The day of Kyle and James's wedding had finally arrived. Kyle had hand-selected the men who would become James's Saints, most of them being the officers James was close to, as well as a few of the Famulus who had become their friends. James had returned the favor by picking out the men who would be Kyle's Demon Spawn. Those were made up mainly of Kyle's older friends. The only thing James insisted on, being a deep traditionalist, was that he and Kyle have an old-fashioned ceremony. At first, Kyle had laughed at the notion, knowing full well that James still viewed him as the "woman" in the relationship. James even went so far as introduce Kyle to others as his future wife.
While James's insistence on viewing their relationship in the traditional husband-wife roles would have annoyed most, Kyle, having also come from a navy family, knew how James had been raised. A child of such a family had two duties... become the best officer and marry well. James, being an Admiral, was already the best officer in the navy. All he lacked was a wife. While Kyle was indeed a man, he knew that James could not help but see his lover as his wife to be.
Kyle was willing to accept that, just as long as James did not start putting him in dresses.
On the day of the wedding, James wore his Admiral's uniform. Pacing up and down the hall right outside the reception room of the governor's palace, the medals that covered half his chest jangled together. James knew that beyond the double doors were his officers, his majesty King Aidan, Amplexor, and most important of all... Kyle.
"It's time sir..." One of the Demon Spawn guards Dorian had sent with Aidan bowed.
"Alright... I can do this," James sighed, trying hard not to hyperventilate as he made his way to the door.
There had been a long debate what song to play at the start of the ceremony. There were a few traditional Jadoorian melodies that were usually performed but both James and Kyle felt that they were too light and... feminine for an all-male ceremony. It had been one of James's officers who had suggested one of the fleet's victory marches to be played when James made his grand entrance to claim his spouse. Both Kyle and James found it so funny that they almost dismissed the idea. It was Amplexor who convinced them that a little humor at such a serious time would help relax them.
So as James waited for the doors to open he could hear the pounding of over a dozen drums. Then, with a blare of trumpets, the doors were flung open and James walked in, taking wide strides toward the makeshift altar. Waiting for him in a simple white Centurion tunic was Kyle, smiling broadly. Behind the altar was Amplexor, his white wings spread out. To the left of the spot where James was to stand was the witness, King Aidan himself, holding two rings on a pillow.
James, not paying attention to how fast he was walking, arrived by Kyle's side several stanzas before the march ended. For those few awkward seconds, he had to stare at Kyle's wide grin. Nothing would have made him happier than to bend down and kiss that smile but that would have ruined the ceremony. So he had to wait, wait for the song to end, wait for Amplexor to perform the ceremony, and wait for Aidan to hand over the rings. During that whole time, James was tortured by Kyle's incredible smile... as if it dared him to break with custom. When Amplexor finally gave permission for the now married couple to kiss, James tackled Kyle to the floor, falling on top of him, while kissing Kyle hard at the same time.
In the arms of his strong husband, Kyle could not help but laugh. "I see that you are now the man in the relationship."
"It seems so," James grinned
"Don't worry, I like being smaller than you." Kyle grinned as the small nub of what would become his tail wiggled happily.
"I think its time to move the ceremony to the baths." James grinned. He wanted to get out of his uniform and ravish his new husband in its warm waters.
"Yes... I think that would be a good idea," Amplexor agreed. Nearly all of the guests at the wedding were to become either James's Saints or Kyle's Demon Spawn. All the men had eager looks in their eyes as they watched the married couple.
As they walked back up the aisle Kyle elbowed James. "How long do you think it will take for us to get to everyone?"
James looked at the over two hundred guests. "As long as it takes... our honeymoon will not be over until we get to all of them."
"Good... because I plan to spend most of my time with you." Kyle giggled.
James looked at the carriage waiting outside the governor's palace and saw that it had curtains. "How about we take a long tour of the city."
"Why?" Kyle asked, not seeing what James was hinting.
"Just trust me." James grinned as he gave Kyle's groin a healthy squeeze.
"Oh... I see." Kyle smiled, winking his eye.
As the carriage made its way down the broad streets of Aquanos, the Famulus onlookers laughed on seeing it rock side to side on the smooth streets. Then, as the carriage was on the grand boulevard that ran from the port to the main city gates, two pairs of wings shot out the windows, a pair of giant black, leathery wings and a smaller set of white feathery ones. From inside the carriage, uncontrollable laughter could be heard as the carriage began to finally turn toward the baths.
Aidan hated not being able to join the other celebrants at the baths but, after all, Amplexor had done for them both, he owed the mysterious man a few favors. Still, it was an awkward time to be away from Meltor. Even with many of troublemakers who had led the earlier riots shipped off to defend Austrola from Mathannon, it had not brought an end to the growing chaos.
