The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part III - Baron of Rood
“Copy that, and acknowledge.”
The pilot of the troop transport Goliath leaned forward in his seat, speaking into his comstick. His response, short and crisp, was in reply to a burst of chatter pouring out of his headset.
“Right.Off we go, then.” He gave a quick thumbs-up to his co-pilot just before powering up the large craft. Seconds later, the low thrum of the massive hov’s engines began spinning up and the whine of the craft’s powerful turbines rose to a high-pitched scream.
Behind the bulkhead that separated the pilot's cabin from the open bay of the Goliath, the full Gahdar cohort was configured just as they’d been upon their arrival at Imperialas, though now they were leaving the city and beginning their journey back to Piropolis.
The heavy ship hesitated for a brief moment and then, with ponderous grace, lifted off from the tarmac of the imperial military base where it had touched down only a few hours before. Laden with passengers, their gear, and a surprise last minute shipment of eight oversized pallets of freight, it labored only briefly under the strain of the additional weight stored within its cargo bay. Although fully loaded, the Goliath reached its target altitude in less than two minutes; with a deeper roar, its aft engines ignited as the captain switched to horizontal flight.
“It’s exciting to be taking them back to Piropolis. I love the games. I can’t believe we were lucky enough to pull this assignment. I mean, sitting right behind us are all of the Gahdar of the empire!" The co-pilot sounded excited, but then a frown clouded his face. “I just don’t know why we were ordered to take on that extra freight.” His eyes danced over the many screens, dials and gauges arranged across the console of the hov, while he monitored the craft’s ascent. “We’re a troop ship, not a freightliner.”
“You’re new at this. Don’t even attempt to question the logic of it.” The pilot’s eyebrows floated upward into his forehead as he gave his co-pilot a look of ironic resignation. Seconds later his expression was one of amusement as he continued, “I gave up trying to make sense of bureaucratic decisions a long time ago. It does no good to complain. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is just follow the orders we’re given, and at the end of the day we'll go home and forget about it.”
“A commendable attitude,” a voice behind the pilot commented in a casual tone. At the same time there was a sharp, snapping click and the man felt the sensation of cold metal against the back of his neck. “Your desire for cooperation will make the next few minutes so much easier.”
By straining his neck around as far as he could, the pilot was barely able to gain a glimpse of his captor in his peripheral vision, and recognized the speaker as Miro Gillot, one of the gladiators of Castle Rood that he followed and supported. Turning slightly toward the co-pilot he saw what he suspected was a mirror image of his own predicament, for pressed against the nape of his second in command’s neck was the muzzle of a large and powerful ghoster, wielded by one of the Gahdar from the hov’s bay. The pilot wondered frantically how it had escaped his notice that the door between the cabin and the open bay had been opened. Then his attention returned to his captor as the Gahdar continued to speak.
“So then, to extend your theory a bit, if you just follow the orders I give you everything will turn out well. Don’t worry, I can assure that it will, indeed, be quite fine. As long as you cooperate nothing will happen to you, and you’ll be home safe and sound with your families before the nights over. On the other hand, we don't actually require two of you to fly this rust bucket, do we?” After a beat, allowing time for his statement to sink in, Miro continued in a cheerful voice. "Of course we're not going to have any of that sort of unpleasantness, are we? Instead, I’m going to give you a set of coordinates, and you're going to fly to them.” The grin on the boy’s face turned into a broad smile and his perfect white teeth gleamed in the soft, artificial light of the cockpit.
On the troop deck, all of the Gahdar were on their feet and crowded around the eight pallets that had been loaded just minutes before the Goliath had been cleared for take-off. Their contents lay exposed, and David and Julius were supervising the distribution of a wide assortment of military grade ghosters, stun grenades, battle lances and side arms. As they did, Nic began barking off a list of orders.
“Remember, we all keep our brains engaged and our emotions in check.” He strode up and down the rows of boys who were checking and rechecking their weapons. “We cause as little damage as possible. We make as little noise as possible. We kill or harm as few as possible. We’re there for one purpose and one purpose only: to rescue the prisoners, and then fly straight to Angel’s Fall.”
“Have you considered that as soon as I deviate from our flight plan,” the hov’s pilot tried to turn his head in an attempt to look up at Miro, but the cold hard steel of the ghoster against his neck made the move unsuccessful, “Imperial Air Command is going to realize something’s happened? You won’t be able to hide this.”
“Just fly to the coordinates,” Miro continued to smile. “That’s already been taken care of.”
Another strong nudge of the barrel of the ghoster got Miro his desired result; as the Gahdar stood over the pilot, he watched the man input the new flight plan into his nav-comp.
“Do you realize that these coordinates are going to take us directly to Stone Gate Prison?” the pilot’s voice held a mix of puzzlement and surprise, since it was the last place he’d have imagined the hijackers of his craft would want to go.
“Perhaps, being the good citizens of the empire that we are, we plan to save them the cost and effort of apprehending us by chosing instead to surrender on the spot." Miro grinned fiercely. “Then they won’t have to transport us very far to our cells, no?”
“Everything’s been arranged at flight control, Baron.” The Kalorian woman's eyes studied Nic closely as she faced the leader of the gladiators. She was lean and hard, the touches of gray in her short, clippered hair belied by the spare grace of her movements. Just moments earlier, Niklas had used the butt of a deadly looking ghoster carbine to smash open one of the remaining crates, revealing the stow-away packed inside. “It’s amazing what people will do to secure a berth on one of the transports to Argon. Virtually all the current shift at Imperial Air Command agreed to our terms. Of course, I’m sure the ones who didn’t have been tied up and stuffed into a utility closet.” If the woman’s statement was meant to be a joke, she wasn’t smiling. Neither was Nic. The game was on, and it was deadly serious. “You do know where you’re going, right?”
Nic studied the woman for a few seconds. “Yes. Jamie… ah… the Lord Protector has given me a detailed plan of the prison."
“An evil place, that rat hole,” the woman added in a hard, quiet voice. “A blessing on your wings, Baron, for what you’re about to do.” The woman turned away and began checking the readiness of her weapons, a heavy caliber ghoster carbine slung over her shoulder and an archaic but deadly looking projectile pistol on her belt.
Nic continued to look at the woman, but kept silent. We’re going to need a lot more than a blessing, or we won’t have any wings left to get blessed, he thought, and then dismissed the worry; the time for doubts was long past.
“Ready?” Jamie’s eyes made a critical inspection of the boys of Trio Chrysalis. His three friends stood only a few feet in front of him. Dressed smartly as a trio of Gahdar from the Red Castle, the boys would be playing the role of the imperial troops opposite Jamie’s Karkal Foss.
Jeremy, Yves and Lucas looked dashing in their short leather kilts and standard Gahdar fighting armor. Outfitted personally by troupes of eager gladiators seeking to curry favor with the dancers, the three boys appeared as authentic as any Gahdar who’d ever fought at Rood. The only difference between them and the actual gladiators of the Red Castle was that in their hands Jeremy, Yves and Lucas carried prop swords. Still, they’d been so masterfully fashioned, that they looked like the real thing.
“Of course we’re ready,” Jeremy grinned.
Standing in a small, glass enclosed corridor leading into the main greenhouse of the Imperial Botanicum, the boys were waiting together for their cue to go on stage.
“How do I look?” Jamie stepped back from his friends and executed a slow pirouette.
“I think you asked us that the first time you performed this routine,” Yves smiled. “The answer’s the same now as it was then: you look like you were in a fight and lost.”
Jamie’s mouth turned up into a small smile. “Good, but you’ll never believe how much this costume cost. Remember the first time I performed the Redak at the opera house? I made my own impromptu costume, back then. I just pulled off my racerback and cut up my tights. That outfit cost nothing. Look at this.” He gestured down at himself. Bare-chested and barefoot, Jamie was smeared with makeup that made him appear as if he’d been on the wrong end of a losing battle. The only thing he was wearing other than his dance belt was a torn, threadbare and dirty set of tights. “When the costumer told me what this outfit cost, I was amazed.”
“Well, you’re their premier dancer,” Lucas gave Jamie’s makeup and costume a quick inspection. “Nothing but the best for Prince de Valèn, even if it’s nothing more than custom made rags.”
“Hey! You’re just as premier as I am,” Jamie protested, his forehead creasing into a mock frown.
“There’s premier, and then there’s premier,” Lucas responded with a light chuckle.
“Five minutes, boys.” The stage manager broke into the young mens' animated conversation. “Get ready to go on.”
Moving closer to the entrance of the central greenhouse, Jamie, Yves, Lucas and Jeremy peeked out at their venue.
“It’s certainly the A-list crowd,” Yves remarked to his three friends.
“Only the cream of the imperial crop would be invited to this party,” Jeremy seconded as he scanned the audience.
Directly before them, on the bright green lawn of the central greenhouse, stood their stage; a series of platforms that had been assembled and arranged on varying levels. In front of the stage sat the Imperial Avionne Orchestra. Philippe was at the podium, whispering to his musicians as they finished tuning up. Off to the director's left the tall, transparent tube of a corpus harp rose above the heads of the seated musicians.
A few feet away from the orchestra sat the assembled guests, including the emperor and empress who were seated on soft, throne-like seats. To Enrick’s right sat Savaron Loka, whose inscrutable expression made Jamie shiver. Next to Loka sat Prince Hippolito Corcorian, Jamie’s imperially declared mate.
Taking a deep breath Jamie placed a hand on his left hip and felt the small hard piece of metal he’d clipped inside the top band of his tights. It was the coin-like piece from the signet he’d taken from Nic.
