wants, your majesty. You can no longer protect her from her own foolishness. Yadish and I will protect you, however. He has already gone to the court to tell them of your death and, in a way, you have died.”
“What do you mean?”
“Yadish saved your life the only way he knew how. He gave you his last vial of anima to save you. Already, the elixir is having its affect on you. Look in your mirror and see for yourself.
Sitting up from his bed, Kong looked at his reflection. Gone were the wrinkles and gray hair of his old age, replaced by the long lost vigor of his youth. “How can this be possible?”
“It is the gift anima has bestowed on you, your majesty. Yadish, however, does have a price for saving your life. You must agree to come with me to Mordel, so you can be a proper grandfather to my son, Devon.”
“I’ve already made Chan head of the clan.”
“That doesn’t have to change. I doubt any of your people would recognize you as you now are. Come with me and live this second life we have given you.”
“I cannot abandon Lan.”
“Lan has abandoned you, your majesty. By now, the court knows of your death. Yet, note how none have come to grieve over you. Everyone knows who had you killed, and not even your daughter is willing to cross her new king. You have already seen to your own revenge. I ask your forgiveness for failing as a husband to Lan. I ask that you do not punish your grandson and true heir by leaving him without your wisdom.”
“Will you not be a father to him?”
“I will be there for him until he is a man, but a time will come when all gods must rest. It will be many centuries before Mordel reaches its new home and, even then, I will not be able to be with my son until the time of Awakening arrives. What I am offering is a chance for you to become the guardian of your own people, and that of my son. Will that not give you the honor you seek?”
“And what of my daughter? How can I keep my honor if I abandon her to die?”
“Do you want me to save her? Even against her own will, and at the cost of your revenge on Sun Ro?”
“Come to me, Kong. There is something you must understand before I grant your request.”
Feeling compelled to obey, Kong left the bed and walked toward James, letting the tall Angel hold him in his arms. “Can you feel it, Kong? The seeds of new unfulfilled desires growing inside you? These feelings are also a part of your new life.” James bent down and kissed the golden skinned man, leading him back to the bed where he showed him the ways of his new desires.
“I didn’t know it could be this way,” Kong whispered as he rested atop James’ body.
“It wasn’t this way, until the soul of a Centurion was joined with yours. Life will never be the same for you again. Trying to hold onto the past will only cause you pain and grief.”
“My daughter will despise me for what we’ve just done, especially since it was with you. My nephew, Chan, has these feelings. It was why I could never make him my heir, no matter how skilled an administrator he was. Lan would often mock him for his taste in men. Will she now mock me?”
“She certainly mocked Kyle and me enough about our love. She has always wanted to marry Ro, your majesty. Why deny her that happiness? There is still time to save Ro’s life, so they might happily spend what time is left for Ares.”
“Is that what you wish for your former wife?”
“It’s what I should have given her in the first place,” James replied.
“So be it. Give him whatever cure you have, but do not let them know I still live or what has become of me. My daughter will grieve better, if she never learns of how I’ve changed.”
“Yadish and I have already seen that you will escape the palace unnoticed. As for a cure, I have already seen it put in the potion Ro plans to drink tonight before making love to Lan.”
“So, it was always your intent to save him, regardless of what I said.”
“Would you believe me, if I told you I knew you would make the right decision? Lan might not be the ideal wife, nor is Sun Ro the perfect husband, but they do love each other. Why deny them their happiness? Why deny it for yourself, for that matter?”
“Take me to my grandson. I will feel better seeing the future of my people with my own eyes,” Kong said, surrendering his past as he accepted his future.
“It done, Jason,” James whispered as he entered the bedroom where Jason’s children were sleeping. “CEMS and the Aminani are examining the treasures given to us by the southerners. They seem to be preserved samples of ancient Gaian technology, more advanced than anything the Mordelians and Togos ever had.
