The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part III - Baron of Rood
“Ever been in one of these?” The burly sergeant gestured around the cabin of the hov he’d boarded moments before. "Hey, wipe your feet before stepping in here."
“I’m a grunt,” the frowning shock trooper replied as he glanced to his right and studied his sergeant, who sat on a small jump seat a few feet away. “Bone-rattling troopships with steel seats and standard hovs are the only things I’ve ever been on. It’s eye-opening to see how the rich and powerful live.”
“The archduke ordered us to use it, so it looks like we get to live like the other half.” The sergeant, an older man with a thin scar across the bridge of his nose, smirked back at the trooper. Looking past the younger man he glanced at the passenger in the seat behind them and studied the boy prince until a sudden vibration sent his glance back to the trooper. “I guess they want him to be comfortable. The journey to Piropolis will be short, this is a supersonic,” he added with a grin.
Strapped into a hov seat modified for use by those with wings, Jamie took no notice of the troopers' exchange. Completely preoccupied with self-castigation for his failures, he didn't notice that the supersonic hov that he’d been dragged into was a luxury model that couldn’t have been further from the common penal transports used to shuttle about most prisoners. Numb from all he’d been through, he was shut down to everything around him. The amount of energy he’d expended maintaining the gate at Angels Fall had exhausted him. This, combined with his depression induced by his feelings of failure, had him locked into a fugue state from which he had no desire to escape.
Although so much had happened from the moment he’d arrived at Angel’s Fall until he’d killed the emperor, his mind remained locked on the number he’d read on the super gate at Angel’s Fall, immediately after he’d closed it. Having gotten less than ten thousand through, Jamie despaired; his grand Night of Flight had been a failure. If Hippolito were to be believed, Nic and the Gahdar had been captured; if they weren’t already dead, he had no doubt they soon would be. On top of that, Lucas, Jeremy and Yves were gone. As he thought of the mangled leg and burned ballet slipper and his rage rose. Struggling to swallow the lump in his throat, he suddenly thought he might vomit. Resigned to his fate, he was beginning to feel that his situation was exactly what he deserved, just punishment for a stupid act. Worse yet was the fact that he’d dragged so many others into the sinking cesspool of failure with him.
“I deserve whatever I get,” he thought, as scenes of the past hours' events replayed in his head. Seconds later, the hov began its rapid ascent and the sudden tug of g-force roused him from his introspection.
Though he had no will to fight, he’d come to realize that he couldn’t have resisted even had he tried. The death of the emperor at his hand had produced an unforeseen consequence, one he'd never imagined. While he’d managed to take revenge against Enrick, the assassination of the emperor had exacted a price. It was something he’d forgotten about when, weary and exhausted, he'd played out the events of the past few hours over and over in his head. But no matter how often he recalled them, he was always fixated on the moment when he’d stared up at the super gate at Angels Fall to read the final number of travelers who’d passed through it. Now, confined to the hov as a prisoner, the truth of that consequence stared him in the face, and he remembered things he'd forgotten before.
The twelve viruses Gold Glass’s premier scientist had infected him with at the time of his decantation had changed him. On that fateful day, Edmond Croal, the man he considered his father, had loosed him like an arrow from his rebellious bow, shooting him into the future to strike a distant target. The first set of peculiar traits the prince had begun to manifest had blossomed while he still lived at his father’s villa on the coast of Dragon’s Cove. Beginning with his strange ability to activate the mirror gate system without a key card or password his talents progressed until, just by using his mind, he could access the net: first his father’s private network at the villa, then later the entire planetary grid.
After his father explained to Jamie what he had done, the boy's abilities continued to grow, nurtured by the exercises Croal had put him through. Before his capture, he'd slowly acquired the ability to read people's emotional states quite accurately, and to read at least surface thoughts. At first it was mostly limited to strong feelings and raw emotions, but in time his abilities grew more refined and subtle.
“Remember your exercises,” his father had constantly reminded him.
After his capture by Savaron Loka, he’d continued to practice during his years of confinement at the École until his talents had become significantly stronger. His metamorphosis had taken time, but during his early years on the Mon des Arts when he was mostly friendless and alone except for the boys of Trio Chrysalis and his mentor Christophe, time was a commodity he’d had a wealth of. It wasn’t until he acquired the use of the screen, began his lessons with Stephen Perkinjius, and came to know Hippolito that his understanding of the much bigger picture gradually emerged. He’d learned a few facts about the viruses and their effects through his own studies, but it was the Prince of Hypernia’s strange tale of imperial and royal houses, a wizard and a king, and the role the empire was preparing the Icarian race to play in its grand scheme of conquest that motivated him to learn more, until the final veil was pulled from his eyes.
His search for information had been much easier than he’d have guessed. With lightning swift access to the full range of secure nets used by the empire he had no difficulty, while sitting at his usual station in the library, in unlocking a vast array of clandestine imperial secrets. It was there that he’d discovered the true nature of the viruses Edmond Croal had inoculated him with at the age of five.
His investigation had been a revelation. After years of work, the strange set of viruses, only able to infect select Icarians of the imperial seraphim class, had been grown and manipulated into an unusual form that was then encapsulated by the Gold Glass scientist Lon Nol. The viruses meant for the imperial seraphim, designated by the code-name Wizard, were themselves code-named. It hadn’t taken him long to discover each one, along with the detailed list of characteristics it was to impart to its host.
It was in the course of this investigation that he also learned that the man whom he’d seen with his older brother Loran, during his brief visit to Gold Glass, was that very scientist: Lon Nol, who’d headed up the encapsulation project. A picture he’d discovered of the man during his search confirmed it. He became even more intrigued when Hippolito had confided to him that Loran was having difficulties during his studies with the senior scientist. To his disappointment, Jamie never learned anything more about that in his searches.
What he did learn, though, had been amazing nearly to the point of unbelievable. Despite being infected himself by the viruses and having experienced their effects first hand, it was still almost more than he could comprehend. Just as they had done to him, the viruses code-named owl, snake, bear and dragon, along with the other eight encapsulated viruses, would impart their traits to Loran if his brother could successfully absorb them - a fact that was somewhat in doubt according to the negative picture Hippolito painted, though his veracity was very much in question.
Now, sitting in the luxuriously appointed hov and remembering his research, he was reminded of the viruses, their protective capsules referred to as orbs, and why his failure was indeed complete. A death for a death, that was the mantra of the virus code-named Unicorn, and although the expression wasn’t to be taken literally, the orb, or at least the viruses Lon Nol had encapsulated into the pearl-white Orb of the Unicorn, had made its nature known to the prince.