“Sa lav a deah, Nic,” he whispered to himself, wishing his mate calm skies and good luck.
“You're on,” the stage manager ordered, breaking into the prince’s thoughts.
The boy’s looked at each other and then moved to huddle even closer together. Pulling both the imperial ring of the emperor and Cristophe’s asp ring from his fingers, Jamie handed them to the stage manager. It wouldn’t look appropriate wearing them, given his role as rebel and slave. Reaching out his now naked hand, he clasped the joined hands of his three friends. Since they were playing imperial troops, they’d elected to wear the rings Jamie had given them.
“Merde,” the voices of the four young men blended in unison just before breaking their holds on each other’s hands. A moment later they were walking toward the stage.
The audience remained silent as the boys took their places. In less then a minute Jamie was standing center stage with Lucas, Jeremy and Yves positioned around him.
The prince paused and looked out into the assembled audience. For one second, his eyes caught a sight that made him blink and catch his breath. The evening’s guests also included the princes and scribes of the imperial and royal houses, and although Jamie had known they’d be in attendance, their presence, seated in a row just behind the emperor, took him by surprise.
Each prince wore a diadem. The thin, golden bands occasionally glinted, catching the light as the young men moved or turned their heads. Beside each prince sat the scribe of his respective house. Jamie recognized some of them from their attendance at his investiture as Lord Protector, others he only knew from what he’d gleaned from the web. Some he knew he could count on as allies; the rest remained a mystery.
The sight of the small retinue of beautiful, regally attired boys caused him to shudder. What would happen to them? Accepting the assurances of the Kalorians, he’d made no other provisions for most of the Avionnes on the planet. Most, he’d been promised, would be saved. Those aligned with the empire? Well, that was another story, and he chose not to dwell on that thought. He didn’t even know how many might be in gestation at Gold Glass. What of the Gahdar? The thought raced through his mind. If any of them survive, who’ll assist them?
Have faith. They’ve promised as long as you hold true to your covenant, an inner voice told him, yet he couldn't bring himself to fully trust it.
Staring for a moment at the audience, he caught a glimpse of one of the scribes: the young man, Cody Delacroix, who’d spoken to him the day of his investiture as Lord Protector. He wondered for a second whether the boy had been practicing the mental drill Jamie had given him.
Raising his prop sword above his head, Jamie’s eyes fell on Enrick just before his gaze slid past Savaron Loka, and finally landed on Hippolito. The Prince of Hypernia’s eyes met those of the dancer, and for a second they locked. The look Hippolito shot his future mate was the same one he’d given Jamie the morning they’d sparred in the Battlecom: full of anger… and hunger.
Poised like statues the four dancers, pushing up lightly on the balls of their feet, shifted slightly as they held first position. An atmosphere of excited anticipation was thick in the air, but not as thick as the palpable feeling of fear that curled and roiled in the pit of Jamie’s stomach. While he was dancing, Nic would be fighting. It was a discomforting thought.
Shifting his gaze to Philippe, Jamie’s eyes met those of the conductor of the Imperial Orchestra. A second later, he gave Philippe the tiniest of nods. Philippe, both hands held out before him, a baton in one, nodded back. Looking out over the orchestra the young avionne conductor raised his arm, his hand holding the baton high over his head. It was a mirror image of Jamie’s own posture as the dancer clutched his sword. An instant later, as if it were a weapon, Philippe’s baton cut the air in a strong, purposeful arc.
A soft bump accompanied the military hov’s landing in the courtyard at Stone Gate. Nic looked around at the circle of faces looking at him, tracking across them before he began to speak. He saw tension and some anticipation, but no fear.
"All right, this is it. Spider and Talon, you're with me. Wolf and Lion, secure the courtyard. The rest of you, attack plan alpha, as we trained. Keep your wits about you. I want to see you execute a clean operation. We get in, grab them and leave; no playing to the crowd. Got it?"
Seconds later the entire Gahdar cohort was streaming out of the craft’s underbelly as they prepared to storm the prison. The first part of the operation had gone without a hitch. Since the military transport was more than adequately armed, it hadn’t taken much persuasion for the guards in the towers surrounding the prison and those patrolling the perimeter to lay down their weapons and form a submissive group in the center of the large yard inside the prison’s main entrance. The fact that the Goliath’s full battery of deadly cannons and double array of high power ghoster repeaters had been trained on them made their choice rather simple. One quick cannon shot that obliterated an unoccupied guard tower sealed the deal. David and Miro led the way. In their wake, like a pack of hungry sharks, the rest of the cohort streamed into the courtyard and spread out.
“We’ll show them what hand to hand combat’s really like if they decide to go a round or two,” Artimus, the primi half of duet Asp, shouted as he dashed behind Miro and David.
“Remember my instructions,” a frowning Nic called out as he watched the boys charge into the prison. “The prisoners are our priority. Keep your wits about you.”
“First blood gets a point,” Artimus’s secundi Aaron, tightly clutching his ghoster, barked to the pack, acting as if he hadn’t heard a word of Nic’s orders.
“First kill gets two,” David called out over his shoulder, sounding equally cavalier.
Bringing up the rear Nic and Julius, accompanied by Duet Spider and Duet Talon, slowly followed the fast paced advance group.
Seconds out of the hov, the assigned gladiators peeled off from the pack and trained their weapons on the guards who were kneeling as a group in the center of the prison yard. Hands on their heads the subdued guards watched as they were surrounded by a small compliment of Gahdar. Once the bulk of the boys were through Stone Gate’s main entrance, loud blasts and repeating ghoster fire, punctuated by the distinctive bark of the Kalorian woman's pistol, began echoing throughout the complex.
Calm and cool, Nic, Julius, and duets Spider and Talon, advanced cautiously as they scanned the scene, their eyes alert for anything unusual or out of place that their comrades might have missed.
“So far, so good,” Julius, gripping his ghoster while he scanned the prison yard, spoke in little more than a whisper.
Hearing a loud blast, Nic looked up to see heavy smoke wreathing about the eaves of one of the dormitory-like wings of the prison.
“Let's hope our luck continues,” he replied.
“It's nothing to do with luck, Le’ir Bahr a’Ronei. You, better than anyone, know this.” It was Julius' final remark to his friend as they strode through the main entrance of Stone Gate.
Dodging the slash of a sword, Jamie spun to the right. Only moments before, their execution of the Redak had taken to the air as Trio Chrysalis, playing their role of imperial troops, forcefully pressed their attack. The dance had been every bit as magnificent and captivating as Jamie’s first performance months before at the opera house, except for one thing: Jamie’s mind, focused more on worrying about Nic and what the Gahdar cohort were undertaking, had been elsewhere during most of the act.
Having performed the dance many times since its initial presentation, along with honing the current optional routine to perfection with Trio Chrysalis, his moves had become mostly automatic. Despite his distraction, everything was going well. The only exceptions were one misstep he’d made earlier in the performance that had caused him to stumble. A second faux pas occurred when a sudden slash from Lucas' prop sword accidently connected with his right leg and caused him to fall. Both errors had come off as part of the dance and only the most discerning eye would have noted them as mistakes. To those assembled and watching in rapt fascination, the amazing performance by La Mondele’s four best dancers looked letter perfect.
High in the air, Jamie did a sharp turn, followed by a skillful series of aerial maneuvers that ended in a spin. Clutching his sword, he tried valiantly to fend off his attackers as he moved to mimic the last moments of Karkal Foss’s life. Surrounded by his three friends, Jamie was now completely on the defensive as Yves, Jeremy and Lucas came at him from all sides.
As much an actor as a dancer, Jamie showed the audience the pain of each and every stab the trio delivered, while his body twisted and turned in agony as the life of both the historically doomed rebellion and its charismatic leader came to a tragic and untimely end. In one final, unified assault, the boys of Chrysalis plunged their swords into the wounded Foss. Twisting in a spasm of pain, Jamie sank to the floor. His arms and legs fell limp. His wings covered his body. The music faded to silence as the orchestra’s sad dirge came to a sober end. Foss was dead. Laying quiet and still on the stage floor, a terrifying thought entered Jamie’s mind and he prayed that what he’s just pretended on stage hadn’t truly occurred with Nic and his band of warriors.
Surrounding Jamie, Trio Chrysalis, their swords still drawn, stood ready to deliver a final blow if necessary, but none was needed. Crumpled up like a tattered and threadbare rag doll abandoned by a careless child, Jamie lay motionless as the lights faded, plunging the stage into darkness.
Seconds later the house lights came up and Jamie and his three friends were standing hand in hand, receiving the applause of the crowd. As they took their bows the audience, led by the emperor, gave the boys a standing ovation.
Jamie, looking at his friends, whispered, “As soon as we get off this stage…”
“We know,” Yves cut Jamie off. “We’re out of here.”
Standing below the platform, the stage manager motioned for the boys to exit. As they descended from the stage and Jamie plucked rings from the open palm of the stage manager, a young man passed them on his way up to the platform. The human boy, a singer, had been chosen to replace Damien, and Jamie’s heart sank when he thought about the kind, gentle young man held at Stone Gate.
Moving as quickly as possible through the palace without raising suspicion, the dancers came to a small plaza that served as the palace transport pool, where various models of hovs were parked in neat rows. Jamie pointed to one of them, and they crossed the tarmac at a rapid walk and began to climb in. As they slid into their seats and buckled the belts, Jamie took the pilot’s seat and immediately ran an instruments check. Seconds later he initiated the engine ignition sequence. With a brief moment of concentration, he suppressed the security program designed to recognize the pilot's identity, and the engines rumbled to life.
