Qul Tos, the Gem of the East, was celebrating its first anniversary of its victory over the once great Confederacy, now shattered. That did not mean the end of all conflict, however. Only a week ago had the last of the nobles and their supporters, who had revolted against King Jason's rule, had been captured and brought to the capital to face judgment. Today the citizens of Qul Tos were celebrating that end with the hope that a new age of peace and prosperity would now begin. That at least is what Jason, now called the Holy King of Qul Tos, saw when he looked over the battlements of the Labyrinth Keep, high above the city, a people who had come to love their young ruler for his kindness and steady hand. Behind him, however, in the Keep's central courtyard he could hear the moans and sobs of the treacherous nobles waiting for judgment.
"I do not want to do this Geoff," Jason sighed, reaching to squeeze the Captain of his Winged Guard's nearest hand.
"It is what must be done. The royal council was unanimous in its decision. You offered these traitors amnesty six months ago but still they fought you, burning and pillaging your lands and killing many who chose to be loyal to you. You might be able to forgive them but justice must be done."
"I know but I've never killed this way before, with words that is."
"You are the king. It is your right and responsibility to pass judgment on these traitors."
"Have the young ones been taken away?"
"Yes, though it is not a Tosian custom, every boy and girl under the age of twenty-one will be spared as is the tradition of the Empire. As a Tosian, I must say that is being overgenerous of you. According to our laws, any man or woman found guilty of raising a sword against his king or speaking words of treason is to be sentenced to death, regardless of age."
"Do not make me a monster as well as an executioner," Jason said coldly, turning around to look at the prisoners below. "I know what I am doing."
"I was in the council chambers when you told us your plan for the young nobles. It is not without its risks."
"I know but it is my nature to hope for the best. Will you deny me the hope that they will find the same healing I found among the Centurions?"
"It is not the children I am worried about... you are turning your Centurion officers into fathers whether they want to be or not."
"Every Centurion wants to be a father... they just find women to be so bewildering." Jason chuckled softly. "At least these Tosians are sturdier than any Legatio child a Centurion might have. That was always hard for them... to be great warriors but to have sons who can so easily break."
"If what I've heard is true Philip and the others broke you a few times before you were raised to divinity."
Letting out a sigh, Jason covered his eyes with one hand in weariness. "Please, Geoff do not bring up the subject of my so-called divinity up again. Not today at least. Not with what I'm about to do."
Placing a hand on Jason's shoulder Geoff gave it a squeeze. "It is what your people believe. All over Qul Tos temples are being built in your honor."
"And what do they pray more than anything? That I protect them from my divine wrath... Philip and his kin. How have I let my people come to see Philip, my lover, as an evil I must protect them from?" Jason said bitterly.
"You know why Jason," Geoff whispered. "Many have made pilgrimages to the Valley of Bones in the Tosian Mountains where Philip and his Spawn killed fifty thousand Huronites in a single night. You are master of the greatest and most terrible force in all of Ares. Most men would be corrupted by such power but you, because you control Philip through love, have been untouched by its taint."
"I do not control Philip, you know that," Jason said, his face turning slightly gray as he blushed.
"Oh yes you do," Geoff laughed. "You got your leash firmly around him. There is nothing he wouldn't do for you."
"And I for him," Jason replied solemnly.
"Isn't that how love is supposed to work?" Geoff said, reaching up to tickle Jason.
"When it does. Anyway, no relationship is perfect. Even Philip and I have our problems," Jason said, as he bent over to protect his stomach from Geoff's nimble fingers.
"I'll say, in over three thousand years there has never been a pair like you and Philip. Some say this is a sign."
"A sign of what... that a Centurion finally got lucky with a Legatio?" Gideon said, appearing on the battlements covered by his hooded gray robe.
"Gideon!" Jason laughed, going to embrace his best friend, the Duke of Qul Hoth.
"Well, well, glad to be here on this special day," Gideon laughed, reaching down to grope Jason's rear.
"You never know when to stop?"
"You and Varrus want to give me a lesson?" Gideon said sarcastically.
"I should send you to Commandant Oktor."
"How is the old man doing?"