“The Golden Book is the most interesting. It seems to be a historical record of the ten-thousand year reign of the Gaian Empire, back to the days of its founding and up to its collapse. The Sword and Shield of Giants are miniaturized versions of gravity weapons, which we will need to adapt if we are going to pass through the debris field that now surrounds Ares. It won’t take too long. CEMS is already building the parts necessary, so the guns and shield emitters should be completed soon. The Mirror of Doors will take us longer to adapt. It allows us to fold space at greater distances, and could shorten our journey to the Sol System by half, once we have a working system operational.
“The Togo succeeded in repelling the first wave of attacks on Atlantis, but the main Dominus army will be upon them soon. They will have no choice but to launch without us and risk the debris field, if we’re not ready in time.
“I’ve already ordered the mining crew on Wraith Island to head back to Mordel with as much ore as they’ve been able to mine. It should be enough to see the city rebuilt, and leave us with enough resources to perform any repairs on our journey.”
“Is that everything?” Jason whispered, when James didn’t say anything more.
“Other than the fact that I love you, and wish there was more I could do to help you, I don’t know what more I can say.”
“We need to decide when we’re going to enter the cryo-chambers.”
“Not until the children are grown and can make their own choices on whether to join us or not.”
“I agree,” Jason nodded, not taking his eyes off his sleeping sons.
Walking up behind Jason, James wrapped his arms around him. “You made the right choice, Jason. Your sons do deserve a chance to live on Terra.”
“Then why am I not sending these two to Atlantis.”
“Because you can’t. Kyle would never forgive you if you did, for starters. Mostly, you’re just too happy just to have these two around, to dare send them away.”
“Does that make me selfish?”
“No, it makes you a father. I, too, should have sent Lan and Devon to Atlantis instead of bringing them here. I just couldn’t stomach the idea of leaving Ares, having never seen my own son, which makes my feelings more selfish than yours.”
“I want to bring the other boys here, but I dare not. They deserve better than to live out the centuries on a dead planet.”
“We all agreed with that, yet I do understand your pain. Varrus will take good care of your sons, and make sure they know of the sacrifices you’ve made for them so they could live free.”
“I’m going to miss them so much,” Jason said as he broke down into tears.
“I know,” James said, as he rocked Jason in his arms. “There isn’t a day that passes when Kyle doesn’t cry.
“CEMS has made her latest calculations on the debris field. We cannot stay here much longer. The largest chuck, five hundred miles in diameter, will crash into the Barrier Ocean in twenty-eight days. The resulting tidal waves will cover most of the land. Not even our gravity fields will be able to protect us against such a force. I doubt the Togo can hold out that long, anyway.”
“Then we’d better begin moving the refugees into the cryo-chambers so there’ll be more space in the rest of the city.”
“I’ll see to it at once.”
“Tell CEMS to fold space to Aquanos. As many people from Domus must be saved as possible. I won’t let the history of our people die with Ares.”
“It shall be done, once I see you to bed. Where’s Philip, by the way?”
“Seeing to things I can’t bear to do myself.”
“I will see that Louis joins you in bed, so your visions do not bother you tonight,” James said as he led Jason out of his children’s room.
“Thank you for all you’ve done today, James. I’m trying my best not to fall apart.”
“You can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, Jason. No one can. You’re saving as many live as possible. That’s all that anyone can ask of you. The prophecies all said this day would come. There was nothing you could do to stop it from happening, so stop blaming yourself. You are a hero, the savior of countless millions. That is what the people will remember after they finish grieving over those they lost.”
“Send what military help we can to the Togo. They must be able to hold out a little longer, until we can help them escape the debris field.”
“I will tell Major Scott to do what he can. It will be a little easier once we’ve folded to Aquanos, but we’ll still be a great distance from Atlantis.”
“I know, but I won’t risk both cities being in the same place. It won’t take the Dominus long to learn where we are, once we appear in Aquanos. We must collect as many refugees as possible, and then fold someplace else.”
“We must be careful with the number of folds we do. We could easily put too much stress on our only gravity drive. It will be some time before we are able to build a proper one for the entire city.”