“You never told us you could fly one of these things,” Lucas’ voice rose as he adjusted his straps.
“I can’t,” Jamie shot back. “It’s a supersonic. I’m not rated to fly one, but we need it to get to Tower Mount.”
“Lovely,” Jeremy commented and shook his head in disbelief.
“Why don’t we just gate there?” Yves asked.
“We would if we could, but the only ones nearby are in a secured area that’s guarded and monitored. I could probably defeat the cameras and maybe even best the guards, but if we’re discovered too early, we lose the element of surprise. We can’t take the chance."
“Imperial Air Command…?”
“That’s been dealt with.” Yves question was cut off by Jamie’s quick response.
“Now sit back and prepare to lift off,” Jamie advised as he powered up the hov.
Nic stood in the belly of the transport carefully surveying the tableau spread before him and shook his head in shock and disbelief. He was a Gahdar, used to blood and violence. He’d seen many a horrific sight both in training and in the arena, yet the vile panorama he faced was so heartbreaking and pitiful he could barely stomach it. He could understand injury and death; after all, it was part of his life. What he couldn’t understand was the calculated cruelty of the devastation inflicted on the prisoners of Stone Gate. He’d seen rabid animals treated with more compassion.
“Well done, Baron,” the Kalorian woman who’d accompanied them into Stone Gate nodded her respect from where she knelt beside one of the prisoners to whom she was offering comfort. “You got them all out; blessings again on you.” Nic thought about the reports he'd received of the woman's coolness under fire as she'd picked off resistant prison guards with precisely aimed shots.
“Thank you,” Nic barely managed to answer back, more in respect to the woman than from any feeling that he’d managed some heroic accomplishment.
Emotionally numb from an overload of horror, his eyes scanned across a scene he could never have imagined. All around him lay the filthy, stinking, broken, maimed and tortured bodies of the prisoners he and his brother Gahdar had rescued. The prison had been stormed. Most of the prison staff, wisely choosing to surrender, quickly capitulated when faced with the fierce gladiators from Rood. They were, after all, prison guards and not imperial troops. Some few had tried to earn their pay, and had been dealt with summarily. The operation had been a success, yet he didn’t feel like celebrating.
As he’d supervised the evacuation, Nic had stared in shock and disbelief when he and the other Gahdar first opened and then entered the cells of the prisoners. Whether from sickness, or the results of abuse and torture, many of the prisoners couldn’t even stand, let alone run or walk from the prison. The sight had been so overwhelming, tears flowed from his eyes even as he choked back vomitus. In his history lessons with Androcles, he’d learned about the shocked reactions of troops liberating notorious prisons and concentration camps throughout the history of humankind. Now those history lessons had become a horrific reality and suddenly made perfect sense.
Working in teams, the Gahdar had to carry out the most injured and the weakest of the prisoners. The Kalorian woman had stood nearby, her face hard as iron as she watched the boys carry out the pitiful remnants of her countrymen. Nic himself had picked up one man whose left hand and both legs had been severed from his body. The stench of soiled clothing mixed with sweat and the smell of gangrenous, rotting flesh rising from the mutilated prisoner made the boy’s stomach churn. His reaction had been so strong that he felt guilty for the powerful revulsion he’d felt in just touching such a broken and wounded being, one who deserved the full measure of his compassion. He'd felt even worse when the broken man looked up and actually smiled at him.
“Bless you, Baron. They tried to break me, but they couldn’t. I gave them nothing,” the prisoner whispered. As he carried the man in his arms, it was Nic’s heart that was breaking for the horrors he and his brother Gahdar had uncovered at Stone Gate.
“Jamie was right,” he finally broke his self-imposed silence as Julius came to stand next to him. “He told me how bad things were. I always thought he was exaggerating, but now I can see that he didn’t tell me the half of it.”
“They’re certainly a sad lot,” Julius agreed as he put a hand to his nose to stifle a choking cough.
Nic turned away and moved to one of the transports portholes. Looking at the ground moving rapidly below him, he unconsciously balled up his fists, his knuckles blanching white. There was a storm raging inside of him. He felt like it was ready to sweep him away. He wished for a moment to turn all the concentrated firepower of the troop ship on the prison below them, but he suppressed the thought. As a Gahdar, he expected injury and death, but despite the harsh existence he’d lived for most of his life, he suddenly felt that he and his brother gladiators had been pampered compared to the conditions of the prisoners from Stone Gate.
“You saved them.”
Nic felt a hand first rest on and then firmly grip his shoulder. Turning, he found himself facing Castor. The old man was wearing the standard uniform of Stone Gate. As Nic’s eyes moved up the Kalorian’s arm, from the three red strips across the sleeve of the heavy gray coat to finally rest on the Kalorian’s eyes, he fell silent. He was incredibly relieved and grateful that the man was unhurt.
“You saved me,” the Kalorian continued, “and from all of us, I offer our deepest gratitude. Jamie has told me how remarkable you are, and now I’ve seen it for myself.”
“Yes, I know how to fight,” Nic stared down at the steel plating of the hov's cargo bay. “I guess that’s the one thing I do best.”
“I wasn’t talking about that.” Castor gave the boy’s shoulder another squeeze. “As horrific as their condition is, you and your brothers treated every one of these men with compassion and dignity. I know that’s because they follow your example. Thank you, Niklas von Agramon. A lesser man might have given up and abandoned them.”
The old man had been one of the first rescued from the Prison of Pain, where he'd been held in a small but clean and comfortable room. Nic had breathed a sigh of relief when he’d received word that the Kalorian was safe and unhurt. As they’d entered the prison, he’d feared the worst and couldn’t imagine having to break the news to Jamie that something had happened to the prince’s mentor and trusted friend.
“For what?” Nic made no effort to mask the anger in his voice. “Do you see their injuries? It looks like most of them will die before we can get them proper help. What kind of life will those that do survive have?”
“Are you saying you’re sorry we did it?” Julius' voice broke into the conversation. Seeing Nic with Castor standing together, he’d approached them and was surprised at Nic’s sudden strong reaction. Niklas von Agramon was an amazingly compassionate boy, and Julius was hard pressed to think of him any other way.
“No Jules, of course not. I’m glad we saved them. I’m glad we did something to end their suffering, but I’m furious with myself.”
“Jamie tried to tell me. Had I only known then what I know now, I would have believed him. He gave up everything he was and now everything he’s becoming to save them, and as much as I truly love him, I thought he was going overboard. He can be theatrical and dramatic, not to mention stubborn and temperamental, but now I think I know why. I feel like a bloody fool. No one has any idea what kind of boy he is, and I think even now I don't fully understand.”
“He’s a special boy, that’s true,” Castor’s voice dropped to a whisper, “but so is his mate.” He smiled at the young Gahdar. “Jamie’s more remarkable than even he realizes, but so are you, Niklas. Each of you truly makes up one-half of an incredible, and dare I say unbreakable, union. Separately, you’re each a force to be reckoned with, but together you’re indeed unstoppable. I’m convinced the only way to defeat you is to separate the two of you, in itself a difficult, if not impossible task.”
“Tell that to them,” Nic’s eyes went from Castor to the maimed and broken bodies lying on the floor of the hov’s open bay.
“They already know it and even now, in the state they’re in, they’d do anything you asked of them. Now’s not the time to give up, or be shaken from our purpose. They know that. Do you?”
Nic bowed his head and gave a single nod, as feelings of both success and failure swirled in his head.
“Good,” Castor continued crisply as he patted the young Gahdar’s back. “We’ve accomplished the initial stages. First, we rendezvous at Angel’s Fall, meet Jamie and get our friends through the gate. Then we make a dash for the Sirenese Foothills. Since the leadership and most of the army is preparing to evacuate the planet in a matter of hours they won’t have time to search for us, at least that’s Jamie’s hope. I have no doubt that we’ll be attacked, but if we… if you, and your cohort can defeat them, we all have a chance to escape. You have no idea the manpower that’s been mustered for this operation. The Second Empire has waited a long time for this day. From the moment the Foss rebellion failed, we’ve watched, waited and planned. At the palace, the entire staff is on alert. We’re fortunate that Loka invited the princes and scribes of the Houses to Imperialas and that they’re being housed in the imperial palace. All across the continent, there are groups waiting to help every Icarian who stands with us.”
“Why?” Nic’s eyes searched those of Castor. “Jamie told me you were ready to help, but why? What have we Icarians ever done for you?”
“Nothing,” Castor’s response was quick, flat, and without emotion. “Our agreement is with the Lord Protector. He’s promised on his very life that he’ll safeguard the greatest treasures of Kaloria so that our nation will survive. Our people have conferred and voted. If Jamie de Valèn carries through with his promise, we’ll carry through with ours. We’ve entrusted all we have to him and he’s agreed to provide a safe haven. We may be slaves, but we’re an honorable people.”
“Of course.” A sad smile came to Nic’s face. He well understood duty, honor and commitment. It was a code he lived by.
The hov slowed and Nic felt it bank to the right.
“Stage two,” Miro shouted as he picked up the deadly looking ghoster he’d set aside shortly after they’d become airborne. Nic noticed the other Gahdar doing the same.