The church's vast grain stores had been exhausted to levels not seen even during times of severe drought. The mobs, kept outside the walls around the royal palace and the Church of the Mother, were growing beyond just angry pensioners. Mothers carrying
their hungry children were joining their husbands on the streets of Meltor, attacking both priests and merchants.
After several thousand desperate slaves attacked the market district, ransacking and destroy whole streets and killing several members of the Guild, the Merchants closed almost every store in the city, dismissing thousands of their slaves. This only resulted in greater chaos. It took Aidan's promise to send hundreds of heavily armed Centurions into the market district, to convince the Guild to rescind its order.
Aidan only had one hope… that his ally, the newly installed Duke of Aquanos, would be able to fulfill the hefty tribute the treaty required. With the additional revenue, the king could begin repairing the social chaos the war had left, not just in his kingdom, but in the entire Federation.
Such worries Aidan carried with him as he followed Amplexor to a strange metal ship docked in the harbor. Walking across its black deck, Aidan knew exactly where the man who had given him his wings was taking him. Down, beneath the water, to the machine from where he was reborn.
"Thank you for coming Aidan." Amplexor smiled from the behind his desk.
The tank in the middle of the room was silent, the fluid inside it as clear as water. "Considering all you have done for us, I thank I owe you a few indulgences. Why have you brought me back here?"
"For the good of us both," Amplexor said as he took out a gray stone box, placing it on top of the desk.
Seeing the smile fade off Amplexor's face, Aidan became concerned. "Is something the matter?"
Removing the heavy lid of the box, Amplexor took out two sharp stilettos. Both knives were of the same length, sharpened on both edges. The handles though were different on each. One was made of pale white ivory. The other was as black as obsidian. "See this knife," Amplexor said, pointing the tip of the ivory-handled stiletto at Aidan. "For nearly three thousands years, ever since the day my lover failed to wake up, this blade has been beckoning me to end my life."
A look of confusion grew on the king's face. "Why? Why would you want to kill yourself?"
"You have been bonded to Dorian for only a few months but even now, do you think you could endure living without him?"
"No… no, I could not," Aidan said, his emotions speaking before his mind.
"Then you just might know a little of the pain I have suffered… and will continue to suffer until the end of time."
"I don't understand."
"You, I, and now James… we are as cursed as we are blessed for we cannot die."
Aidan arched an eyebrow in disbelief. "I will never die?"
"Never. For a short while, that will seem like a blessing. As the centuries, and then millennia, pass you will experience an eternity of pain as you watch everyone you have ever loved, and ever will get close to, grow old and die. Only by the blade of this knife can an Angel end his existence."
"Then why haven't you?" Aidan asked.
"Because of a single hope… that one day I would be able to reawaken Gladius." Amplexor said as he cleaned his nails with one of the knives.
"It must not be easy, or else you would have done it long ago."
"You're right. I first thought all I would have to do was study the notes and the machines that the Mother left here." Amplexor said as he stood up and made his way to the tank.
"But that could have only taken you a few centuries."
"Yes… and from it, I was able to learn of a cure and the means of producing it." Amplexor said as he placed a hand on the cold curved walls of the tank
"Then why did you not give it to Gladius?"
"Because it requires the use of this machine… the same machine I used to change you and Dorian. As you can see, the machine is now silent… the energy needed for it to be functionally exhausted."
"But why… why did you use it on me and the others instead of helping yourself?"
"But I have helped myself. Have you not guessed what the cure is?" Amplexor said as he took his hand off the tank and placed it on Aidan's stomach, triggering the anima inside him to start glowing.
Aidan, his eyes darting to the knife in Amplexor's hand took a step back from him.
"Stay calm Aidan… I did not ask you to come here just to kill you. As I said from the beginning… what I have to say is for the benefit of both of us. Your anima is no use to me anyway… it would only be a temporary solution, restoring Gladius to me for only three hundred years. No… what I want is a permanent solution. Until recently there was none."
Aidan shifted his feet around uncomfortably. "But there is now?"
"Yes… To understand though, you need to know that my, yours, and now James's anima cores were made by an imperfect machine and are therefore also imperfect. That is why your anima is of no use to me. It can not give Gladius the immortality I desire. But an Angel not created in a tank, one born a Legatio and changed by his love for a Centurion, his anima core could be processed into an elixir of eternal life.
"As it so happens, my agents have just discovered… for lack of a better word, this, perfect' Angel. After so many years of waiting, I had almost given up hope. Finally, however, a Legatio, against all his inbred differences, against what society demanded, against the simplest of logic, has fallen in love with a Centurion."
"That does not explain why you made me and James Angels. You have the knife… why not use it to kill this, perfect Angel."
"It was not you and James that I really needed. The Mother was no fool. She did not want her creations ending their own lives. This knife that I hold can kill an Angel but only if wielded by the hands of a Demon. With Gladius asleep I need either Dorian or Kyle to harvest this, perfect' Angel's core for me. To ensure they would obey I needed you and James."