“It’s the best defense against the Dominus we have. We’ve been lucky so far, that they haven’t figured it out yet,” Jason said as he let James open his bedroom door.
“Tomorrow is the ground break ceremony for the new Tower One. Do you plan to be there?”
“I have to. As Rex of the Dalfs, I have to show proper leadership. As soon as Everett is ready, I will gladly hand the title over to him.”
“That might be a while. He’s not even born yet.”
“I know. Scott and Thomas will be visiting me tonight. They want some private time with me.”
“I know what that means. Kyle expects the same from me.”
“Then you’d better get going. I would hate to see him claw your eyes out.”
“Kyle would never do that. He wouldn’t have even done the same to you if you sent the children to Atlantis. He would only have sulked until he got his own way.”
Turning on the bedroom lights, Jason could only shake his head and smile when he saw Thomas and Scott already naked on the bed.
“We heard someone was having bad dreams and thought we could help,” Thomas said innocently.
“Take good care of him, Thomas. It’s been a rough day,” James said as he slapped Jason on the back before leaving.
“Don’t worry, we know how to keep his mind off things. Don’t we Scott?” Thomas laughed as he left the bed to join Jason. With a gentle touch, he entered Jason’s mind, removing any stress, grief, and anxiety from the Angel. “Doesn’t that feel much better?”
“Yes,” Jason moaned as his body began to relax. “If only I could live like this.”
“That can be arranged,” Scott said as he, too, left the bed and began removing Jason’s Dalf uniform.
“There’s still too much I need to do,” Jason whispered in a sedated voice.
“Let’s not think about that for now,” Scott said as he lowered Jason’s pants. “Thomas has often told me about the time Brutus was conceived as being one of the most fantastic nights of his life.”
“He’ll be more comfortable on the bed,” Thomas suggested. Still in Jason’s mind, he stimulated Jason’s sexual urges. By the time they were all lying down, he was a more than willing participant in the threesome, which, due to Thomas’s skills, lasted through several hours and orgasms.
“That was amazing,” Scott chuckled, once Thomas sent Jason into a dreamless slumber.
“That’s Jason for you. He’s beautiful through and through. I just wish there was more we could do for him.”
“Maybe we should ask the Prime for help. With everything that is now happening, it’s too much for Jason to endure alone.”
“The Prime has offered to shield Jason with the Animani overmind. Tens of thousands of minds would be able to endure what Jason is going through easier than Jason by himself, but he has refused their help.”
“I wish he would,” a deep voice said from the darkened doorway.
“Philip. Good, you’re back. Jason will wake up feeling a lot better with you holding him in your arms.” Thomas smiled, his green eyes shimmering in the darkness.
“His dreams. Is there anything you can do to stop them?” Philip asked as he slowly approached the bed.
“A Grau can block them, but he must be in the same room to do it.”
“I know you’re busy, Thomas. We all are, but I would be in your debt if you would stay close to Jason from now on. His visions are worse than before. At least they upset him more, mostly because, when the visions stopped, he thought the worst was over.”
“Jason has always been a lover of fairytales, always looking for his happy ending. With the fall of Ares, I think he’s starting to believe his will never happen.”
“When he enters the deep sleep with me, he will have a chance to recover,” Philip promised. “It might just be a dream, but at least it won’t be a nightmare.”
“It will probably take that long for him to recover. I just wished I could join you.”
Climbing into the bed, Philip snuggled up to his Angel. “You and Scott deserve a life with each other. Anyway, you’re now the recognized leader of the Grau. I can’t say I fully trust them yet, but I do trust you two.”
“I’m not sure I trust all my fellow Grau, either. Alex and Trevor seem to be getting along nicely.”
“It’s a forced relationship. Jason pretty much insisted that the two of them work together. They’re trying to make things work, if only for Jason’s sake. Once we’ve gone into the deep sleep, I don’t think it will last. Trevor doesn’t need to be awake to remain in contact with CEMS. In the end, I believe Alex will be alone once more.”
“I’ll try to keep an eye on your brother,” Thomas promised.