Slowing to a crawl, the huge troop transport finally stopped its horizontal movement and switched to vertical flight as the craft began a gentle descent. Looking out the portal, Nic could see that the hov was landing on what at first looked like a brightly lit plain. The main difference in the landing pad here was that the ground was hard packed clay, suited more for freight transports than passenger hovs. As in any standard landing field, rows of tall towers surrounded the perimeter of the landing zone, all of them supporting long batteries of lamps; the bright glow of their arcs cut through the dusk of early evening. In fact the entire area was illuminated so well that it was almost as bright as if it would have been high noon on a summer day.
The moment the Goliath touched down, its engines cut off. Seconds later the large bay door at the rear of the craft began to lower, exposing the cavernous troop bay. Once the heavy door formed a ramp, the Gahdar and their cargo of Kalorians began to exit the ship. It took some time, given the condition of many of the prisoners, but eventually everyone was outside the hov.
“Get them together in a group up on the gate platform,” Nic ordered, shouting over the sound of the falls, “use the lift, and make sure they’re sheltered as best as you can. We’ll be getting visitors soon, of that you can be sure."
Although they had their orders, many of the Gahdar paused to stare up at the amazing sight of Angel’s Fall. The natural wonder was a spectacle that was impossible to ignore. Not far from the landing zone, the great fall towered over them. Illuminated by lights just as bright as those on the landing pad, the amazing landmark appeared to glow, as high above them tons of rushing water poured over the cliff’s broad edge.
The torrent, rushing down the face of the falls, its white, churning mass frothing and boiling in a raging maelstrom, seemed to hang in suspension for a few seconds before it crashed to the river below. Billowing curtains of water droplets and clouds of fine mist and spray rose from the river it entered. The sound was deafening. The force of the water hitting the churning river was strong enough to shake the earth. Standing before the awesome falls Nic found it to be as impressive as he’d been led to believe. Turning he gave a rueful glance at the prisoners coming off the hov and shook his head. The magnificently inspiring beauty of nature and the cruel inhumanity of evil men both fought for his attention. He worried for a moment about the effect of the chill and damp from the falls on the many injured, then dismissed the thought as unresolvable.
Turning from both the falls and the hov, he gazed beyond the landing zone until he caught sight of a brightly lit platform standing high above the ground. The expansive structure looked like a huge stage. It, too, was well lit. Nic could see that, just as Jamie had described, the platform held the mirror gates that they’d be using. Seconds later he took a breath of relief when he saw Jamie walk up to its edge, and that with him were his three friends. Still dressed in their theatrical garb, the four boys waved at him and then stepped to one of the lifts and started down to ground level.
Nic dashed to the platform, taking the steps two at a time. Moments later, he swept Jamie up into his arms, lifting the prince off the ground.
After hugging Jamie, he set his mate back down onto the deck of the platform, and only then saw Jamie's bare-chest covered in what looked like mud and blood, and a look of concern crossed his face. “I’m relieved you made it, but is everything alright?”
“So far.” Jamie replied, then understanding Nic’s question, he glanced down and smiled ruefully as he added, “Looks like I started the fight without you, eh? I’m fine, and just so happy to see you. I was terribly worried. Are all of you ok? Are all of you ready?” Jamie’s tone was one of hopeful anticipation.
“We’re more than ready,” Nic replied with a fierceness that surprised his mate. “I promise you that no matter what, we’ll hold back whatever comes, Jamie… whatever comes. You have my word as a Gahdar… and as your mate.”
“The question is, are you ready, Lord Protector?” A familiar voice asked, as Castor stepped around Nic.
“Castor!” Jamie rushed to the old Kalorian, hugging him with all his might.
“I’m an old man. Don’t break my ribs,” Castor managed to finally croak out, using what little air he had left in his lungs in the wake of Jamie’s hug.
“Sorry,” Jamie stepped back. “Are you…?”
“I’m fine,” Castor offered. "I was held in the administrative wing of the prison, in an office. I’m unharmed. The same can’t be said for the others.”
Looking at Castor, Jamie offered his old mentor a sad smile, then his face fell when his gaze moved to the Goliath and he saw the prisoners from Stone Gate being carried from the belly of the hov.
“Oh, Nic,” he gasped. For a brief moment he was unable to speak as he studied the broken bodies of the prisoners. They looked even worse then when he’d first seen them, the night of he and Stephen’s aborted rescue attempt.
“I know, Jamie,” was all Nic could say in response.
A moment later after crowding onto one of the structures large lifts, they arrived at the platform.
“Put them over there,” Nic ordered, pointing to a protected area on one side of the wide platform.
“Where’s Damien?” Jamie’s tone was desperate.
“He wasn’t there,” Nic replied. “One of the guards we questioned told us he’d been returned to the imperial palace a few hours before we arrived.”
Jamie shuddered as he recalled his first sight of Christophe after the boy had been returned to the école after his session with the emperor’s inquisitors. It was something he preferred to suppress. Seconds later he quickly roused when he caught sight of one of the Gahdar advancing toward them and Jamie realized that the young man was carrying Jakobus, or at least what was left of him. Rushing up to the gladiator boy, Jamie looked into the eyes of the Kalorian.
“Jacobus,” he whispered.
A strange half smile came to the Kalorian’s face. “Garon a’ Kalasia,” Jacobus paused and gave a gurgling wet cough. “I remember the first day you came to the École Danse… and the day you helped my mother carry water. I’m sorry I could never tell you how much I admired you, but…” but then a coughing spasm silenced the man.
“No, Jakobus, I’m the one who admires you. What you’ve all done…”
“We’re Kalorians,” he interrupted Jamie after his coughing jag ended, and his weak, half-whisper voice carried a note of determination. “We are men. They will never forget that.”
“No one will,” Nic interjected.
“Jamie,” Jakobus reached out and put a trembling hand on the young dancers bare chest. “See that we don’t die in vain,” he whispered in a voice so low Jamie was the only one who could hear him.
Jamie reached up and clutched at Jakobus hand. He desperately wanted to tell the Kalorian that no one would die today, but he was no fool. Maybe they’d all end up as worm food when the final trumpet called and this battle was over. Looking at Jakobus, his eyes filled with tears and he nodded. Turning to Nic, he focused on composing himself.
“Then we begin,” he almost shouted.
Jamie stepped away from Nic and turned to Yves, who pulled a small communication device from the bag tied to his kilt. Jamie accepted it from his friend. It was the same one he’d asked Castor to procure for him weeks before; the same one he’d used in the underground cavern of Kar Kana a’kar Ang’ieal, the Canon of The Angels.
As he ran his hand over the device, his finger touched the small identity crystal embedded into its surface. Seconds later, it began to glow. When he tugged at one end, it slid open effortlessly. For a few brief seconds, Jamie paused and stared at it. Then his fingers flew across the keypad with blinding speed. Seconds later after pausing to study the screen and then deciding he was satisfied with what he’d keyed in, he finally depressed a small yellow button on the right of the device, sending out the all-clear signal.
For a few seconds he stood and stared at the mirror gates as one by one they began to glow. A moment later groups of Kalorians began emerging from each gate. The arrivals, both men and women, were dressed identically in greenish brown camouflage.
One of the men who’d come through paused and looked around. Finally spotting Jamie, he approached the prince and offered a polite bow. “Silana va desta, Protector. This is indeed a momentous night.”
“Silana va desta, and coom ratta,” Jamie replied.
“Coom ratta indeed,” the man’s expression turned grim, “You’re right, we’ll need all the luck we can muster.”
Quickly Jamie surveyed the other Kalorians who’d passed through the mirror gates, and then added, “Here’s where we’ll make our stand. Are you ready?”
“Yes, our stand; the stand of two races, Kalorian and Icarian, against tyranny and slavery,” the Kalorian replied.
“Protector,” a second Kalorian approached, stepping between Jamie and the first Kalorian who’d greeted him. “We’re the advance party. We’re from a group called the Kalorian League. We’re here to assist you and to help those who come through the gates. We’ll coordinate the exodus from these gates to the larger one on the canyon floor. We plan to station ourselves here at the gates, the lift and all along the route to defend them. Our mission is to make sure they’re directed safely and to defend them as best we can.”
It was then Jamie noticed that each Kalorian was carrying an array of weapons, most of them large and deadly looking.
Jamie’s brow wrinkled. “I thought they’d come en masse and make their way down to the larger gate. The sooner we start, the more we get through. The pathway is broad and easy to access. There’s no question as to the direction they’ll need to travel. In fact, it’s quite easy. I understand your desire to defend, but…”
“They’ll come, and quickly. They’ve patiently been awaiting our signal. Some may need help, others encouragement,” the Kalorian replied. “Our mission is to shepherd and defend them. Yours is…”
“I know my task,” Jamie’s instant and sharp reply cut the man off before the Kalorian could continue. There was a strange and almost pained look in the man’s eyes, and to Jamie it appeared there was more to this than the Kalorian was telling him. He was quite sure of it. Jamie stared up at the tall man, but decided not to question him. Time was precious.
“Then I’ll go down to the larger transport gate. Give me a few minutes.”
“We’re going with you,” Jeremy chimed in as Lucas and Yves nodded their agreement.
“I’m also sending a few duets to accompany you,” Nic added.
“Remember, if they come after us, they’ll mass here first,” Jamie shouted over the roar of the falls while pointing to the mirror gates.
“If? Don’t you mean when?” Miro, who’d approached Jamie and Nic as they’d been talking, interrupted them. A smile shone on the boy’s face.
“This will be their first objective,” Jamie continued, pointing toward the gates. “If they can knock out the power to the mirrors, then we’ll be defeated. They know that. After that, it will make no difference if I can power up the large gate. All will have been for nothing. If they succeed in that objective, then they can choose to make their move on the larger gate or attack those still making their way down the path to reach it. So without these gates supplying us, our mission will be a failure.”