"But you had the Demon you needed when you made Dorian. Why did you do the same to Kyle?"
"Even though Dorian was born a Centurion, against the mate of, a perfect' Angel he would stand little chance… not unless he was made stronger. Fortified with the Anima of a Demon and an Angel… he would be more than a match for the Angel's mate."
"That is why you needed James and Kyle… to steal their anima to give to Dorian?" Aidan said, a hint of anger in his voice.
"Yes… since James and Kyle were originally Jadoorian, Dorian would find them easy to dispose of. With both men's anima flowing in his veins Dorian will have the power to defeat the Angel's protector and harvest his core."
"You've been planning this from the beginning… ever since Dorian and I entered the caves beneath the palace." Aidan said, his fear becoming rage.
"I have been planning this much longer than you think Aidan. All I had to do was wait for each piece on the chess board to move into place. Patience, however, has never been one of my strengths, so do not think waiting has been easy for me."
"You will have to wait much longer, I am afraid. Neither I, nor Dorian, will help you."
"Not even for your own benefit?"
"You are asking me to help take part in the killing of a friend. How can that ever be for my benefit?"
Amplexor, returning back to his desk, placed the knife back in its box, he then carried the box in his arms as he walked out of the room. "You think James is your friend. You believe he would never let you down. If that is the case, why does he plan to give you only a tiny fraction of the tribute due you… the gold, food, lumber, and ore you need to keep your own country from being torn apart by civil strife."
"What proof do you have?" Aidan demanded as he followed the monk off the ship.
Amplexor walked back to the harbor where long rows of warehouses stood. Stopping at one, he pulled open the door. "This is what James is planning to give you as tribute."
Stepping inside, all Aidan could see were small particles of dust lit up by the sunlight streaming into the empty room. "This can't be right… Aquanos is one of the wealthiest cities in the world. This warehouse should be brimming," Aidan said in disbelief.
"It is… but it seems that James has decided that rebuilding his city and currying favor among the Famulus are more important than the promises he made to you." Taking out a sealed letter from the sleeve of his robe, Amplexor handed it to Aidan. "Since he knew both of us would be here for his wedding, James handed me this letter to give to you, thinking you would prefer it coming from a man to whom you feel indebted, instead of a man you once led."
Amplexor stayed silent while Aidan read the letter, shades of gray appearing on his face as he felt his temper rise. Instead of raising taxes and looting the city and countryside to pay the tribute due, James had cut taxes while starting over a dozen ambitious building projects. Not only did Aidan feel betrayed, but also envious of how little trouble James was having ruling his new kingdom, while every day was bringing new troubles to the king of Jadoor.
After Aidan had crumpled the letter up into a tiny ball, Amplexor continued. "A few hundred years from now both Dorian and Kyle will be sleeping more and more… quickly approaching the day when they will never wake. In the end, one of two things will happen… Dorian will kill James or Kyle will kill you. Which fate would you prefer?"
"But without the daggers…"
"Who said that I will not give them to James and Kyle?" Amplexor chuckled as he lifted up the stone box. "If you will not kill this, perfect' Angel for me, I am sure James will... after he kills you and Dorian."
Deep down Aidan knew he should not take the box from Amplexor, recognizing that doing so would send him and his kingdom down a dark path on which many would suffer and die. Amplexor had manipulated things perfectly. In the end, it would become a struggle for survival between him and Dorian against Kyle and James. In a conflict between gods, any advantage would be foolish to throw away.
It was his anger, however, that caused Aidan to reach out with his hands to take the box, the cold gray stone sending a shiver down his spine. Aidan had given James the Duchy of Aquanos, not out of friendship, but because he had believed in the Admiral's loyalty. It seemed giving James the independence to make his own decisions, and a land to rule, had been a mistake. Without the promised money and food from Aquanos, Aidan would be hard pressed to keep Jadoor from falling into the chaos of civil war. Because of James, Aidan would be forced to watch as thousands of his people died.
James's refusal to share his wealth with the kingdom that gave him birth made him no better than a murderer, not to mention a traitor. Under Jadoorian law, the punishment for both was the same, death.
As Aidan flew back to Meltor he began to plan. Attacking Aquanos would not come soon or be easy. First Aidan needed to bring an end to the riots. He could not invade a land hundreds of miles away when the people in his own kingdom were on the verge of killing each other. It would take time and, regrettably, the loss of many lives. After the people faced the wrath of their gods in the form of Dorian's Spawn, things would change. The angry pensioners would despise their king, but they would also fear him, a fear ensuring greater loyalty than any love could. He would be able to force the Merchant's Guild to give him the resources to raise a new army.
Then, when the threat of civil war was removed, and with a host behind him, Aidan would invade Aquanos and hunt Kyle and James down until their cores were his. Once that was achieved, Aidan would have to think about who would be his next target… this, perfect' angel or Amplexor, the one who had manipulated him so perfectly.