“With all the Legatio he killed, Alex has sort of put himself in the position he’s now in. Except for Jason, he’s the only man in position to keep the city together over the long centuries.” As they spoke, the room began to shudder as the city prepared to fold space for the waters outside Aquanos. When the shaking stopped, Philip let out a sigh. “Don’t wake Jason up. Whatever decisions need to be made about the refugees, I’ll make for him. Life and death decisions are a warrior’s job, after all. Deciding who, among the people of Domus, to save is just too much to ask of my lover.
“We’ll take care of him, Philip. We promise,” Scott swore.
“I would send Louis to help, but he’s still recovering from his injuries. His new cybernetic limbs are proving to be quite a challenge for him.”
“Geoff should be able to help with that. If you’re going to send anybody, send Gideon.”
“Gideon has been avoiding everyone but Geoff, since arriving,” Philip grunted. “I’ve tried to speak with him, but he’s always off doing something else.”
“He has the guilt of two people on his conscience. Gideon has some idea of what happened to Jason after he was taken away by the Dominus. He also knows what he did to Sin in order to end the curse. I will see that he sees Jason, once the worst of the evacuation is over,” Thomas promised.
“Good,” Philip murmured as he closed his eyes, exhausted from his own trials.
“Things will get better, won’t they?” Scott asked Thomas.
“For us Mordelians, they already have. We all have a debt to Jason that I don’t know if we can ever repay. We must try, though. Try to create a world where a man as good as Jason can find the peace and happiness he so greatly deserves.”
Ivan looked at the dark Central Pillar during Mordel’s night cycle, a deep throbbing pain in his heart. “We must find a way to see Jason,” he told his lover, Dmitri.
“It would only upset him.”
“But we’re the only ones who can help him now. This is our fault. We gave him our blood. Unless he feeds, his nightmares will only grow worse.”
“But they’re not nightmares, Ivan. What he’s seeing is our possible future. We have the same gift, though nothing as far-reaching as the Angel’s.”
“It is our fault. From what our spies say, Lord James is not suffering the same malady. Our gift has created something far worse in Jason. We must do something about it before despair destroys him.”
“We would never get past the Pillar’s security, let alone Jason’s small army of bodyguards.”
“There is someone who might be able to… Lord Gideon.”
“Lord Gideon has no love for us.”
“But he understands us, our limits, our strengths. He will know what we say about Jason’s visions are true,” Ivan insisted.
“Gideon is surrounded by the Winged Guard, so how are we to get close to him.”
“We use one of our Blood-Children to send a message to him, asking for a meeting.”
“He will suspect a trap. He knows we have no love for him, either,” Dmitri pointed out.
“Still, he will come, even if it is to trap us.”
“You want us to risk becoming his prisoners?”
“Yes, I am willing. You’re free to make up your own mind. I owe Jason too much to let him suffer more, because of what we Nosferatu did to him.”
“I take it you know where Gideon is at this moment?”
“Of course I do. We are gifted with the Sight, after all.”
“Then, you’ve already sent your message.”
“Yes, I have.” Ivan chuckled.
“If everything is already in place, why are you acting like you want my permission?”
“I want you to come along with me, that’s why.”
“Very well, my beloved prince. Life would get incredibly dull if I lost you. Where are we to meet Lord Gideon?”
“Right where we are standing,” Ivan said with a wink.
“You leave nothing to chance, do you?”
“I am the Prince. My gift of Sight has always been more keen than your own, beloved.”
“So when will Gideon arrive?”
“He’s waiting for us inside the warehouse across the street. We should probably go inside and join him, since I’m certain we are already being watched.”
“Very well. If this is how we’re supposed to die, I think you would have already told me by now.”
“No. This is not how we’ll die. This is where we make the bargain that will see us from this era into the next.”
“Is it the Sight telling you so?”
“No. My instincts, which are just as sharp,” Ivan said as he left the dark alley to cross the street to the warehouse.