“That won’t happen,” Nic’s face took on a fierce expression that surprised Jamie. “I promise you with everything I have, that will never happen.”
Jamie looked into the eyes of his pa’amore and felt a wave of iron determination emanating from the gladiator boy who’d become his mate. It was stronger than anything Niklas had ever projected when he was sparring. It was even stronger than when Jamie had seen the boy in the arena fighting for his own life. Suddenly, Jamie understood.
From the beginning, his plan held the hidden promise of a suicide mission. He’d hoped it wouldn’t come to that, but standing before the gates and seeing the grim faces of the members of the Kalorian League, the broken bodies of the prisoners from the Prison of Pain and the small army of gladiators, that aspect of the mission was now very real. They might all be dead before this was over, but if he could keep his promise and get them through the gates, the rest of the Icarians, including Charlie and Giovanni, would have a chance, no matter if he and Nic might not be among them.
For one brief second Jamie stared up at Nic. At first Nic’s expression was an unreadable mask, but then the gladiator reached out and took Jamie’s hand. The tiniest of smiles flickered momentarily across his face. The words that spilled from the boy’s mouth were pure Icarian, but the phrase was one the prince had taught him. Nic had used it the night he’d came to Jamie after the prince had taken his brother to Ajax. “What de Valèn and Agramon forge cannot be broken,” he voice was firm and strong as he squeezed Jamie’s hand.
Squeezing Nic’s hand back, the prince nodded though he didn’t return his pa’amore’s small smile. A moment later backed away from Nic and looked up at the sky. “Then we go!” he shouted. With a grim but determined look on his face, Jamie stroked his wings as he took a leap and became airborne. Trio Chrysalis and the six Gahdar duets Nic had assigned to accompany his mate also took to the air and headed for the larger gate station, far in the distance.
For a few seconds Nic watched as Jamie took to the air and then flew away. “That’s how a prince goes to war,” he turned to Miro.
“Such a delicate looking little boy; you wouldn’t think him so fierce, would you?” Miro replied. “He's a real trump card, no?” Nic ignored the chuckle that came from his best friend.
“He’s more than a trump card,” Castor’s eyes followed Jamie as he glided down into the valley. “He’s the seven-sided die my master created to be placed into the game, and the time’s come to roll it. He’s our leader and our general.”
“With the heart of a lion,” Nic added, a tone of love and admiration coloring his voice.
No sooner had Jamie, his companions and the Gahdar duets left when the Kalorian’s in the advance group began to march away from the gates, take the lift down into the valley and start down the long route toward the great almand stone quarries.
As they progressed down the broad pathway, every so many feet one of them would peel off and remain beside the trail. Once in place, each one began a weapons check. As the Kalorian’s march advanced toward the building that contained the large industrial mirror gate far off in the valley, they created a living wall of defense, protecting the route for those who would soon be passing through on their way to safety.
Almost thirty minutes passed as everyone rushed into place; it was a period of anxious worry and Nic constantly studied the sky as he scanned for the attack he knew would come. As he surveyed the army of Gahdar, a powerful thought crashed into Nic’s mind, making him sway for a moment: 'we’re ready.' It was Jamie, sending his thoughts out to his mate.
Turning to one of the Kalorians standing at the first gate Nic gave a nod and a wave. The man withdrew a communicator similar to the one Jamie had used and began to speak into it. Seconds later, all the mirror gates on the platform began to shimmer.
At the same time another Kalorian standing near the edge of the gate platform took out a small horn and blew on it. Its mournful bale echoed down into the valley. At that moment, all the members of the Kalorian League who’d been stationed along the path reached into the green cloak each wore and pulled out a small device. Seconds later, the halo lamps they activated began to glow. As they set them on the ground in front of them, the sight was spectacular: a sparkling path of light, a road to safety and freedom, beckoning the travelers who would soon be hurrying down it. For a second Nic was reminded of the beauty of the lighted walks along the Grand Canal in Imperialas, but was the path of light he now gazed upon one of life or one of death? It was too early to know.
The loud hum that rose from the mirror gates as they all switched on caused Nic’s gaze to go from the path to the platform. Moments passed and then he watched as the gates began to sparkle and shimmer. Finally, the first refugees stepped out onto the lighted platform: a group of children and a few teenagers. An older boy, one of the first to step onto the platform, picked up a tiny girl and hoisted her onto his shoulders, instructing her to clasp her hands beneath his chin for balance. Then he reached out both arms and grasped the hands of two little boys so that one was walking on either side of him. Nic noticed the boy had a pronounced limp.
One of the Kalorians attending the gate said something to the boy and pointed. Immediately the young man headed to the corner of the transport platform that housed the massive lift used to drop the Kalorian quarry workers into the valley below. After waiting for a few minutes until the lift filled, the gate was closed and the large elevator began its descent into the valley below.
Out of habit, the gladiator clutched his sword and then released his grip on its hilt. While useful in the arena, unless they engaged in hand-to-hand combat, it would do little good here. He raised and considered the menacing ghoster he’d been cradling in his other arm. Taking it in both hands he checked its settings, then he studied his fellow Gahdar who were doing the same.
Standing guard, Nic watched and waited as the strange, two-stage time machine Jamie had constructed and code named The Night of Flight began its operation. People emerged from the gates, entered the great lift, and once they reached the valley floor below, were guided down the lighted path created by the Kalorian League. Soon there was a steady tramping of feet as those passing through the gates made their way down into the valley below and the large gate Jamie would power up to ensure their escape to someplace Nic remembered faintly from geography lessons: Taldor Valoren.
On the valley floor, near of the mouth of one of the great quarries, Jamie stood with Trio Chrysalis and the six duets who’d accompanied him. After reaching the enormous building he was looking for, he found a control box recessed into the exterior wall of the structure; stepping over to it, Jamie touched a series of buttons that activated an incredibly large set of doors. As the doors slowly opened they revealed that the building housed a gigantic mirror gate. Used to transport giant blocks of quarried almand stone to Argon, it dwarfed them as they stared up at it. This night it would be transporting a very different cargo.
Turning to look back up the way they’d come, he studied the line of Kalorians from the League. Their cloaked bodies half hidden in the dark, half exposed by the halo lamps at their feet gave them a specter-like appearance. The light glinting off the gleaming metal casings of their ghosters, repeaters and stun launchers only added to the effect. Turning away from the path Jamie looked back up at the massive mirror gate standing before him. The industrial sized gate in the belly of the opera house suddenly looked small, compared to the one he was now studying.
“Is everything ok?” Lucas asked anxiously. He was carrying a sword, as were Yves and Jeremy, and this time instead of the wooden prop swords they’d used for their performance, the blades were very real, as were the miniature ghosters strapped to their waists, bestowed on them by the Gahdar who Nic had ordered to accompany Jamie. The trio, still dressed in the battle armor they'd worn during the performance, looked every bit like the Gahdar of the Red Castle. Jamie shuddered at the sight. Although they looked ready to fight, he knew the swords would do little to protect his friends from the ghoster fire that was coming. He hoped the ghosters at their sides might help.
“Yes, I’m ready.” Jamie replied. 'Enough power to split a planet.' The thought resounded in Jamie’s mind. “I hope you’re right, father.” He softly whispered to himself as he waited. Finally, in the distance, he started to see movement. Someone was coming, and Jamie watched in silence as the first wave emerged from the shadows and approached the gate.
As the initial group got closer, Jamie’s heart grew lighter when he recognized who was in the lead, and even under the difficult circumstances they all faced, a smile came to his face.
“Larrus!” he called out, “Larrus, over here."
The large boy stopped. Appearing confused, Larrus began to look about. Finally spotting Jamie, a broad smile swept across the Kalorian boy’s face.
“Prince Jamie!” he cried out. “Prince Jamie! Look, it’s me, Larrus.”
“I know, Larrus,” Jamie called back, “over here, quickly.”
Soon the boy, with a little girl on his shoulders and a small boy clutching each of his hands, was standing next to Jamie.
“Where’s your mother?” Jamie looked around and began studying those who were still approaching him.
“She’s coming later. She told me to go first and help the little ones.”
“Now Larrus, please listen to me, it’s very important. Do you understand? Listen carefully and I’ll tell you what to do. You must follow everything I say.”
The smile dropped from Larrus face as he stood silently, solemnly concentrating on every word Jamie spoke.
When his friend was finished, Larrus' smile returned. “Friends help each other,” he grinned.
“Remember Larrus, you’re the first. You have the most important job of all. The others will follow your example. Do as I’ve told you: once you get through, stand by the gate you’ve just passed through. It will help and encourage the others. Can you do that for me?”
Nodding solemnly, Larrus' face grew serious. “I will.”
“Good. I’m really counting on you.”
Once more Jamie looked up at the massive mirror gate and prepared to concentrate, but was stopped by Larrus. Letting go of the hands of one of the small boys he’d been leading he placed it on Jamie’s shoulder.
“When will I see you again?”
Jamie paused and turned until his eyes met those of his Kalorian friend. A sharp pain stabbed both of his hearts.
“You’re going to a safe and beautiful place, Larrus. All of you will be living there for a hundred years before you see any angels flying the skies again. You know that’s a long time, don’t you? A long time, Larrus… a hundred years. You’re going to be a time traveler. Do you understand? You're going to move through time just like everyone does every day. You’re going to be protected and safe as you do. You’re going to live a long and happy life, and while you’re traveling through time, I’m going to be traveling too, just in a different way.”
