With Brashear's humiliating defeat, Sirrus now had the complete loyalty of the smaller kingdoms. Together they controlled two-thirds of the army massed around Qul Tos, making Brashear's Tal Sith men unnecessary.
This new reality was not missed by Brashear. He was now very willing to risk his men if it would regain him his influence over the other kingdoms. So when Sirrus announced it was time to send explorer teams into the Labyrinth, Brashear was the first to volunteer.
The first group of a dozen men entered the cave expected to be attacked at once. When nothing happened, the order was sent for them to go deeper. That was the last that anyone saw of them. The same happened to the next three platoons sent in. Having had enough of his men disappearing, Brashear ordered a whole company of five hundred men into the Labyrinth. This time men did come back, including the major leading them, an arrow in his left arm.
While the healers worked to remove the arrow and cauterize the wound, Brashear demanded answers. "What the hell is happening in there?"
"It's a trap, my Lord... one giant trap. After several turns, we entered a cavern. It was so large we were not able to see the end of it from the light of our torches. That is where they sprung their trap. They waited until nearly all my men were inside before they started firing their arrows from an upper balcony. We didn't stand a chance. We didn't even have bows to fire back, expecting close combat. Even if we had archers, we could not see them in the darkness. They could see us, however, thanks to our damn torches."
"Curse them!" Brashear shouted at Sirrus. Out of the five hundred men that entered less the ten made it back. "How are we to fight without torches?"
"Torches are not the problem... the problem is that they are not bright enough to let you see where the Centurions are," Sirrus said calmly
"What do you suggest we do then?"
"We build a fire large enough to light up that cave."
"But won't it fill the cave up with smoke?"
"Smoke rises, my dear friend. If your Major is correct and the Centurions are firing from an upper balcony, it will hurt them more than your own men."
"But how do we build a fire in the middle of the room without being shot down."
"Easy... you get an archer to tie a rope to one of his arrows and have him shoot it across the room. Then you pick a dozen brave men. Load them up with barrels of oil and wood and have them carry it all using the rope to guide them."
"You've thought this all out... why didn't you warn me of the trap?"
"Because, my dear fellow, the Labyrinth is filled with traps. I didn't know, until your Major returned, which trap they were up against." Sirrus grinned.
"You still could have warned me," Brasher insisted.
"And spoil your fun... I think not."
If it had not been for the fact that Sirrus had all the other kingdoms' representatives behind him, smiling at his being made a fool, the Earl would have had great difficulty stopping himself from killing the smug man.
Leaving Sirrus and the others before their gloating got the better of him, Brashear gave new instructions to his generals, giving them Sirrus' suggestions. Once that was done, he went to the merchant who had arranged for the hiring of the Qopo mercenaries.
"Tell your men to move out of the city... there is little they can do here, now that the palace has fallen."
"Shall I arrange for them to be sent back home?" the dark-skinned Dodofan asked.
"No... I might still need them. Have them camp on the main road leading to Huron. If Sirrus thinks he will be able to steal the treasure under those fool toy kingdoms' noses, I want to be able to intercept him. Set up a blockade, letting any wagon heading west through but not one heading back to Huron pass without being inspected," Brashear ordered.
"As you wish, Lord Brashear. I just hope you do not plan to keep the Qopo here over winter. They do so hate the cold and their fees go up accordingly."
"When I get my hands on the Qul Tos treasury, I will have plenty of money to pay your men. You just make sure that the gold does not make it past them."
"It will be no problem, but word will eventually reach Lord Sirrus of what you are doing."
"I know, but there is little he can do. His hold on the other kingdoms is tenuous at best. He can't go off chasing elephants when there is a war going on here."
"If you say so, my Lord, but remember that Sirrus' family is well known for their cunning."
"I am just beginning to realize that. Now if you will excuse me, my so-called generals should be ready to make the next attack. If I'm not there, the other kingdoms will think I'm too much of a coward to witness it."