Created as a way to prevent a wizard from acting rashly, the Unicorn always extracted a price, he’d learned in his studies. It was a fact that couldn’t be dismissed. The consequence for each wizard and in each instance was different, depending on the factors involved. In Jamie’s case, his assassination of the emperor had caused the essence of the unicorn to inhibit the chemicals produced by the viruses living inside him from reaching the special neuro-receptors in his body. He had so much power, yet he was powerless to use it. Now, even if he wanted to act, he would be blocked at every turn.
A bitter smile came to his face as his thoughts turned to Renaud. The boy who had promised to be his protector had gotten his wish. The Angel of Death had broken the bonds his master had imposed on him, having orchestrated the murder of Enrick. That he’d used Jamie as his weapon was the grand finale to a day riddled with failure; a bitter and ironic twist at the end of his disastrous plan.
“What’s he smiling about?” A second imperial trooper seated next to Jamie had been studying the face of his prisoner. Seeing the prince’s expression, the trooper’s brow creased. “Surely he knows that he’s about to die.”
“It’s no concern of ours,” the sergeant curtly replied. “Our mission is clear. The archduke’s orders were explicit. Anything less than compliance and we’ll be stranded here on this death trap of a world. That little boy’s death is our ticket off this planet, or weren’t you listening? Loka was quite blunt.”
The journey continued without any further conversation as the hov streaked through the night sky until a sudden sharp bank to the right followed by a rapid descent told Jamie they’d reached their destination. Moments after the hov had landed, an officer of the imperial troops entered the vehicle, returned the salute of the sergeant and soldiers guarding the prince, and rapped out the order to unshackle him. Roughly pulled up from his seat, Jamie was escorted from the hov.
Once outside the craft, Jamie looked around to find that he was standing before the gates of Castle Rood. Towering above him was the main gate to the massive arena, while to the prince’s left the great hippodrome sat cloaked in darkness. After only seconds to get his bearings, the compliment of troopers escorting him almost dragged him to one of the entrances of the red castle, where he was quickly pushed down a long, dark tunnel.
The journey along the dimly lit corridor jogged his memory. He’d traveled a similar route before when, as a guest of the emperor, he’d attended the games for the first time. Belatedly, he realized that he was being led toward the premier boxes. Midway down the corridor, he was pushed into a second tunnel that opened off to his right. A few steps onward and he found himself standing at the bottom of a steep, rising stairway. Without pause, he was prodded up the stairs and seconds later he was staring at the dull surface of a bronze-clad portal. A flick of his eyes across the door revealed eight panels set into its face, decorated with scenes of some of the many events of the games.
The leader of the cohort tasked with guarding him wasted no time pushing open the door. “In here, and hurry up,” the officer barked. "The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we’re on a transport for Argon.”
Giving up a low groan of despair, the portal swung open on its hinges. Seconds later, Jamie was shoved through the open doorway, staying on his feet thanks only to the rough hands on his arms. For a long moment, the prince's eyes were dazzled by the harsh glare of hundreds of bright lights. Squinting, he looked around and tried to imagine exactly where he was, and then in a rush realized he’d been deposited in the imperial box. Although it was night, large batteries of lights surrounding the upper tier of the arena illuminated the whole of Castle Rood. Disoriented, he began to examine his surroundings. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness, he caught sight of a tall, Icarian boy standing at the edge of the box.
Shocked to see the Angel of Death, he blinked as Renaud’s steely-eyed gaze pierced him almost as sharply as the knife he himself had wielded against the emperor. Somehow, the boy must have talked his way out of any responsibility for Enrick’s death, laying all the blame on Jamie. Without any desire to be viewed as either an object of interest or of pity, the prince quickly turned away. At the very least Renaud had played him, and probably betrayed him. A second later he was dragged forward in the box until he arrived at the spot where the emperor usually sat. Enrick’s throne had been removed, leaving only an empty space where the former ruler of the empire had lounged as he watched the games.
Pushed into the vacant space by the two imperial troopers who’d tightly gripped his shoulders throughout his journey through the arena, he was ordered to stand still.
“Give us your arms,” the trooper on Jamie’s right barked once he was in place, and immediately the two men yanked on his arms so forcefully he winced when a sharp pain stabbed his right shoulder, although it quickly passed. With a deep sense of detachment, he watched as a pair of thick and heavy chains were threaded first through the manacles attached to his wrists and then through a set of steel rings anchored into the stone pavement that was the floor of the box.
“He won’t be going very far,” the other trooper commented as the heavy chains were pulled tightly until his arms were drawn down toward the ground; while he could move his feet, Jamie knew he was securely bound to the spot where he’d been placed.
“Let me see.” The officer leading the cohort bent down to examine the prince's shackles. Once he was convinced that the prince was immobile, the officer ordered the troopers to stand down. Immediately the armed guard that had escorted Jamie stepped aside and moved to the back of the box. It was then Jamie’s eyes were drawn to the floor of the arena.
On the sands of the red castle’s arena floor, under the harsh, ice-cold brilliance of the arc lights that beamed down on them, stood Niklas and all of the Gahdar. Weaponless and without armor, they were surrounded by at least two platoons of imperial shock troops. Each of the troopers was armed with a powerful, military grade vapor ghoster. Interspersed among the Gahdar were the few remaining Kalorian prisoners who’d survived the battle at Angel’s Fall. Most of them, unable to stand, lay or sat on the arena floor. Jamie shuddered when he caught a glimpse of Castor standing among them, looking fit and well. Even in his disoriented state, it took little effort for Jamie to guess Loka's plan for all of them.
“I can’t believe they were all captured alive,” one of Jamie’s guards whispered to his fellow comrade-in-arms as he nodded his head toward the Gahdar on the arena floor. “At least a few of them should have died.”
“You weren’t there for the battle. Plenty of us died so they’d still be alive.” The second trooper moved closer to his companion, never raising his voice above a whisper. “I heard some of the others talking. They said it was incredible. Apparently, the emperor ordered them taken alive if possible. He’d planned some grand public execution before the evacuation. The attacking squadron had been ordered not to use the heaviest artillery against them. Their main aim was to take out the power for the gates. They fought the Gahdar, but the gladiators defended themselves well and managed to avert the ghoster fire directed at them. The assault force said they fought like lions. Then when they used the Kalorians as shields… well… unbelievable. It was Prince Hippolito’s strategy that finally convinced them to surrender.”