“I’ll see you? No?” Larrus' tone was hopeful.
“In a hundred years...” Jamie chocked on the words. He didn’t have the heart to tell Larrus that by then the boy would have turned into an old man and most likely would be dead.
“I can’t promise, but I’ll try. Now, are you ready to go?”
Breaking off his conversation with Larrus, Jamie turned back to the massive mirror gate, but before he could begin to concentrate a distant sound caught his attention. Looking to the sky his eyes took note of a mass of bright and blinking lights far off in the distance. Looking closer he could see what looked like an armada of hovs rapidly approaching the landing zone. The empire had finally responded, and from the number of craft it was clear their response would be both strong and deadly.
Standing on the deck of the mirror gate platform, Nic saw them too. After checking his weapon one last time, he took a deep, cleansing breath. For a fraction of a second he felt the presence of his old teacher. “I’ll do my best, master,” the thought raced through his mind. “Just as you taught me.”
From one end of the platform, a war whoop could be heard. “First blood gets a point,” David shouted.
“First kill gets two, little brother,” Miro shouted back, “and no cheating!”
The sight of the first squadron wing of imperial battle hovs had taken Jamie’s breath away and destroyed his concentration. Finally shaking off the effect of the dismaying sight as best he could, he too took a deep, steadying breath. Staring intently at the mirror gate, he mustered ever ounce of his concentration as a low, steady mantra began to spill from his lips. For a few moments he felt like a man trying to move an immense boulder. At first nothing happened, but then something changed inside of him. His strength increased and he could feel a surge of energy as it began to flow out of him. Fueled by his fear and raw emotions, it was far more powerful then anything he’d ever experienced, and surprisingly, like the rush of a fast acting drug, he found he liked it.
There was a sudden snapping sound, as if a small twig had broken underfoot, followed by a loud popping noise. Seconds later a spark shot from the huge mirror gate; it was followed by a second, and then a third. More and more sparks flew out, their number and frequency increasing until they formed a shining fountain. Harder and deeper Jamie concentrated until the fountain turned into a flowing river as the portal of the mirror gate began to glow and then shimmer.
Unable to speak Jamie pointed, hoping Larrus would remember what he’d told the Kalorian boy to do. Larrus did remember, for just seconds after the portal opened, the young man was moving into the mirror gate with the children. Jamie watched as they passed through, and then they were gone.
If Jamie had the time, he’d have felt sad, but every ounce of his being was focused on keeping the gate open. Behind him, he began to hear explosions and weapons fire, yet all he could do was stand firm, concentrate, and watch as one by one or in small groups, the steady stream passed by him and entered the gate.
On and around the platform, the skies above the Gahdar and the mirrorgates they protected exploded into a battlefield as ghoster fire and canon shock reigned down on the gladiators. The night grew brighter as brilliant searchlights knifed through the dark sky and played across the scene below.
When the fighting began, those coming from the gates halted and began to panic. It took every ounce of persuasion those shepherding them could muster to get them moving again, but the members of the Kalorian League got them restarted and then continued the exodus with heroic courage while the Gahdar of Castle Rood fought like lions to defend them. From the lower path, shouts and screams along with responding ghoster fire could be heard. More than a few from the League took hits, and so too did some of those beginning to enter and exit the lift. Return fire lanced up at their attackers, enough to make them cautious.
For over thirty minutes, Jamie stood firm and held the portal open. He could well imagine the carnage taking place further up the valley, though he tried not to. No matter what, he couldn’t stop. He’d promised on his very life, and he’d continue or die trying. It was only after several minutes of groups entering the gate that he began to take note of a curious thing, his attention being nearly entirely centered on maintaining the open gate.
As he’d concentrated on keeping the gate open, his eyes were constantly on those passing through it. Watching them progress through the glowing portal, a strange feeling came over him when it occurred to him that almost all of those passing through the gate were children. Some were little babies carried in the arms of older children, others were toddlers, or again young teens. Occasionally an adult would enter the gate, but over ninety-five percent of those who'd passed through the gate had been children, he was sure of it.
Another five minutes passed. By now he’d become hyper-aware of those parading before him, and just as he’d suspected, only children appeared to be entering the gate. What was happening? Where were all the adults?
Another twenty minutes passed and Jamie held firm. Concussive blasts shook the ground. Flashes of light like the lightening of a storm lit up the sky as it flickered behind him. It was torture not to take a look, but he held steady to his task. Suddenly, an even more chilling thought ran up his spine when he realized he hadn’t seen one Kalorian he recognized from the settlements in Isewier. For a few seconds his vision clouded and he swayed unsteadily on his feet. He was exhausted and a frisson of fear coursed through his veins. What if I grow too weak and am unable to continue?
His hearts were ready to sink at the thought when a hand came to rest on his shoulder; his concentration broke, and the gate grew dark as he turned to face the person who’d touched him.
Once his vision cleared, his eyes grew wide: standing before him were two old and familiar friends, Aleigha and Jokum Verg.
“Jamie, it’s a joy to see you,” Jokum, horse master to his father and his former riding instructor, squeezed the spot where his hand gripped Jamie’s shoulder.
“My little Garon a’ Kalasia,” Aleigha quickly stepped up and gave him a hug and a kiss. “Such a handsome and dashing young man you’ve turned into. I remember dancing with you when you were a little boy, and now look at you. Everyone from Isewier sends their love. We’re all so very proud of you, and proud that you're one of us.”
“Isewier?” Jamie asked. “Are they finally coming through? I was afraid when I didn’t recognize anyone from the southern settlements, I....”
“Isewier’s here in force,” Aleigha smiled. "In fact, we’ve brought you a gift." Looking behind her, he saw row upon row of children, each clutching a large Isewierian lily. Those too small, like the babies in arms and toddlers who could hardly walk, had someone else carrying one for them.
The sight overwhelmed him, and tears welled in his eyes. It seemed forever since he’d left his beautiful home in Dragon’s Cove and the love that had constantly surrounded him in the settlements. A flash followed by a loud explosion shook the ground and had him turning up to look toward the platform holding the mirror gates, but he was too far away to gain a good view. Suddenly he noticed something, and felt a tremor of fear again.
“Where are the Gahdar and the three boys who were with them?” Jamie called out to the member of the Kalorian league who was standing closest to him.
“Up there,” the man replied pointing back up the path. “They decided to go back up and help. It appears to be a wicked battle the empire’s waging. They thought they could be more help there than here."
Jamie's stomach cramped with sudden fear; his friends, dancers, fighting a war.
Turning back to Aleigha and Jokum he studied them for a few seconds, then looking behind them he once more saw the sea of children from Isewier they were leading. A worrisome thought nagged at his mind and his gaze went to Aleigha.
“Aleigha, I must ask you something.”
Aleigha looked at him in anticipation.
“So far only a few adults have come through; the rest are children… almost all are children.”
At the conclusion of Jamie’s question, a puzzled look came to Aliegha’s face. “I was told they’d informed you,” she replied slowly. “We were told that you knew that the greatest treasures and resources of the Second Empire were entrusted to you. Is that not so?”
“Jamie, we’re an enslaved people. What treasures do we have, if not our children?”
As if he’d just looked up to see a landslide barreling toward him, Jamie’s eyes shot open. “No… you mean… oh no, Aleigha, but you can’t…” and for a moment he couldn’t speak.
“The vote was unanimous,” Aleigha replied. “How could we all come through the gates? Almost all of them are inoperable except at key points, and those are well secured. Remember, we only voted and agreed a few days ago… during your performance. For those of us who have gotten here to Tower Mount, it’s taken an incredible effort. Many have already died just trying to reach this point, even some of the children. Plus, we’re a whole race; it would have taken days, maybe weeks for us to pass unnoticed, and you know that would have been impossible. We’d have been discovered and there aren’t enough Gahdar on the planet to have protected us. It was decided that lots would be drawn for the children… even they couldn’t all get through. Then a second lot was drawn to choose a small group of adults who would accompany them.
“When we reach the valley, we’ll establish tribes with the adults heading up clans of many children. The first official clan will be Clan Aldorian. You remember Jorge Aldorian and his wife, Janek? They used to love watching you dance. They will be the first clan. Others will follow, including clan Verg. We’ll teach them our ways and our history, and we’ll wait for you… for the future. They told us you built us a time machine, Jamie, and we’re here to help you make it work.”
The tears Jamie had been holding in began to stream down his face. The shock of what he'd just heard seemed to have numbed him. He choked out, “You sacrificed yourselves for your children?”
“It was the only acceptable choice.”
“What have I done? What kind of a plan have I created…?”
“One that’s going to save our race.” Aleigha was now smiling at him through her own tears. “I know it seems hard to accept, but we’ve accepted it. As a race, we’ve never been treated fairly. You, Lord Protector, have offered us some hope. It’s not perfect, Jamie, but it’s more than we’ve ever had, given their plan to execute all of us. You may think it’s only a fragile straw for us to grasp, but we’ve grasped it with full knowledge, and with hope and joy.”
“If you hadn't done this, we’d have had no hope whatsoever,” Jokum interjected. “Without you, we’d surely all be dead… every one of us, including the children.”
In the distance Jamie heard another loud explosion, and as heartsick as he felt after the revelation imparted by his friends, he knew what he must do.
“Are you ready?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.
“Yes,” Aleigha gave him another hug. “Don’t be sad, Jamie. You’ve done a great and wondrous thing. We’re all so proud of you. All of Isewier’s love and gratitude goes with you forever. Never forget that.”