"He is well... still hasn't learned how to incorporate his new wings into his fist fighting style yet," Jason said happy to have his friend back with him. Looking at Gideon's face, half hidden by his hood, Jason tried not to wince at the scars that now outlined the veins that branched out from his anima core, covering his entire body. Gideon originally had Geoff's post as Captain of the Winged Guard, one of Jason's Saints. That had been the case until Philip and Gideon, in a moment of playful lust had tried to bond to each other with their anima even though Jason had already claimed them both. The result had been Gideon's disfigurement and the loss of his wings, curse to live a half-life. "Have you tried to talk to Philip?"
"You still think Philip is going to talk to me ever again?" Gideon sighed, pulling off his hood to reveal his sunken face. "He thinks what happened to me was a result of him betraying you. Imagine that, a Centurion ashamed he committed adultery," he laughed bitterly.
"He felt he took something he shouldn't have," Jason said calmly. "He has admitted to me he was jealous of us."
"Because things between you two are always so serious while we actually had fun," Gideon grinned, revealing his sharpened teeth.
"We were a comedic pair," Jason agreed. "I miss having you near me, Gideon."
"I know but I am not the man I was before. My needs are different. I would never want you to feel ashamed of me."
"And I never will," Jason said placing a hand on Gideon's shoulder.
Reaching back Gideon put his hood over his face again. "I should go soon. I will need to feed tonight I'm afraid. I only came to congratulate you on this most excellent day."
"Gideon..." Jason called as his friend began to walk away.
"Yes?" Gideon replied stopping but not bothering to turn back around.
"You can have one if you like... more than one if you want," Jason said, pointing to the prisoners below.
"Why would you do something like that?" Gideon said surprised as he looked down at the captured nobles.
"Because I know you're lonely. They're all scheduled to be executed anyway."
"I do not think they will see being given to me as such a great mercy," Gideon replied.
"You are still a good man Gideon. You should not live alone," Jason insisted.
"I will pick three then, but in return, you must agree to choose two of the three to serve you."
"I don't understand?"
"Is it not a worthy sacrifice to damn one man in order to save two?"
"This is a mean trick you're playing on me," Jason accused.
"You're the one who is offering his condemned to me."
"I... I apologize. All I was trying to do was help you."
"I know, you too are still a good man," Gideon chuckled. "I pick those three... the older brother and the twins. The twins I give to you. By the look of them, they only seem a couple years over twenty-one. None older than twenty-four at least."
"The Castilian brothers... Why them?" Jason asked. They having a long tradition of marrying into Huronite families across the borders next to their lands had been one of the ardent supports of the revolt.
"I think you and Philip would enjoy having a pair of twins. The older one seems to be a dour man. He seems to have enough steel in him to endure my horrors."
"You're not a monster," Jason said sternly.
"In your eyes only," Gideon replied in a loving, gentle voice. "It will feel good to have a warm body against my own again... at least for as long as he lasts."
"I hear they are starting to call you the Master Puppeteer."
"People come to me... they come to me all the time wishing to escape the responsibilities of life. Some are wealthy nobles wishing to cheat death are willing to give up everything they own for the chance to live longer. If you are not careful Jason Qul Hoth might become as wealthy a city as your own."
"You are too good with that staff of yours for me to challenge in combat. You also know I would never willingly try to beat you. So yes, consider this a challenge given that this is the only way I have left to challenge you by. Promise me you will visit me in Qul Hoth soon. My servants have almost completely rebuilt the city."
"I would greatly like that," Jason said as he waved goodbye to his old friend.
"Poor man," Geoff sighed when Gideon was gone. "Even now he still smells like a week old corpse."
"I still have hope for him," Jason said, standing next to his captain.
Shielding his eyes Geoff looked into Ares red sun. "The sun is about to set Jason. It is time."
"First remove the Castilian brothers. After that, I'll give my judgment."
"As you wish my king," Geoff bowed as he lifted off into the air, to drop down in the crowded courtyard to escort the three brothers away.
As the red sun began to set, turning the white walls of the Keep bright red, Jason turned to face the prisoners, catching the movement of shadows in his eyes. At the appointed time he stepped forward and pronounced his sentence. "Once we were all nobles and as such we had a duty to protect the lives of our people. What other purpose can our kind justly serve? We take taxes from the land, duties from the road and tolls over the waters. We take and take justifying our greed by saying it is for the good of the people for we are there to protect them. Two years ago I freed the people and gave them the right to protect themselves, making many of you redundant. Your greed did not lessen, however. Those people who wished to live in freedom you punished and killed. When the Confederacy invaded our kingdom you betrayed your solemn duty to our lands and its people. When you did that you ceased being nobles and became traitors. There is only one punishment suitable for those who betray not just their king but their kingdom as well... death." Jason said before stepping back from the railing.