At the mention of Hippolito’s name, Jamie’s attention focused on the trooper who continued to relate the events of the battle.
“Hippolito? He’s no soldier. What did that pissant have to do with it?”
“Apparently, Prince Hippolito’s hov somehow managed a landing through the fire fight. Once it was on the ground, he led a squadron that captured a large group of the little ones. After surrounding them, he promised to slaughter them all one by one in front of the Gahdar. In fact, he went into great detail as to how each of the children would be killed, especially the infants. I was told that, finding himself faced with such an ultimatum, the Baron of Rood himself ordered the surrender.”
Jamie’s eyes went back to the arena. To the far right of the Gahdar and Kalorian prisoners stood a large group of children. Confined to a tight circle by a small squad of imperial storm troopers, the children huddled closely together; a few were crying, and all of them wore looks of terror as they stared around the confines of the arena. Jamie could see that there were at least fifty of them. None looked older than thirteen. More than a few were tiny babies tucked away in carrying packs slung across the shoulders of some of the older children.
“You have your orders, Renaud,” the commander of the small party of imperial shock troops tasked with transporting Jamie to the arena barked at the Angel of Death. “First, he watches them all die, and then you slit his throat.” Standing as still as a statue, Renaud remained silent. “Archduke Loka ordered me to remind you: that pretty head in your hands is the admission price for a spot in the queue at one of the mirror gate evacuation sites. He was most insistent that I clearly convey that fact to you.”
Standing quietly before the commander, Renaud studied him without comment.
“You have your orders,” the man barked, beginning to feel uncomfortable under the boy’s cool gaze. The frown the officer wore grew more pronounced when Renaud didn’t reply. “Carry out the task with the efficiency you're famous for,” he concluded.
Taking note of the boy’s sharp-eyed gaze the officer took a step back, before turning away from the emperor’s former bodyguard. “Just get it done,” he finished as he strode away.
At the same time, the commander called the small squad of shock troopers to follow him.
One of the troopers who’d accompanied Jamie paused.
“Beggin’ your pardon sir,” the man began in a voice brimming with hesitation.
Spinning around the officer paused and eyed the soldier under his command. “Spit it out,” the officer frowned.
“Well sir… it’s just that… well, you see, shouldn’t we stay until the end? Till it’s over… sir?”
“Take a good look around you,” the officer growled back, keen to show his disdain at the question. “Do you see the emperor’s own body guard standing there? Do you see the shock troops in the arena? And that’s not the half of it. The outcome of all this has been predetermined, and I for one am not staying here one minute longer than necessary. If all of you want to be abandoned on this stinking rock after the last transport leaves and all the gates are shut down, then feel free to disregard my order.”
There was a second of uncomfortable silence as the trooper who had spoken met the gaze of his superior. A moment later he looked away. “Yes sir,” he cautiously replied.
After they’d all gone, Jamie was left alone with the Angel of Death. Calm and relaxed, Renaud remained silent as he carefully studied the young prince.
It was then the great bell of the arena began to ring, and seconds later the ground began to vibrate when another army jogged into the arena; this army comprised of Thrones. As Jamie dully looked on, more Thrones entered the arena by air. Although he was exhausted, and could barely think, he knew from the vast number of Thrones taking their places in the arena that there were at least five prime toons. There were so many that a number of them had to take up positions in the lower rows of seating. Added to the platoons of imperial shock troops already stationed in the arena, it was clear that the unarmed Gahdar had little chance.
“So it comes to this,” Jamie’s voice was but a whisper as his eyes met Renaud’s emotionless gaze. “You’ve switched sides again, I see. I certainly don’t blame you.”
“I continue to serve the greatest leader I’ve ever known." Renaud’s voice was flat and without emotion.
‘Loka? I guess you’re right. He might have underestimated me, but I was the greater fool in underestimating him, and the lengths he’d go to in order to fulfill his wishes.”
"Loka?” Renaud frowned. “I was talking about you, Sa’Crêsmané.”
“I’m sure you were.” Although he didn’t really care, Jamie’s tone dripped with sarcasm. “Well then, it looks like you personally get to slit the throat of the greatest leader you’ve ever known. I’m sure it will be quite a tale to tell. I heard the commander tell you that my head was your ticket off the planet.”
“Why do you give up so easily?" Renaud's forehead creased as he sent the prince a frown.
‘I have nothing left to fight with.”
‘If you think that, Sa’Crêsmané, then we’re all doomed."
"You have such extraordinary powers of vision, Renaud. Are you telling me you don’t see what’s right before your eyes? An army of Thrones and two full platoons of storm troopers against unarmed prisoners and children. Don’t pretend you're blind to the truth. Besides, it no longer rests on my shoulders. I had my chance… and failed.”
Angry at Renaud’s apparent callus attitude, Jamie was about to continue his diatribe when he heard a shout and his eyes were drawn to the floor of the arena. As he watched, some of the Thrones began advancing on the Gahdar and the Kalorian prisoners. With their swords drawn, it was clear the end was at hand. Around the arena the imperial shock troops held firm in their positions, their powerful weapons trained on the prisoners they surrounded.
Exhausted and defeated, Jamie, not wishing to witness the slaughter he knew was coming, let his head drop and closed his eyes, but suddenly his mind jumped to Charlie. Tilting his head up to the sky, his eyes fell on the moon of Ajax and he prayed his brother would be safe. No sooner had he lifted his head upward, then his gaze was diverted from Ajax to its brother moon, Argon, and a sight that he’d never seen before seized and riveted his attention.
Argon, the Prince of Power, the larger moon that rotated around Ajax, was aglow with light. Centuries before, the moon had been turned into the manufacturing center for the planet when all of Altinestra’s heavy industry migrated out to it. On dark evenings, when both moons were thin crescents in the sky, one could often see dots of light shining up from the surface of the larger moon as the industrial facilities located on it operated around the clock, churning out the technological products of the empire. It was a common sight and one he’d often seen, but tonight Argon glowed like a beacon.
At first the sight shocked the prince, until he realized what was happening. All across the moon the lights of landing sites, factories, storage facilities and the like had been switched on. The great moon had become a beacon for those fleeing the planet. While his naked eyes couldn’t see any details, he knew that if he gazed through a powerful telescope at Argon, he'd have seen an armada of short-range spacecraft landing on the satellite. They would be needed to ease the strain on Argon’s exogates, which wouldn’t be adequate to accommodate everyone fleeing the planet. The sight both sickened and angered him, and for one fleeting second he felt the rage that had fueled him when he’d killed the emperor. A sound pulled him away from his observation of Argon and drew his attention back to the arena floor. The Thrones were continuing to advance on the Gahdar.