Released from his embrace Jamie turned back to the mirror gate, but then paused when he remembered something. Holding out his hand, he offered what he’d been clutching to Aleigha.
“You’ll need this. It'll activate the force field that will protect the valley. It’s keyed to the generator in the caverns of the Canon of the Angels, and the global satellite system. When it’s activated, the force field it generates will mass over top of the valley and settle over the mountain peaks. It will create a dome of energy. It’s the same kind of force field the Empire planned to use at the Canon of the Angels to keep us isolated there. No one will be able to enter, but also no one will be able to get out. It’s keyed to operate for one hundred years. You don’t have to know any more than that, and I’ve run out of time to explain. The Kalorian leadership was briefed. Make sure one of the members of the Kalorian League gets it. I was going to give it to the last one through, but I can’t be sure how long we can continue… how long I can continue. I’m starting to get tired.
“If no one knows what to do, just press the red button. It’s all automatic. After the signal’s sent, the communicator will close on its own and won’t open until either I or another Imperial Seraphim touches it a hundred years from now. Just make sure everyone is through. Even the mirror gate won’t operate once it’s activated.”
Aleigha nodded, and then bent over and gave Jamie a kiss. “Coom ratta,” she murmured.
“Good luck to you, too,” Jamie replied. Setting his feet firmly on the ground at shoulder width, he faced the mirror gate one more time and resumed his concentration.
Once the gate was open, Aleigha and Jokum stood on either side of it and shepherded the children of Isewier through it. One by one, as they approached the gate each child bent down and laid the Isewierian lily they’d been carrying at Jamie’s feet.
“Kress’ta, Sa’Crêsmané.” Every child old enough to speak repeated the phrase as they presented their lily to Jamie, addressing him by his Icarian title of Lord Protector, while adding the fomal Kalorian word for thank you.
Twenty minutes passed as the pile of lilies grew into a mountain next to him, but he could scarcely see it for the tears that blurred his eyes as he stood like a statue and continued to hold the gate.
On higher ground, the battle raged on. The fighting had been fierce but the Gahdar, true to their code fought on; as more troops arrived, it was becoming harder to defend the gates and their source of power. The air was thick with ghoster bolts. Fearing they would finally be pinned down and rendered ineffective Nic, not sure what to do, turned when a shout from a corner of the platform drew his attention. One of the stronger Kalorian prisoners was calling his name and waving for him to approach. Dodging ghoster fire and stun grenades, Nic eventually reached the man.
“This way!” the Kalorian shouted over bursts of weapon fire and loud explosions as he led Nic behind one of the large generators that powered the mirror gates.
Stopping before one of the prisoners laying on the platform, the man who’d gotten Nic to follow him stepped aside and pointed down at the man, the same one Nic had carried earlier, whose one hand and both feet had been rent from him.
“We can help." Nic could barely make out the man's words in his weak and ragged voice.
“How?” Nic asked.
“Use us as your shields.”
“What?” Nic wasn’t sure what the man meant.
“Use us as your shields,” he repeated.
“We can’t do that,” Nic began.
“Yes, you can,” a second voice called out. “Come over here to me.”
Making his way over to the man, Nic bent down and saw that it was Jamie’s friend, Jakobus. “What are you talking about?”
“I was with Jamie at the École Danse. He’s a good boy, and he needs our help.”
“You can’t fight.”
“No, but our bodies can be your shields.”
“Absolutely not,” Nic countered.
“Look at us,” Jakobus coughed and spat out a wad of blood. “Most of us are dead or dying. Some of…” he paused and looked down at his blood stained crotch, "aren’t even men anymore. Please, Niklas von Agramon. Give us back our dignity. Let us help you. We’ll serve as your shields. Even if they kill us, our bodies can still protect you. Make our lives count for something. Make our deaths not be in vain.”
For a few seconds Nic simply stared down at the man, but then a loud explosion shook the platform and roused the Gahdar from his thoughts.
“Very well, then,” he replied grimly.
“Thank you,” Jakobus looked up at the gladiator as a smile came to his lips. “One thing though.”
“I’d like you to use me as your shield, Gahdar Niklas. It would be a great honor for me to protect you.”
A lump rose in the gladiator’s throat. He turned away and tried to swallow. Never before had he seen such a display of selfless courage.
“We’ll do as you ask,” Nic finally replied, “but it’s I who am humbled to stand in the shadow of your immense courage, Jakobus. It is an honor I accept, but do not deserve.”
“We’ll do it together,” Jakobus replied with a smile before a fit of coughing overtook him.
After calling as many Gahdar as could safely make their way to him, Niklas outlined the plan.
When he was finished the gladiator boys surrounding him stepped back and with a strong shout and ghosters drawn, honored the stricken Kalorians with a salute of respect never even given to the emperor himself. Then, reaching down, they picked up the maimed and broken bodies of the prisoners, held them out before them as shields and resumed their defense of the crucial mirror gates and power generators.
Knowing the value of life and how easily it could be lost, the selfless courage of the Kalorian’s infused the young men of Castle Rood with renewed strength. Even those Gahdar too far away get to use one of Kalorians as a shield, seeing what the prisoners were willing to sacrifice, fought as they’d never fought before. Had Enrick and Savaron Loka observed the scene, they’d have shuddered. The gladiator army of Royal Thrones they’d helped create was a juggernaut of power and strength. Under an Icarian king, it could be used to forge an empire that House Blackwell could only dream of creating, and if that king chose to act, it would certainly bring the rotten Imperial House, and its corrupt leadership, to an end.
The battle continued until at one point the fighting had become so fierce that only the bodies of the dead, piled like a wall of human flesh, protected the generator powering the mirror gates from being disabled.
As the struggle raged on, the children of the Second Empire continued their march down the path and through the gate. Finally, the exodus ended. There was no one left. After everyone who was going through had gone, some of the members of the Kalorian league began to pass through the mirror gate. In the end, one lone woman stood before Jamie. She was older, lean and hard, with short, cropped hair.
“I am Catha Savetta, a founder of the Kalorian League. When I pass, it’s finished. You will deactivate the gate, and we will activate the barrier. No more shall pass.” Then the woman was gone, stepping without hesitation into the sparkling curtain of light.
Jamie held his concentration for a few more seconds to insure the woman made a safe passage through, then he cut the power and dropped to his knees, so exhausted he could barely hold up his head. The effort had taken every bit of his strength. He had nothing left. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he turned to his left and his gaze fell upon the mountain of lilies towering over him. As he stared at the flowers, a memory flashed through his mind. Shifting back to the mirror gate, his gaze meandered to the counter built into the device. Before he’d started, he’s set it to zero. When he read it, his heart sank at the number he read: seven thousand, eighty one. That was all? Only seven thousand eighty one had passed through? Millions of people, an entire race had counted on him, and he hadn't saved even ten thousand of them.
“I’m a failure,” he cried aloud as he slumped and put his hands over his face.
“It’s taken you this long to realize that?” Slowly, Jamie turned his face in the direction of the familiar sounding voice.
“Since you’re my responsibility, I asked the archduke to let me lead the assault.” Hippolito stared down at Jamie, one soot stain marring his otherwise perfectly creamy complexion. The Prince of Hypernia’s face registered a look of disgust, as if he were staring at a pile of foul and rotten rubbish. With one foot he kicked at the pile of lilies, and the mound collapsed. “Gifts from your pets, I presume?” When Jamie didn’t reply, Hippolito waved languidly at him. "Take him." Before Jamie could even think, two large, stun-armor clad troopers grabbed him by either arm and drug him to his feet.
“This is going to be so satisfying,” Hippolito sneered as he turned his back on Jamie and headed up the path toward the mirror gate platform at the base of Angel’s Fall. The two troopers roughly dragged Jamie along behind Hippolito. So exhausted he could barely stand, let alone walk, Jamie quickly discovered he could muster no resistance to them. Every scrap of his energy was gone.
Once they reached the platform, Jamie saw an imperial battle hov sitting in the landing zone next to the one that had brought Hippolito. The rest of the area was deserted save for piles of corpses, pools of blood and a gruesome assortment of body parts, some of which had clearly once been children.
Panic-stricken he looked around, but didn’t see even one Gahdar among the dead. Castor, too, was not among them. Not knowing if that was something to be grateful for or to dread, he simply lost the strength to care as he slumped against the rough hands dragging him along. Exhausted almost to fainting, he stared at a sight that, after a moment to understand what he was looking at, chilled him to the bone.
Unable to change after they’d left the stage of the Imperial Botanicum, Jamie and his three friends had fled the Imperial Palace with only the costumes on their backs. Although he was barefoot, his friends had been wearing their slippers. The sight of a bloody, tattered ballet slipper lying near what looked like a charred and mangled leg made him sick to his stomach. Turning away, he gasped as the pain of loss knifed through his chest and tears or grief poured from his eyes, freely running down his face. He’d been utterly defeated; his failure was now complete.
Bound to his seat, Jamie slumped forward as the hov took flight. His head pounded, his strength was sapped and even if it hadn’t been, he didn’t care. He’d failed. The great protector had been a fraud. Seven thousand eighty one, the number was etched in his brain. It mocked his plan. It mocked him with his own impotence.
I gave them false hope. I lied to them. I broke every promise I made. How many have I killed with my stupid plan? I don’t care what they do to me.
Not sure what to expect when the hov finally touched down, Jamie barely registered that he was back at the Imperial Palace.