Once both of them were inside the dark building, Ivan quickly noticed that he was as blind as a normal man, which usually shouldn’t have been the case since he had been able to see in the pitch darkness of Omega with no difficulty. “Black light emitters,” he warned Dmitri as he came to a sudden halt. “Gideon, we’re not here to hurt you, just to talk.”
“So your Blood-Child claimed.” Gideon’s voice came from all directions.
“We’re only here to help Jason,” Ivan insisted.
“And how can a blood sucker like yourself help a man you once terrorized?”
“We tried to help Jason, not hurt him,” Dmitri shouted.
“Yet you tried to kill me.”
“Everyone was. We were all scared shitless by you and your curse,.” Ivan replied.
“True enough.” Gideon chuckled as a spotlight turned on under him where he was standing on the other side of the warehouse. “Be quick.”
“We know about Jason’s nightmares. I believe we’re responsible for them. You know both Angels and Nosferatu have the gift of foresight. I fear that, by giving Jason some of our blood, we’ve increased the power of Jason’s gift. That is why you must let us help him. It’s the only way his nightmares will end.”
“And how would you stop Jason’s visions?”
“Through blood, specifically our blood. Among vampires, the visions always get stronger when there has bee a long time since the last time they fed. As a vampire prince, my blood is the most potent and has the best hope of easing Jason’s visions.”
“The blood of a vampire is also very addictive,” Gideon replied.
“The blood of an Angel is more so,” Dmitri shouted.
“So you wish to feed from Jason, is that it?” Gideon said with distaste.
“No, Gideon, we want something else. Once we reach this unnamed world, we want you to let us leave and form our own colony on the dead planet. We want to take as many of our Blood Children as we want.”
“You can take them all, for all I care. Why do you want this? It will make life that much harder for you.”
“Jason’s blood has been affecting my own gift of Sight. There are things I have seen. I told Jason in the beginning that there would come a time when he would need us. When that time comes, my followers and I must not be trapped in Mordel with him, but be free to act on our own.”
“Very well. I will take you to the Animani, who will draw the blood from you. That is the closest I will let you near Jason, understood?”
“There are things I must tell Jason, things he needs to understand,” Ivan insisted.
“I will never let your kind near Jason. Accept my deal, or leave. Those are your only options.”
“Very well. We accept your terms,” Ivan said, knowing he had little choice. With that, the light went out and all Ivan and Dmitri could see was darkness once more. Before they knew it, they had been tackled, restrained, and thrown into the back of an APC. With guns pointed at their heads the entire trip, they were taken to a nearby Animani clinic where the blood was drawn from them. They were then dumped back at the warehouse, restrained in their cuffs until the timer on the locks expired.
“Was it really worth it?” Dmitri asked as he rubbed his sore wrists.
“If Gideon keeps his end of the bargain, then yes, I would have to say we’re now in his debt,” Ivan said as he started to laugh.
“So, that’s what Ivan said,” Thomas grunted after Gideon gave him his story. “I’m surprised I didn’t think of that in the first place. I should have, when James didn’t have similar visions.”
“Will the blood work?” Gideon demanded.
“It should. I take it the Animani were smart enough to collect bone marrow samples so we can make more of the blood.”
“They did,” Gideon nodded. “If you don’t have further questions, I should go back on patrol. The Rats are still trying to loot many of the buildings that were damaged during the revolt.”
“No, Gideon, stay here. Jason will want to speak to you himself.”
“I’ve already told you everything I know.”
“Gideon, you shouldn’t be hiding yourself like this. Jason needs you, right now, more than ever. No matter how guilty you feel about what happened, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re one of Jason’s dearest friends. You’ve been hurting yourself, and him, by avoiding him.”
“I’ve done so many terrible things, Thomas. I don’t think I can stand to face Jason.”
“He’s forgiven Alex. Hell, he’s forgiven me, and I’ve done some real shitty things to him in the past. He doesn’t blame you for anything. Trust me, I’m a telepath. I would know if he did. If you don’t come with me willingly, I’ll force you, and we both don’t want that, do we?”