To Jamie, it was clear to see that it would be a bloody slaughter, but then a curious thing happened. A shout from one of the Thrones brought a halt to the advance of the great warrior angels. After a second shout from the same Throne, a few of the attacking Thrones pulled the second sword most of them carried and thrust them point down into the sand. Jamie quickly counted ten weapons standing in the floor of the arena.
“Like us, you are warriors, and deserve some honor,” the massive Throne called out. “This will at least make it interesting, but in the end it won’t matter: you’ll pay for the slaughter of our brothers. We’ll give you a moment to choose which of you will use them, although I can easily guess.”
Jamie carefully studied the Gahdar as Nic, ignoring the sword nearest him, called out to Miro, Julius, and a few other gladiators. Seconds later the three friends each had a sword, as did seven other Gahdar. Although he was unable to consult the screen, Jamie’s memory was good enough to know that each of the boys chosen to wield a sword were high in ranking on the Gahdar scoring lists for their number of kills. The most surprising thing of all came after Nic spoke to the boys of Duet Spider. Given the opportunity to take a weapon, the two little boys quickly conferred with each other, then shaking their heads and giving Niklas a small bow, they politely refused the offer. After backing away, the two boys assumed a defensive position against the nearest cluster of thrones.
Once the ten swords were in the hands of the Gahdar, the moment ended. Seconds later, an attacking Throne lunged at Nic. Skirting the attack, Nic expertly maneuvered behind the powerful Throne. Quickly jumping onto the creature’s back, Nic wrapped his arm around the creature’s neck and thrust his sword into the Throne’s back. Seconds later, the Throne was down, its neck broken and its spine severed. Thus, The Baron of Rood’s unblemished record of zero kills in the arena of Castle Rood came to an end.
Jamie looked on as the Gahdar valiantly tried to defend themselves. Those with swords moved to the outer edges of the circle of gladiators and fought fiercely, but the boys of Duet Spider were the most amazing. Throwing themselves at their attackers in a series of spins, kicks and punches, the duet killed and maimed more of their attackers than Jamie would have thought possible. The Gahdar’s ability to defend themselves, even though most of them were unarmed, was amazing but Jamie knew that given the forces arrayed against them, backed by imperial troops armed with ghosters, it was only matter of time before the small army of gladiators would finally succumb.
Jamie’s eyes flashed to his mate as a second Throne advanced on Nic. Moving swiftly the gladiator was able to dodge the large creature and with a downward slash of his sword, sever the creature’s arm.
Ready to turn away from the certain carnage, Jamie’s eyes were once more drawn to the arena floor when he caught sight of one of the Thrones advancing on one of the defenseless Kalorians lying on the arena floor. Before the prince could blink, the Throne had shoved its spear through the chest of the man. Seconds later he watched Nic block another attack as he attempted to protect one of the Kalorians nearest him, but this time his pa’amore sustained a slash to his upper arm and Jamie watched in horror as a rivulet of blood ran down Nic’s arm.
The fighting was fierce, but Jamie could sense that the tide would soon turn. It was then that an unexpected flash of anger sparked inside him, but this time instead of quickly evaporating, it remained and began to grow. Although his strength had been drained as the virus known as Unicorn had extinguished his powers, his ability to experience the raw emotions emanating from the prisoners, the Gahdar, and his own pa’amore had never ceased. The courage and character of Nic, what Jamie had once referred to as purity when describing Nic to his brother Charlie, shone forth like a beacon. The bond between them had grown far more quickly and much stronger then he’d ever been told to expect. Threatened with the shame of witnessing the death of his mate along with the shock of disunion, Jamie’s emotions turned raw.
A flash from high above his head caught his eye and once more he looked up at Argon ablaze with light. It would be a safe haven for the wicked while the innocent humans, enslaved Kalorians, and expendable Icarians left behind on Altinestra would die.
Watching the fight take shape in the arena he wondered if the empire had released the virus yet, the one that would kill all the Kalorians. As he stared at the moon he began to think about his father, Stephen, and finally Cristophe. Lastly, his thoughts turned to the Kalorians who had sent their children through the gate to Taldor Valoren while sacrificing themselves. What sort of monsters would force parents to make that kind of decision? The very idea made his blood boil.
Staring down into the arena floor, he watched as Miro and David begin to engage a pair of thrones. Glancing beyond the twins, he saw Julius - the primi half of Duet Storm - taking a defensive stance next to Jannus, his secondi. Both boys looked resolute and strong. Even outnumbered and facing certain death, the young gladiators were doing their best to protect the broken and defenseless Kalorians.
It was more than he could bear. The spark of anger that had arced inside him continued to burn; rapidly it turned into a flame, and then the flame became a blazing inferno. Before he could even react to his feelings, the Screen flashed on in his mind’s eye. Shocked at its sudden activation, he blinked. Drained of his power and blocked by the Unicorn virus, this was something that wasn’t supposed to happen, yet it had. It was then that he cried out in surprise as a wave of energy surged up inside him. After a quick analysis of the powerful sensation, he was even more shocked to see that it was flowing from the essence of the Unicorn and its charm of pain. Then, in one split second of blinding revelation, a course of action unfolded before him. The Screen pointed the way, the essence of the Unicorn stoked the fire, and he knew what he had to do.
With the life of his mate in the balance and disunion threatening their bond, Jamie began to feel a force well up inside him the likes of which he’d never known before. A life for a life: Jamie had always thought that it only referred to the wizard taking a life, but now he knew better. As the fire inside him grew hotter, its energy flowed into him. Anyone not familiar with what he’d come to live with from the time he’d been able to manifest his powers might call what was happening to the prince a storm of rage, but Jamie knew better. A life for a life, the words echoed in his head. Now they were clear to him and he truly understood their meaning. His mind reeled as the jumble of unfocused thoughts he’d been carrying evaporated and in their place appeared the image of a unicorn. Tall and strong as any great charger he’d ever seen, its golden horn gleamed and its mane sparkled when the creature shook its head at him.
“Sing with me,” the shining white creature called out to him. “Sing with me, Timetamer.”