One of Jason's Famulus stewards then stepped forward, pounding his silver staff against the rock floor. "By order of the king, all of you must decide your fate. Pass the door to the North and be taken to the Valley of Bones where your own will join them. Pass the door to the East and enter Hell's Gate. Or pass the door to the West and seek heaven's forgiveness. You have until sunrise to decide. Any found left thereafter will be taken to the north gate to be executed in the Valley of Bones.
"What sort of trick is this? Are you saying we can all pass Heaven's door and be forgiven?"
"Only the repentant may be forgiven. We know exactly who those are." Varrus, Jason's High Chancellor, first among the winged Saints said in a booming voice from the west gate. Pass through heaven's door with a false heart and you will be sent to hell."
"To me," Philip said, appearing only in a black loincloth and red belt so all could see him for what he was. For the prisoners, it was the lord of demons. For Jason, it was the man he loved more than anyone.
"Were all those theatrics necessary?" Jason asked near midnight when the last of the prisoners left the courtyard, taking the north gate as had most of the prisoners.
"We wanted to impress on them the seriousness of their decision," Philip chuckled, looking with a lustful stare at where his lover was lying on the bed completely naked, his white skin shimmer in the torchlight.
"And how many made the right decision?" Jason asked. After his speech he had retreated to his and Philip's private quarters. Having fulfilled his duty as king he had not wish to watch any more suffering.
"Most prove to be the cowards they really are and left through the north gate." Philip replied, undoing the belt and knot that held his loincloth in place.
"That is what you and Varrus predicted. How many passed Varrus' test?"
"Seven... only three of them men."
"So few," Jason sighed.
"That is also what we expected. They did refuse your amnesty after all. Those three men are now being paired with your Saints so they can begin their training as acolytes. What I want to know is who those two twins outside our quarters are?" Philip said as he slid up the bed next to Jason.
"A gift from Gideon. I let him pick from the prisoners."
"That was nice of him. He did take someone for himself didn't he?"
"The older brother, Julian" Jason sighed. "Did I do the right thing?"
"That depends," Philip said, chuckling as he rolled on top of his lover.
"On what," Jason laughed, feeling Philip's long tail wrap around his right leg.
"If you will let me have the twins?"
"I think Gideon intended for me to have them." Jason said giving Philip a rueful look.
"But I don't have a pair of identical Spawn," Philip said his fanged teeth failing terribly to produce an effective pout.
"Neither do I," Jason replied doing his best not to sound annoyed.
"But you're always the one complaining about having too many lovers."
"And you always say you don't have enough," Jason replied tapping Philip nose with a long pale finger. "How about we each take one? That way they can keep each other company."
"Very well... shall we take them tonight?"
"No, tomorrow," Jason replied, wrapping his arms around Philip's thick neck. "Tonight is a special night for us both."
"It is almost our first anniversary. In another week it will be a year since I became the Prince Consort."
"You're right it will be," Jason sighed, his face now looking tired.
"What's wrong?' Philip asked concerned.
"The same thing that's been wrong these many months. I just don't have the endurance I used to."
"Today was a busy not to mention hard on you. We don't have to make love tonight if you wish."
"Do not lie Philip... you wish it. You wish it greatly. It has been over a week since we made love."
"You've not been feeling well," Philip said running his large hands through Jason's black hair.
"I've not felt well in a long time," Jason sighed. "I didn't know an Angel can become sick."
"Kristen has checked you himself. He found nothing wrong with you," Philip insisted.
"But something is wrong. It is as if a part of my heart is missing."
"I wish I were enough to fill it," Philip whispered, a gray tear running down his black, lighting streaked face.
Jason chuckled softly as he wiped the tear from his lover's face. "You are more than enough my lecherous husband."
Laughing Philip started tickling Jason's sides. "Lecherous?"
"Would you rather I call you a whore?" Jason retorted not able to hold back his own laughter.
Wrapping his tail around Jason's left bare thigh Philip explored Jason's body with his strong hands. "There is not a Centurion Legion without a few dozen of them."
"And I so happened to fall in love with the biggest one of them all," Jason said giving Philip a playful shove, knocking him back onto the pull downed black silk sheets at the foot of the bed.
Seeing Jason's tired face, Philip crawled over his lover, letting a hand close his Jason's black opal eyes. "Sleep my husband."