Released from his chains, he was hustled into a side door of the palace. Frog marched down empty halls and corridors and dragged through a number of rooms, he finally found himself in a large, ornate salon. A great, round table sat at its center. Seated around the table were the emperor, and most of the members of the Imperial Council. Behind Enrick stood Renaud, his face as expressionless as the marble busts lining the walls of the room.
Savaron Loka’s cold hard gaze fell on him, and Jamie looked away. From behind him, Hippolito strode into the room.
“My Emperor, I’ve captured him.” The boy beamed with pride.
Slowly rising from his seat, the emperor deliberately made his way around the table. Brushing past and ignoring the smug-faced Hippolito, Enrick continued until he stood before Jamie.
The two troopers on either side of Jamie released the prince and stepped back. Reaching out, the emperor rubbed the back of his hand along Jamie’s soft cheek, ignoring it when Jamie flinched. Then he took Jamie’s chin in his hand and forced the boy to look up at him.
“All this from my favorite dancer; I guess you danced the roll of Foss so many times you started to fancy yourself him,” were Enrick’s only words.
“My emperor, you don’t have to dirty your hands with this… worthless piece of rubbish,” Loka spat out the words. His tone of disgust and revulsion was impossible to ignore. “We’ll…” but he stopped when the Enrick raised a finger in the archduke’s direction.
“Tomorrow we evacuate the planet, Savaron,” he replied softly. "While things haven’t worked out completely as we’ve planned, we’ve succeeded in quelling the slave rebellion, haven't we?” he almost cooed the words as he looked into Jamie’s eyes. “That doesn’t mean we can’t still have an evening’s pleasure.” He smiled at Jamie, baring his teeth in a wolfish grin. “How charmingly ironic, Prince de Valèn. My original plan was to bed you before your mating ceremony with your pa’amore,” he grinned as he shot a glance at Hippolito. ”In my studies, I came across a quaint, ancient custom from the home world called The First Night. It gives the right of the first night to the sovereign, if he so chooses. I’d hoped to do it the night before you were mated to Hippolito. Now I’ll do it on the night before I execute you.”
Releasing his hold on Jamie’s chin, he stepped back and waved his hand. Immediately the two troopers who’d been guarding Jamie resumed their grip on his arms as they roughly escorted him out of the room. Moments later he found himself in a luxurious bedchamber, that of the emperor himself.
Pushed into a nearby chair, he didn't even struggle as he was secured in place. His exhausted mind was on overload, and not registering current events very well. The troopers departed and he was left alone. Chained to the chair, his head hung in defeat as he breathed the stench of his own spectacular failure.
He’d known of Enrick’s desire to bed him, having learned it from Renaud the day he’d been confronted by Hippolito in the Battlecom. It had been a shocking revelation, but one he'd thought avoidable. Keeping it from Niklas for fear of his mate’s reaction, he’d assumed that before the moment arrived they’d be safely away from Enrick’s grasp. Chained to a chair in Enrick’s bedchamber, he realized how wrong he’d been.
What frightened him even more was that if by some miracle Nic was still alive, such a violation of the Icarian bond would have disastrous consequences for them both.
“I’m sorry, Nic,” he whispered as he sat awaiting his fate.
After what seemed like an hour, Jamie heard a rustling sound and the emperor, followed by Renaud, swept into the room. Jamie, refusing to look up, remained silent. He gritted his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut. He would not cry!
“Unbind him,” Enrick ordered, after handing Renaud a key.
Bending over Jamie, Renaud inserted the key in the lock binding Jamie’s chains and snapped it open. As the bodyguard helped Jamie to his feet, the prince noticed absently that the emperor was wearing a long dressing gown. Undoing the gown’s sash, Enrick gave a shrug and it fell to the ground. Now naked, the imperial ruler of the planet climbed into the bed.
“Prepare him,” Enrick snapped at Renaud.
Slowly Renaud began to remove Jamie’s clothes and soon the boy was standing before him, naked. Jamie was numb, a dull, hopeless look in his eyes. Renaud touched Jamie on his shoulder, but the boy continued to stare at the ground. It was then that Renaud, in a move similar to that of the emperor, reached out and took Jamie’s chin in his hand. Leaning in, he gave Jamie a light kiss on the lips.
The kiss surprised Jamie enough that it roused him from his stupor. Shocked, he stared into the Angel of Death’s eyes. Renaud's piercing gaze met his and for few seconds their eyes locked in an unblinking stare. Then slowly, Renaud’s gaze moved downward and Jamie’s eyes followed. He watched as Renaud’s right hand hitched up the front of his own short tunic ever so slightly, while with his left hand he reached out and touched Jamie between the legs. Jamie startled, and even though numb with grief, the crudeness of Renaud’s action stirred shock and surprise in the prince.
“Get away from me,” Jamie spat in anger. The action drew Enrick’s attention.
“There wasn’t any mention of sharing, boy," The emperor barked, his voice hard. “If you're good and wait outside, I might let you have what’s left. Now bring him to me and be gone.”
Taking Jamie by the arm, Renaud led the prince to Enrick’s bed. With a hand around the boy’s waist, he hoisted Jamie into the tall bed. Then he turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.
The emperor reached out and grabbed Jamie, pulling him closer. “It’s a pity we won’t be sharing the future together, Prince de Valèn," he grinned with chilled mockery.
“I won't miss you,” Jamie hissed as the look on Enrick’s face flashed from lust to shock, his mouth gaped open, and a low, piggish grunt emerged from his lips.
Looking down, Enrick saw a long, slender dagger thrust to the hilt in his abdomen. In the diversion Renaud had created when he’d crudely touched the prince, Jamie had reached down and slipped the weapon from the sheath strapped to Angel of Death’s upper leg, the same one Renaud had nodded to when, after kissing Jamie, he’d hitched up his own tunic. Grasping it, the prince had concealed it behind his back just as Renaud hoisted him onto Enrick’s bed.
“That,” Jamie growled, his hand twisting the handle of the dagger, “was for my father.” In his mind the image of Edmond Croal slumped dead in his chair, a ghoster blast to his chest, bloomed in Jamie’s mind. The emperor groaned with pain as the razor sharp dagger sliced and cut inside his belly. The man's face had gone white and he was ineffectually flailing at his attacker.
Dragging the dagger from Enrick’s belly, another memory flashed into Jamie's mind as he reversed his grip on the knife, deftly avoided the emperor's desperately flailing arms, and slammed it into the man’s chest.
“That,” he hissed angrily, shoving the blade even deeper into the man’s chest, “is for Stephen.”
Jamie’s eyes were now flashing with wild rage, his former exhaustion forgotten. It was as if an unquenchable bonfire of rage had been lit, incredibly hot and impossible to extinguish. Again, he withdrew the bloody dagger only to plunge it once more into the man’s chest. “This one is for Cristophe, and the Trio,” he shouted.
A gurgling sound passed from Enrick’s lips and he coughed out a fine crimson spray as his lungs began to fill with blood and the silk sheets of the imperial bed soaked up what leaked from the man's multiple stab wounds. Jamie, in such a rage that he could no longer control himself, gripped the handle of the dagger until his knuckles were white and with all his might, smashed its blade one, two, three more times into the body of the emperor until, on the fourth attempt, it was halted in its descent when Renaud, now back in the room and standing above Jamie, restrained the boy’s arm.
“It’s finished, Sa’Crêsmané,” he ordered quietly into Jamie's ear as he was pulling the knife from Jamie’s hand.
"He isn’t dead yet,” Jamie snarled.
“He will be… soon, and at your hand.”
Gripping Jamie under his arms, Renaud pulled him from the bed to the floor and then threw the prince his short tunic. “Get dressed, quickly. Some of the palace staff are waiting for you in the kitchen.”
“But what of Nic… and the others?”
“It’s my responsibility to protect you. I have my orders. Nothing else matters at the moment. If you stay here, you’ll be captured and killed."
“But Nic… where is he? I demand…”
“I’ve heard they were all captured, but I know little.”
Jamie pulled on his clothing as fast as he could, trying to block from his mind thoughts of Nic and what might have happened to his mate. Once he was dressed, Renaud led him through a maze of service corridors to the kitchen, where a small group of Kalorians were waiting for him. After delivering Jamie to them, Renaud turned on his heels and vanished.
“Renaud!” Jamie called out, but it was too late; the former Emperor’s bodyguard was gone.
Rushing from the palace surrounded by a phalanx Kalorians, they’d just gained the far edge of the cutting gardens when a battery of bright lights flashed on and they were caught in the glare.
Twenty feet away and to their left, Savaron Loka and a demi-toon of imperial shock troops blocked their way. To Loka's right, Hippolito stood glaring hatefully at his erstwhile mate. The archduke walked over to Jamie and looked down at him. Jamie, defeated, stared blankly over the man's shoulder.
“How could I have not seen this? The great Jacques de Valèn, The Founder himself, would have acted the very same way, and just like him you had your own Escalad Agramos. I knew from the start that you were virtually a clone of The Founder, and I foolishly ignored it. I’ve underestimated you at every turn, Prince de Valèn,” he murmured. “Well, no more. I can’t believe I let things get this far. It was only in the last hour, after we did a search and found the Intention to Mate filed by Edmond Croal himself, that I fully understood what’s been happening. If only I’d discovered that document three years ago, things would have been much different today. The traitor Croal just wanted us to think he was an old fool, but it’s of no importance. He’s dead now, and your Intention to Mate will become the order of your execution, Jamie de Valèn… both yours and that filthy Gahdar to whom you’ve so willingly given yourself."
Then, turning to Hippolito, he added. “Put him with the others. Kill the rest. Make sure he’s the last. You know what to do.”