Dropping all his barriers and defenses, Jamie opened himself completely and felt the surge inside him grow in strength. The chemicals blocking the special receptors in his neurons vanished. In their place a new substance was being created, a substance that amplified the strength he possessed. All other sensations and thoughts were consumed into this new reality. It was as if he was peering through the lens of a great magnifying glass, the world both larger and further away.
“Sing with me!” The unicorn broke into a gallop as the sunlight glinted off its deadly horn.
As the inner restraints holding him back were easily pushed aside, and Jamie felt the shape of the surge change and take on a different form as, one by one, the chemicals manufactured by each of the twelve viruses living within him began to multiply. Increasing by an amount he’d never felt before, they coursed through his veins as they attached themselves to the network of neuroreceptors his father had created in him.
The viruses that Edmond Croal had introduced into him were pumping their essences into him. To the prince it was like watching as, one by one, the components of a great machine began coming online; each one snapping into place as their code names flashed through his head while the Screen continued to show him the way. Snake, tiger, dragon, bear, and the power grew. Owl, bat, wolf, and spider: united together they began to form a whole. Lion, eagle, unicorn: it was both a feeling of great strength and unlimited power, yet it was so much more. Like the pieces of a gigantic puzzle locking into place, the viruses and their toxins stimulating his neurotransmitters began to function as one. That entity that Savaron Loka had come to call a wizard existed for the first time ever, and Jamie knew that he was that being. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.
A life for a life, the mighty unicorn’s bell-like voice echoed in his head and its gallop picked up speed.
He had become a transmitter, a conduit, a bender and a channeler all at the same time. He remembered asking Renaud if the great machine under the Canon of the Angels had anything to do with reverse energy. Renaud had told him the term reverse capacity had been mentioned. He’d learned of it from his father’s lessons, now he knew what it felt like as if flowed through him.
Just like the power of his newfound ability, the great machine under the so-called tenth hill had the ability to gather and channel energy. While the empire was willing to finally grant the Icarians they’d created their freedom once they moved to the tenth hill of Kar Kana a’kar Ang’ieal, that freedom would not be without restrictions.
When the empire began its conquest, it would allow its Avionne creations to govern and rule the canon that would be their home as they saw fit, but it would always be under the direction of a human, chosen by the emperor, who would be placed over them in a position of power. To ensure their cooperation, all Avionnes on Altinestra would live on the Canon of the Angels. The empire would even allow them the one freedom every Avionne longed for, the freedom of flight. So greatly desired, it commanded a commensurate price. As Icarians mated and the mating bonds grew stronger, the empire would send them out to do its bidding, but there was a catch. Only one half of each mating pair would ever be allowed off the canon at a time.
To prevent escape or rebellion, a grand security system had been devised, and at its heart was the great generator hidden under the tenth hill. Acting as a collector of energy it would generate a force field that would dome Kar Kana a’kar Ang’ieal. Avionnes would live and prosper there and no restrictions would be placed on them; even the precious gift of flight would be permitted.
Those executing the will of the empire would be separated from their mates who would, in effect, become hostages to the empire. The plan would insure that those far away from Altinestra would adhere to their orders while vigorously engaged in prosecuting the empire’s will. Though not directly stated, Jamie had learned that as long as an Icarian performed for the empire and did its bidding, their mate would remain safe. Disobedience could result in the death of their mate thus triggering disunion, one of the worst fates an Icarian could suffer. The force field covering Kar Kana a’kar Ang’ieal would contain the Avionne population on the planet while ensuring those off planet would obey.
After Jamie had learned the true nature of the generator under the Tenth Hill Project, he’d begun to think of a way he could use it, and in time he'd conceived a plan. Modifying the communicator Castor had procured for him, Jamie had managed to link it and the great machine buried deep inside Kar Kana a’kar Ang’ieal to the vast satellite network orbiting the planet. Once the communicator was activated it would power up the generator, but instead of creating a barrier of energy over the tenth hill as planned, the energy it generated would be redirected to satellites in geosynchronous orbit over Taldor Valoren, protecting it beneath an inpeneratable dome of energy, thus blocking both the human and Kalorian viruses that would ravage the planet.
Now like the energy of the great machine sitting in the bowels of the Canon of the Angels that he’d harnessed to do his bidding, Jamie was beginning to gather his own reservoir of energy around him. Though unlike the generator of the tenth hill, the power he gathered was far greater. More like a thousand machines linked together, this power was great and unfathomable.
“Sing with me!” The unicorn’s gallop was now at a charge, and its horn lowered like a lance. “Sing with me, Timetamer!”
At that moment, the Screen morphed into something so surreal his mind staggered at its revelation. Just as a microscope focused on a bead of pond water shows a vast universe normally unseen, the Screen seemed to unfold, and showed Jamie the structure of time itself. The unseen strings of energy, eddies and currents coursing through the universe like a great sea were now visible to him, and like water directed through a channel or a sluice, he knew he could bend it to his will.
“A life for a life!”
Through the swirling mist of time and crackling forces of energy Jamie looked out into the arena. By now the Thrones had massed and were pressing their engagement. Then, just as one of the lead pairs advanced on Miro in an all out attack, they simply disappeared. Both Thrones evaporated into thin air as if they’d never existed. Two more pairs of Thrones charging Julius and Jannus also vanished. Soon another and then another simply disappeared. Although he’d begun to take lives, instead of experiencing punishment at the hands of the unicorn virus, Jamie was rewarded for his actions. “A life for a life.” Instead of feeling weaker, he felt the energy inside him grow even more powerful, becoming a maelstrom of energy for his use.
Nic looked up at his mate and blinked. He could see Jamie standing in the box, and while the manacles binding the prince were still attached to his wrists, the chains that had bound Jamie to the floor of the box were gone. With both arms free, the prince was directing columns of energy onto the floor of the arena, like branching lightning bolts falling from the cloudless sky. It was enough to stop the advance of the Thrones. An instant later Jamie and Nic’s eyes met and locked and Nic, suddenly feeling Jamie’s surge of strength, staggered under a force that enveloped him. The bond between he and Jamie was like a thick, unbreakable cable, but even it seemed to ring like a bell under the force flowing out of Jamie; without voluntary effort their thoughts and emotions rapidly telegraphed back and forth between them.
The effects of the unicorn appeared to be working in reverse. As it gave Jamie more and more strength, it seemed to understand that the prince was defending, not attacking.
“You are Garda’jir,’ the words of Ga’tann, spoken long ago, echoed in Jamie’s head. “You are a defender, a shield.”
“Our time of power is come,” The unicorn continued to beckon him. “Sing with me, great bender of time.”