“Since you’re not giving me much of a choice…”
“Good, I knew I could get you to agree,” Thomas smirked as he led Gideon toward Jason’s bedroom. At the doorway they were met by Jacob, who jumped on Gideon and frantically started licking the man’s face. “There, doesn’t that make you feel better? Even Jacob still loves you.”
“He always was a silly wolf,” Gideon said, not able to hold back a chuckle.
Thomas opened the door. “Come inside, Gideon. We’ve been keeping Jason asleep while we evacuate as many people as possible from Domus.”
“That’s probably for the best. You shouldn’t wake him on my account.”
“But I will. Seeing your face again should do wonders for Jason’s spirits while the Animani prepare the blood transfusion.”
“So, he’s finally come,” Scott said from where he was sharing the bed with Jason.
“Out of the bed, you. Let’s give these two old friends plenty of space,” Thomas ordered.
“As you command, my love,” Scott said as he left the bed for Gideon.
On reaching the bed, Thomas gave Gideon a hard shove, causing him to fall down on the mattress. “In you go. Now, get comfy. Jason will wake up soon.”
Jason woke up very quickly and almost jumped out of the bed when he saw who was lying next to him. “Gideon,” he shouted.
“Hello, Jason,” Gideon replied sheepishly.
“I was wondering if you would ever come see me. So has Philip.”
“I know, and I’m sorry for causing you such worry. I didn’t know what I could say to make things right between us.”
Reaching out, Jason touched Gideon all over, as if to make sure he was real. “What do you mean?”
“I mean all those terrible things I did to you, back when I was cursed.”
“Listen to me, Gideon, none of that was your fault,” Jason said as he stared into Gideon’s eyes.
“I wish I could forgive myself that easily.”
“I know. I can’t promise you ever will, but I will try to help you make that possible. I want you to join me in the dreaming, with the others.”
“I would feel honored,” Gideon nodded excitedly.
“People think I’m trying to run away from everything, but I’m not. I’m just too broken to be of much use to anyone. I need a chance to recover from everything, a chance to live out the kind of life I’ve always wanted for me, Philip, and those dear to us both, you included.”
“What about Alex? I understand he’s not going to be part of the Dreaming.”
“Only because he’s the only one of us who can survive the long years, remaining awake. I know I’m asking a lot of him, but I can’t keep on trying to save everyone only to see myself fail.”
“You can’t save everyone. Some people don’t want to be saved and won’t let you, no matter how hard you try.”
“I’m starting to learn that, though it’s proving to be a painful lesson,” Jason said as two Animani medics enter the room.
“Look, Jason, I know why you’ve been having these nightmares of yours. It’s because of the vampire blood Ivan and Dmitri gave you. It has magnified the power of your Sight.”
“Is there a cure?”
“There is only one cure, and that is more blood, vampire blood in particular. Ivan and Dmitri agreed to provide as much as you need, but there’s a catch.”
“There always is with those two,” Jason sighed as the IV was connected to his vein.
“Once we reach our destination, you must agree to let them form their own splinter colony, away from Mordel. They’ll still be on the same world as we are, so there’s no worry that they’ll move on to Terra, but Ivan has been having his own visions caused by your Angel’s blood. He believes there will come a time when you will need his help, and he will only be able to provide it if he is not trapped in Mordel with you. Are such terms acceptable to you?”
After a long pause Jason nodded his head. “Yes, but I want one condition of my own. Ivan must agree to take the Symbiots along with him.”
“The Symbiots?” Gideon replied, taken aback. “Those monsters? Why would he want anything to do with them?”
“I don’t care if he wants nothing to do with them. I just want both of them out of the city.”
“I don’t know if he will accept such terms. Even I’ve heard the stories of what the Symbiots did to the Dominus.”
“It has to be Ivan and his vampires. For some reason, their blood and that of the Symbiots are incompatible. Ivan and his people are the only ones who can be around the Symbiots and not have to worry about the parasites attacking them.”
“I will make sure Ivan gets your message, but I can’t promise he’ll agree to this term.”