"But..." Jason whispered barely in protest.
"Sleep, we do not need do this tonight." Philip said calmly
"But it is my duty..." Jason whispered as sleep took him.
"Sleep my Angel. May you wake up stronger tomorrow," Philip sighed. As his lover slept he watched him trying to see with his keen eyes any sign of aliment. Except for the tired expression on Jason's face Philip could not find a single flaw.
Leaving Jason alone in their large bed Philip opened the door to the bedroom, letting Jacob; Jason's half tamed wolf inside, taking Philip's spot curled up against Jason. Passing the twins he slapped each one playfully on the rear. He then went down the hall and entered the chambers of the High Chancellor, Varrus Argus, Jason mentor and the closest thing both of them had to a best friend.
"Come in," A deep voice said from behind the oak door.
Opening it Philip saw Varrus sitting in his study, his lover Field Marshal Marcus practicing the steps of a twin-ax master in a room the two used for sparring. "Varrus may I speak to you."
"Of course Philip though I am surprised to find you at my doorstep at this hour," Varrus said, standing up to his full seven foot height. "If you're not with Jason, you're down in the Labyrinth playing with your Spawn."
"It's about Jason... something is wrong."
"Something has been wrong for the past few months." Varrus said as he glanced over a long parchment.
"I know. I wish I knew how to help but not even Kristen has been able to figure what is wrong with him."
"What about among the Legatio or Famulus healers?"
"I have asked but they are as clueless as we are."
"Is there anyone you've not talked to?" Philip asked his voice turning frantic as he passed around Varrus' study.
"Only one and that is because we can't find him," Marcus said, placing his pair of axes on a weapon stand.
"Academic Melkior, the oldest Legatio alive. He came to Qul Tos with the other refuges from the Academy but disappeared about six months ago."
"About the time Jason became sick." Philip sighed. "You have no idea where he might be?"
"We have searched the city and palace but found no sign of him. If there is anyone who does know it's Jason." Varrus said as he signed the bottom of the document.
"Why haven't you asked him?"
Varrus folded and sealed the scroll he was working on before answering. "Because he refuses to talk about it."
"Which means he knows something," Philip grunted.
"Jason must have some reason not to tell us where the Academic is." Varrus replied collapsing into his chair behind his desk.
"What about Oktor? He is Commandant of the Academy." Philip said shaking a long clawed finger.
"I have already talked to him but he says he knows nothing." Varrus said rubbing his tired eyes.
"Do you believe him?" Philip replied.
"He gave me no reason not to believe him. That doesn't mean he isn't a good liar." Varrus chuckled.
Rolling his shoulders a few times Philip stretched out his bat like wings to prepare them for flight. "Then I think I will have a chat with our Commandant."
"You will find him in the Valley of Bones overseeing the final construction of the new Academy." Marcus said going behind Varrus to massage his lover's shoulders. "Before you go please ask Jason to lighten Varrus' work load, if he must work though the night much more to keep up with all the paper work he will soon wear out those gorgeous violet eyes he so fell in love with."
"Why do you insist on calling it that," Philip grumbled though he knew the reason all too well.
"The bones of fifty thousand men lie unburied there do they not?"
"Yes. But it makes the place sound cursed."
"Maybe it is. It was created by the work of you and your Demon Spawn."
Puffing up his chest Philip took up a defensive pose "They killed Logan."
"So you killed fifty thousand Huronites in revenge. Does that mean the scales of justice are now balanced? Remember Philip you are a monster no matter how well Jason has tamed you."
"I have killed only our foes, those who dare hurt my Angel. Are you saying enemies deserve death?"
Letting out a sigh Varrus left his desk to stand in front of Philip, placing his hands on the man's broad shoulders. "But who are our enemies my dear Lord of Demons? We swore to protect Domus with our lives. Yet how did we find ourselves labeled as traitors while the monsters Armageddon and the false Emperor Xavier fests on the anima of our brothers?"
"What is it you're trying to say?" Philip asked, his brow furrowing.
"Remember what you are Philip, though a demon you might be you were born a Centurion as Jason was born a Legatio. Do not forget this when it comes time to do your duty," Varrus said staring into Philip's glowing white eyes.
Phillip nodded his head as he let out a deep breath. "I won't."
"Remember Philip... things are about to change again. You must be ready," Varrus warned one last time before the demon left his chambers.