As the thrones fell or vanished, Jamie’s strength increased and as it surged, the anger that had began to fill the void inside him dissolved away. Fueled by the bond of love between himself and the boy who was his mate, Jamie could feel the purity of courage and conviction of Niklas von Agramon course through his veins. The amazing strength of his pa’amore filled him not with hate, but with love.
In that love, Jamie reached out with his power. In an instant, the great army of Thrones winked out of existence. There was stunned silence as all eyes rested on the young man, no longer a prisoner chained inside the imperial box, but a warrior far more commanding than any emperor who’d ever sat on Altinestra’s throne.
Grateful that he’d succeeded, Jamie surveyed the floor of the arena and scanned those remaining, but instead of feeling relief he was alarmed, for it was plain to see that the imperial shock troops were preparing to fire. Terrified by what they’d seen, they advanced on the prisoners with their weapons set on full power.
“Enough power to split a planet...” The words of his father joined the song of the unicorn. Fueled with a force far greater than he’d used when opening or holding the gate at Angel’s Fall, the sheer magnitude of the power that flowed from him was intoxicating and terrifying. As he stared down into the arena through the lens of the Screen, he felt like he was sitting at the helm of a great battle cruiser.
In that moment, a brilliantly shining orb sprang into being directly above the Gahdar. The shining, white light grew larger and larger. Soon it rose high above the gladiator boys and then began to extend down over them, creating a dome of protection. Rapidly the dome grew until it encompassed the Kalorian children, but while the children easily passed through the dome of energy and remained unharmed, the instant it touched one of the imperial storm troopers who’d been guarding them, the trooper fell dead.
Without looking at the emperor’s former bodyguard, Jamie pointed at the dome of light. “Get inside, before it’s fully formed,” he commanded Renaud.
For a second the Angel of Death hesitated. “Sa’Crêsmané?”
“Go,” Jamie shouted, “or die.”
Renaud didn’t need a second invitation. An instant later the Angel of Death stroked his wings and launched himself from the imperial box. Within seconds he joined the Gahdar on the floor of the arena. Seconds later the energy field coalesced and Renaud, along with the others, disappeared behind the now opaque wall of energy Jamie had created. Ghoster fire echoed through Castle Rood, but it bounced harmlessly off the wall of energy.
“It’s him,’ one of the platoon commanders shouted pointing up at Jamie. “He’s the one causing all of this.”
Finally realizing that it was the prince who was directing the attack against them, the platoons of imperial storm troopers brought the might of the Empire to bear on their enemy. Regrouping, they turned their weapons on the boy standing above them in the imperial box ready to blast him out of existence, but as they did, a curious thing happened. Jamie smiled at them, a kind and slightly sad smile.
Less than a second passed after the prince’s smile had begun to form, and the world of Rood was engulfed in a blinding white light. The ground quaked as shock waves filled the air and rolled through the normally stable earth like ripples in a pond yet the boy who had created them, like the dome of energy protecting the prisoners on the arena floor, remained untouched.
An instant later, it was over. The dome of energy was gone. So were all the imperial troops. Gone, too, were the lights that had surrounded them as the arena was plunged into darkness and silence. Only the light shining from the stars and the two moons overhead dimly lit the arena. Yet even in the dark, it was clear to everyone remaining within the great castles arena that something amazing, terrible and devastating had happened. Through the gloom of night, the arena looked as if it had suffered an earthquake. A few of the great towers surrounding the gladiatorial amphitheater looked as if they’d sustained a direct hit, which apparently they had.
“By my wings,” the voice of David Gillot finally rang out through the darkness, “by my bloody wings.”
“Five prime toons of thrones and two platoons of imperial storm troopers to the boy in the box. I guess he wins,” the irrepressible Miro’s voice joined that of his twin as he called out to his brother.
Walking through the gloom, Nic approached what was left of the imperial box and looked up. There, above him, stood his pa’amore, seemingly in one piece. The manacles that had clamped Jamie’s wrists were gone. With a look eloquent of worry and concern, Jamie stared down at his mate.
“I think everyone’s ok." Nic, seeing Jamie’s expression and anticipating his mate’s question, quickly called out before the prince could speak.
For a few seconds, Jamie remained silent. Finally focusing on his surroundings, and realizing that he was still high above the arena floor, he climbed up onto a short, unbroken section of the ledge that had enclosed the imperial box, stroked his wings and slowly glided down to Nic. Without hesitation he moved into his lover's arms for a long hug. He felt like weeping when Nic's wings unfolded and surrounded him. Moments later he stepped back and grabbed Nic's hand and together they walked to join the crowd of prisoners and children huddling on the floor of the arena.
“By my wings,’ David repeated in a dazed voice once more as he and Miro approached Jamie and Nic.
“Pluck me like a chicken,” Miro grinned as he looked from Nic, to Jamie, then at the destruction surrounding them. “Please remember to always count me as one of your friends,” he chuckled as his eyes met those of the prince. Seconds later, as he and his brother turned to face each other; both boys began to howl with laughter that seemed to edge on hysteria.
“Jamie, what did you do?” Nic's voice was puzzled, but calm.
“I don’t know Nic, but I think it had something to do with you... with us... with our bond.”
“Remind me never to get between you and something you desire,’ Miro barked out between peals of laughter as he raised his arm to wipe the tears of mirth and relief from his face.
Nic, though, was all business.
“We don’t have time for that,” he growled at Miro, “We have to get out of here, now! We've gotten a reprieve, but we don't know if it will last.”
“But how?” Julius inquired, as he walked up behind Nic with his secondi at his side.
“I can take care of that.” A soft voice interrupted them and Jamie and Nic turned to see Castor with one hand in his pocket. A moment later he withdrew his hand, holding a communicator.
“Where… how did you get that?” Jamie blinked in shocked amazement.
“From the commander of the Kalorian League just before she headed down the path to the gate."
With just a touch or two, the controls of the communicator began to glow, and seconds later the old Kalorian began to speak into it. When he was finished he looked over at Nic. “Gather everyone together and take them through the gate of the castle. This area is rather unsafe now.”
“Move out of here immediately,” Nic shouted, “but with caution. This whole structure is unstable; some of you take care of the Kalorians and the children,” he added.
Moving as quickly as possible, everyone began to exit through the large gates on the arena floor. More than a few grinding crashes could be heard as some of the structures of the arena continued to shift and collapse.