“If his visions are true, he’ll agree to it,” Jason said assuredly. “It would get rid of a few of my own nightmares, at least. Oh, Gideon, I’ve missed you so much.”
“Gideon Sin now,” his friend reminded him.
“I know. I hope you don’t mind sharing the captaincy of the winged guard with Logan and Geoff?”
“Those two love birds? They’ve been treating me wonderfully. Those blast spears are amazing.”
“I don’t know. I miss the simpler days when I could defend myself with a plain old ordinary quarterstaff.”
“Speaking of technology, you’re right about Atlantis.”
“So you know I’ve ordered Varrus to see it destroyed once our people have a chance to leave?”
“Geoff told me. If the people of Terra are really that primitive, they wouldn’t stand a chance against this new technology.”
“Promise me you won’t leave my side until we go into the dreaming,” Jason pleaded.
“I won’t. I don’t want to leave you. I’m really sorry about your wings. I remember how much fun we used to have tickling each other with our feathers. The palace maids would constantly complain about the mess we made.”
“Those were better days. Maybe those days will come again.”
“They will, in the Dreaming. You’ll be able to have whatever you want, even your wings.”
“It will still be several years until then. I must see my boys into manhood before I can truly rest.”
“I understand you and Trevor will soon be having a son.”
“It’s what I promised him. I can’t step down as the Alpha until Everett can take my place.”
“What if he doesn’t want to?”
“If he’s anything like Trevor, he will,” Jason laughed.
“You’re awake.” Philip’s voice came from the doorway.
“Look who finally decided to visit us,” Jason said, as he gave his husband a wide smile.
“Well, it’s about time he showed up.” Anything that could get Jason to smile like that had to be good news in Philip’s book.
“He’s agreed to join us in the Dreaming.”
Going to the bed, Philip sat down on its edge. “Good, the more the merrier. The last of the evacuees from Domus have just been put in the cryo-chambers. We’ll be folding space soon.”
“How hard was it?” Jason asked.
“It wasn’t easy. We had to include all the Legatio, just to ensure there will be future generations of Centurions. I had the entire Home Guard join us, as well. We still had over two million spots left for the Famulus and the refugees from the other kingdoms, but choosing from them wasn’t easy. For every one we picked, five were left behind. We picked tradesmen, artisans, and scholars, and very few farmers and the like, since it is a dead world we’re heading for. I picked from the young and strong, those who would most likely survive the deep sleep. I know you would have done otherwise, but I didn’t pick any children other than the few Legatio. Life is going to be hard where we’re going. It wouldn’t be fair to try and raise a child on such a world.”
“I understand. You probably made the right choice,” Jason said, a sad expression on his face. “I couldn’t have done the task myself, to be honest.”
“Which is why I did it for you, my husband. You’ve already done too much. It’s time you started to rely on me, for a change. Not that I’ve been the most reliable husband over the years. That’s something I want to change.” Philip reached out and caressed his lover’s face. As the city began to shake once more, Patrick and Ben came running into the room, scared.
“Who are you?” Ben asked Gideon after Jason and Philip had comforted the boys.
“I’m Gideon. I’m one of your father’s best friends.”
“Is he, papa?” Patrick asked.
“He is, indeed.” Jason smiled.
“Why have we never seen you before?”
“Gideon was sick, but now he’s all better,” Jason explained, while Gideon blushed with embarrassment. “He’s never going to leave us again, so you two are going to be seeing a lot of him.”
“Is he an uncle?” Patrick asked. He was used to calling all his father’s closest friends uncle. It was a title of assurance.
“Yes, he is,” Philip said, smiling at Gideon. “He’s your Uncle, Gideon Sin.”
“Good. I like having a lot of uncles,” Patrick said as he sat himself down in Gideon’s lap. Now that he knew Gideon was an uncle, he had his complete trust.
“Your boys are a pair of treasures,” Gideon said as he played with Patrick’s dirty blond hair.
“They are more valuable to me than the entire treasury of Domus and Qul Tos combined,” Jason said as he held Ben in his lap.