"Then you'd better go, my Lord... in this game, appearance is everything."
Watching from one of the palace's towers, Brashear waited to learn if the attack was successful. He knew how impossible his situation was. If the attack succeeded, then Sirrus, the man who planned, it would get the credit. If it failed, then Brashear's generals would be the ones blamed. In both cases, Brashear's credibility among the other kingdoms would sink just a bit lower. Brashear preferred victory over defeat. He had a little less than a hundred thousand men at his command. Large losses, as in the previous attack, could slowly lead him to having no more men or influence than one of the smaller kingdoms. If that were to happen, not even King Samuel could protect Brashear when the hangman came for him. The Earl had to find a way to regain control.
After a good hour had passed, something did happen. From different spots all over the cliffside, dark black smoke poured out, proof that the fires had been lit. Brashear raced down to the courtyard entrance of the Labyrinth to wait for the reports of victory. By the time Brashear reached the courtyard, he saw why no one had ever smoked out the enemy. The Labyrinth's ventilation was very effective, already the smoke had almost completely disappeared.
Waiting fifteen minutes, pacing, Brashear saw one of his generals come out of the cave, his face black from smoke. "Well, we won... that's about all we can say, though."
"How many of our men died? How many of theirs did we kill?" Brashear demanded.
"We lost around two thousand of our best archers... two thousand to kill five hundred Centurions. At the rate they are killing us we won't ever reach the Keep."
"There has to be a better way," Brashear agreed, gnashing his teeth. "You said the cave is large... how about we start sending in more men to set up a base camp from where we can send out patrols. That would give us a better idea about what we are facing before rushing too many men into another trap."
"Yes, my lord." The General bowed. "Right now, I would not mind dipping into that big bathtub they have connected to the palace."
"Go and do that then… you've deserved it."
After the General saluted and went on his way, Brashear decided to see this cave for himself. Passing through the narrow tunnels he reached the giant cavern. Inside, he did not smell an ounce of smoke. He did, however, feel a strong damp wind on his face. Torches now lit the chamber, placed in holders on the stone walls. As far as Brashear could see, the place was littered with corpses... thousands of them, many of them piled on top of each other. In each body, there were at least two arrows sticking out. Just to remove the bodies would take the rest of the day, using hundreds of men to do it. It needed to be done, however, if this cavern was to be used as a forward base.
Looking up, Brashear saw the balcony from where the Centurions had fired their arrows. It was a good twelve feet above the cave floor. Lining the balcony and near the floor below, with their red and black armor pierced, were the Centurions. Each had twice the number of arrows in his body as that of his own men. Out of each oozed a deep blue substance... the legendary Centurion anima.
Curious, Brasher dipped his gloved hand into the blue fluid of one dead Centurion archer and tasted it. Besides a tingling of his tongue, Brashear did not notice anything special about it. He didn't feel any braver or stronger than he had before.
Seeing all that he cared to see of the great Labyrinth of Qul Tos, Brashear headed back out to the entrance. Outside once again, Brashear felt a sudden urge to bathe. He walked to the other side of the palace where the bathhouse was located. There he found the general already in the water.
After he had a chance to relax in the warm water, Brashear found that he could not keep his eyes off the general soaking across from him. The man was in his mid-forties, but his blond hair had not yet gone gray and his chest and stomach were still firm. Before he even knew what was happening, Brashear's felt his sex poking out of the water.
Nearly as soon as Brashear noticed his aroused state so did the General. "Faggot!"
"No I'm not!" Brashear blushed as he sank deeper into the water.
The general did not reply to this, instead, he quickly removed himself from the water, and raced back to the changing room, keeping his privates covered the whole way.
"I'm no Centurion faggot," Brashear kept on telling himself for the rest of the day and until he went to bed. That night, however, Brashear suffered from the strangest dreams in his life, all dealing with the handsome general. It would take Brashear almost an entire week before he realized that these new feelings all originated from a single drop of anima.