Once they were out of the arena the sight that greeted them shocked them into silence. Although it was night, the sky was aglow from hundreds of fires that could be seen in the distance, near the ends of a great swath of flattened and burned landscape. Close by, many of the buildings and structures around the red castle that had stood in the direct path of the energy Jamie had generated were either missing or destroyed.
“It looks as if it started there,” Julius glanced back into the arena, "and then flowed out in one direction, like a fan."
“Or the wake of a boat,” Jannus suggested to his primi.
“A wake that started with him,” Miro grinned, pointing at Jamie. "I think I'll always try to be on his side."
They paused to survey the damage but were quickly roused by Nic, who ordered everyone to gather in a large group and wait. Thirty minutes later, a droning sound from above caught their attention. Looking up they could see a fleet of hovs - some large, some small - shooting across the sky. The strange looking fleet was made up of almost every type of commercial hov the empire manufactured.
“They’ve been commandeered by our forces,” Castor’s calm and steady voice reminded Jamie that the old Kalorian was standing to his right. “I’m sure things are growing more chaotic on the planet by the hour. We’ve managed to liberate a number of craft from their former owners, who are either dead or have run off to Argon.”
The approach of the hovs slowed as they reached the air space above the red castle. The fleet stopped and hovered, and soon the mismatched armada of flyers descended from the heavens.
“Castor,’ Jamie called out as he watched the many craft land, “who are they?”
“Friends. I told you that the Second Empire would fulfill their part of the agreement if you fulfilled yours. You've kept your promise, Jamie. You got the children through to Taldor Valoren. Now we’ll keep our part of the deal.”
“But I only got a few…”
“You did more than we could ever have hoped. At least now our race has a small chance at survival instead of certain death, and we’re offering that same hope to you and all the Icarians who will be left behind.”
“You might find this hard to grasp, but at this moment the Second Empire is massed and fully deployed. With the emperor dead, the government is in shambles. The scramble for sanctuary on Argon has most probably grown to a fever pitch. We, on the other hand, accept our fate. You’ve helped us preserve a small seed of our race. For the first time in our lives, we’re free. We have turned to the one task left to us: not saving ourselves, for we know that’s no longer possible, but to the work of saving you and your brothers. There are many of us, but few of you. Our plans have included all of the Icarians not aligned with the empire. A vast web of resistance has been activated to do everything that needs to be done to insure your survival.”
“The resistance was shattered.” Nic shot Castor a puzzled look. “I thought…”
“That is true; the resistance as you knew it was destroyed, but never the Second Empire. We form a whole far greater than the Council of Resistance. Good people banding together against evil can be an amazing and unexpected force, Niklas von Agramon. Never forget that. While the humans on this planet are now fighting to save their own lives, we will concentrate on that which you call Icaria. Thanks to Jamie, our race has been given a chance; we will now return the favor.”
“But you're slaves,” Nic started.
“No longer,” A small, thin smile grew on Castor’s face. “The empire has written us off. If the virus against us hasn’t already been unleashed, it will be shortly. The last thing anyone cares about is a bunch of Kalorian slaves. We have gained our freedom. It will surely be short lived since soon we will be dead, but what we do now we do as freemen, never again to be enslaved.”
“But how can you just…” Jamie sputtered but was quickly silenced as Castor's smile vanished. He raised a finger and sent the prince one of his stern glances.
“Our time is short, young master. We must act quickly.”
Nodding in agreement, Jamie fell silent.
“Let’s get organized,” Nic shouted once all of the hovs had landed, and they watched as groups of Kalorians emerged from the fliers, approached the former Kalorian prisoners and began to help them onboard. Sharp orders and crisp commands were volleyed back and forth, and as everyone was quickly gathered up they were swiftly loaded onto the hovs.
“You and Niklas will ride in that one." Castor pointed to a small, nearby hov. “You’re going to Isewier.”
“It’s where our command center is."
“Yes. Since Isewier is the southern-most province on the continent and somewhat isolated, our command center was established there.”
“But what about the others?” Nic frowned.
“It has all been taken care of.” Castor reached out to touch the shoulder of the young Gahdar. "Trust me as we’ve trusted you, Niklas. All will be helped, we promise that. There are secure stations that have been prepared. More than that, I can’t reveal. None will be left behind. I know you’re more concerned for your brothers than you are for yourself, and that is the sign of a true leader, but know that we, too, share your concerns. Give me your trust and I’ll give you my word.”
Nic’s nod seemed answer enough, and at Castor’s urgent insistence, Jamie and Nic made their way to the hov.
“Hurry, time is limited,” Castor called out, but then paused when he saw one of the Gahdar carrying the broken body of Jakobus toward them. Nic turned to see why Castor had paused, and saw the broken Kalorian as well.
“Jakobus." Although Nic gave the man a small smile, Jamie could see sadness and concern in his mate’s eyes. Offering the Kalorian a small bow, Nic’s tone was full of concern and his voice was soft. “That you are a great son of Kaloria can never be denied. I salute you.”
Looking up at Nic, a smile came to the man’s face. “We did not die in vain, Baron. You saw to that. It is you whom I salute."
“There’s honor enough to go around,” Castor interrupted, “but now’s not the time for handshakes and congratulations; we must act, and quickly.”
“I take my leave of you,” Jakobus nodded toward Nic and Jamie as he was carried away to a awaiting hov. “I accept the fate ahead of me and I wish you luck. Thank you for giving me back my honor,” he added just before disappearing into the hov.
“Hurry, keep moving,” Castor continued to prod Nic and Jamie. “Time is precious.”
As they drew closer to their hov Miro jogged up to them. David, right on his brother’s heels, was only a step behind.
“I need to get back to the summer palace, to Philippe.” Although appearing calm, Jamie could sense a tone of urgency in Miro's voice. “David and I…”
“There’s a hov waiting for you,” Castor immediately countered. “It will take you back to the palace,”
“And then to Piropolis.” Castor pointed to one of the vacant hovs. "Preparations have been made for you. You and David will be in one unit. It was an experimental one we located, but I can assure you that it works."
“And Philippe?” Miro’s tone left no doubt as to his concern for his mate.
“He’ll be with you, in a nearby unit. You’ll see when you arrive at Piropolis. Its all been arranged. Now go, every second is precious.”
“Then I guess it's goodbye until later.” Miro grinned at Nic.
Nic simply nodded, and then hugged his best friend to him. Ending their hug Nic rested his hands on his best friend’s shoulders and studied Miro’s face.
“Take care of yourself,” he grimly replied while glancing over at David. “That’s an order for both of you.”