Fifteen years later:
“Father, are you sure this is still what you want?” Patrick asked, as he stood with Jason in the cryo-room. The crystal sleeping chambers covered the towering walls of the cold room.
“I’ve been planning for this day for a long time, son,” Jason said. He wished that Ben was here as well, but the young man had been so upset that he had refused to say goodbye as gesture of protest. “Your Uncle Philip cannot survive the long journey to our new home, and I cannot survive without him.”
“But we’ll only have Uncle Alex, Thomas, and Scott left, if you and the others go,” Patrick said as cold tears stung his face.
“It’s for the best. Some wounds take time to heal and some never do. I need a chance to heal, my son, and you need a chance to become your own man. One day we will be reunited but, for now, you and I will have to be apart. Promise me you will keep an eye on Ben for me. He does love you.”
“I wish he’d never decided to become a Demon Spawn.”
“It’s what he wanted. He always admired Philip and Kyle. It was his dream to grow up to be strong so he can protect you, my son.”
“But he will have to go into the deep sleep, or die himself.”
“Everyone dies eventually, Patrick. That’s one pain we cannot escape through living. Be strong, and remember what you’ve been taught. The Mordelians and Atlantians are all that are left of our homeworld of Ares. The Dominus saw to that. You are an excellent storyteller, and know the histories of our people better than anyone. Keep our legends alive, and remind our people that, though we’ve escaped, the danger has yet to pass. One day, the nightmares of Ares will come upon us once again. We must not let Terra share the same fate as Ares.”
“The chamber is ready, your majesty,” Animani Prime interrupted.
Turning around, Jason saw the crystal chamber already containing his sleeping husband, the sliver band of the Dreaming device around Philip’s head. Facing Patrick again, Jason kissed him on the forehead. “Know that my love will always be with you, my son.”
“I will always love you, papa,” Patrick wept.
“Watch over my sons, Alex, and lead the city well.”
“I will do my best to prove myself worthy of your trust. You should go now. Philip has been waiting years for you to join him in the Dreaming. He’s waited long enough.”
“Everett, you’re now Alpha of the Dalfs. I have no doubt you will lead them as well as your father did.”
“I will never be able to match your leadership, father.” Everett, now a tall grown man, did his best not to weep.
“CEMS will always be with you, should you need her. I’m sorry Alex, that it didn’t work out for you and Trevor.”
“It was bound to happen. He never stopped loving you, and you can’t have two stubborn men wanting to be in charge. May he find the happiness he wants with you, in the Dreaming.”
“You, too, will one day find happiness, Alex.”
“Have you seen it in a vision?”
“No, even better, it’s what I believe in my heart,” Jason said as he gave Alex a final kiss. Going to the sleeping chamber, he discarded his robe and placed the sliver Dreaming device the Animani had devised for him over his brow. He then lay down inside the chamber, curling up against Philip’s dark body.
“Until the time of Awakening, be well, Jason, Savior of Mordel,” the prime whispered as he closed the crystal around Jason.
“Be well, all of you,” Jason whispered as he began to fall asleep. The last thing Jason felt was Philip’s arms instinctively wrapping around his pale body.
“So this is the end,” Alex cried, as the glass of the crystal began to fog.
“One era ends and another begins. The age of the Centurion is truly over. The future is now in the hands of their children,” the Prime said. Gathered all around them were the dark haired youths of the second generation of Animani, who had all come to say goodbye to the man who had given them life and taught them love. They represented the future of Mordel that Jason had fought so hard to give them. With the emperor’s passing into the deep sleep, the guardianship of mankind was now truly theirs.
As Jason entered the dreaming, he found himself standing in a field of corn. A large farmhouse stood on a hill in the distance. Leaving the field, he smiled to find Philip and all his dearest friends standing there, waiting for him with welcome arms. The time of healing had finally begun.
So ends the Centurion Cycle:
But not the end of all things
To be continued in ‘The Nano Wars Cycle'
Book I: Rebirth
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