“A hundred years isn’t that long,” Miro chuckled. “Think of how fit and well rested we’ll be.”
“Don’t be so glum,” David smiled, “or your gloomy face is the last thing I’m going to remember when we enter stasis.”
Breaking free of Nic’s embrace, the primi half of Duet Lizard gave his friend a kiss, then turned and, with David by his side, jogged away toward the hov. Once they reached the craft, without looking back, the twins double timed up the craft’s retractable steps and ducked into the hold of the ship. Nic stood watching until the Gillot brothers were out of sight, before turning back to Jamie. Taking his mate’s hand and giving him a small, though somewhat forced smile, he turned and led his partner toward the craft that Castor had designated for them.
A moment later Renaud was by Jamie’s side. Seeing the emperor’s former bodyguard approach, Jamie stopped and turned to the boy.
“Who invited you?” And for once the piercing gaze of the prince matched that of the Angel of Death.
“I am your protector.”
“Not any more.” The tone in Jamie’s voice rang with a bitter finality.
About to speak, Renaud stopped when Nic raised a hand.
“I think you should go with the others,” he added.
“You must know, Baron, that I never…”
“I understand.” Nic cut the steely eyed boy off mid-sentence. “I probably understand better then you think I do, but for now he doesn’t.” Nic’s eyes went to Jamie who by now had turned his back on Renaud.
“You’ll be properly cared for,” Castor interjected, “but I think Niklas is right. Best to leave things as they are for now. The past is dead… the future is coming… best to prepare for that, if you understand my meaning.”
For a few seconds the tall boy stood silently, his sharp gaze going from Jamie, to Nic, to Castor and then back to the Prince. Then looking out past Castor he saw the Gahdar assisting the prisoners and children into the fleet of hovs that had landed. With a single nod of his head and a stroke of his wings he was airborne, and vanished into the inky blackness of the night.
Once they arrived at their hov, Jamie and Nic climbed aboard. Turning to look out the hatch, Jamie saw Castor standing outside looking up at them. “Aren’t you coming with us?”
“No, I still have much work to do yet. I have to coordinate the safe passage of the rest of the Gahdar, and the prisoners, along with many other functions.”
“Will you join us later?” A look of worry clouded Jamie’s face.
“Why not?” Jamie cried out. “Please, come with us.”
“No,” Castor repeated, "and you know why. Someone has to be in charge. The council decided it should be me. I, too, have my orders to follow."
“But…” tears filled Jamie’s eyes; a second later he bounded off the hov and wrapped the old man in a desperate hug. “It’s not fair. I thought…”
“It’s something we never talked about, Jamie, but I think we both knew in the end it might come to this. Maybe that’s why we’ve always ignored the obvious. Now go back to the hov. Please Jamie, it’s time for you to go.” Castor gently patted Jamie's back, but the boy refused to let go of him.
As he spoke, Castor’s eyes locked onto Nic's and he gave a tiny nod. A moment later Nic strode down the stairs and spoke gently into Jamie's ear as he began pulling his pa’amore's arms from his oldest friend.
“We have to go, Jamie. It’s time,” Nic said softly as he hugged his mate, and then he led the reluctant boy into the hov.
Seconds later the hatch closed and as Castor stepped back, he watched the hov ascend. Looking out of one of the portholes, Jamie saw Castor’s upturned face for a few seconds as the hov took off. Then suddenly the old Kalorian was gone, swallowed up in the blackness of the night.
Once the hov began its horizontal flight, the two boys took their seats.
“It’s not fair,” Jamie whispered. "None of it is."
“I know Jamie, but we all have our parts to play. If by some miracle we do succeed, I need to be there when the others are revived. They’re counting on me. And you have to be there for your brother. He’s counting on you.”
“I know,” Jamie’s eyes dropped to the floor. Nic was right, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. He rubbed his sleeve across his eyes, wiping away tears of frustration.
Shortly after Jamie strapped himself in, the Kalorian piloting the craft turned to the prince. “Thank you,” he began. “My son was one of those chosen to enter the gate. Because my wife and I know he’s safe we can better accept our own fate, no matter what it is.”
Jamie gave a single nod, then quickly looked away. No, he didn’t have to like it.
The supersonic flight was quicker then Jamie expected and soon they were landing at one of the smaller Kalorian settlements at the southern tip of Isewier. Exiting the hov, Jamie was amazed to see an incredible mad flourish of activity.
The settlement had grown up around a mariculture plant that raised, managed and harvested the fruits of the sea in the southern hemisphere of the continent.
“This way.” One of the Kalorians, who introduced himself as Gatlen, greeted them and escorted the two young men to a nearby storage area. From there they climbed down a long metal ladder that took them deep underground. After stepping off the ladder and onto a hard, stone floor, Jamie looked around. They stood in a large cavern excavated from solid rock, and he was reminded both of the home of the Ghröum and Nic’s mentor, Master Saki. At one end of the space sat a number of Kalorians hunched over informatics screens or speaking into communication devices.
“Follow me,” Gatlen called out as he crossed the floor of the great, cavernous space.
As they followed him, Jamie noticed they were headed toward a tunnel. Entering the tunnel they only traveled a short distance. Once they passed out of the tunnel, Jamie could see that the room they’d entered was filled with a great deal of equipment, in addition to a number of cryo suspension units.
“Nic, this place is…,” he started, but he was cut off mid-sentence.
“Listen carefully to what I have to say.” Gatlen’s voice was soft, but Jamie stopped speaking. He recognized an order when he heard one. After Gatlen’s quick briefing, a second Kalorian approached with two glasses, each filled with a bluish colored liquid.
“A sleeping draught,” Gatlen informed them, as he took both glasses from his companion and offered them to Jamie and Nic.
Having assisted Charlie enter cryo-suspension, Jamie recognized the liquid and without hesitation drank it down. Following his pa’amore’s lead, Nic did the same. After handing the glasses back, both boys began to climb into the unit.
“I’m sorry Sa’Crêsmané, but we have no more Darroot extract.” The Kalorian’s tone was apologetic, "But the sleeping draught will be a help. It’s better to be asleep when entering cold sleep."
“I know,” Jamie replied.
“Let us help you get comfortable,” the Kalorian second suggested. “The draught is strong and will take effect soon. It will be easier to get you into position while you’re still conscious.”
It only took a few minutes before both boys, with the assistance of a team of Kalorians, were nestled into their unit and prepared for the initiation of a cryo-sleep cycle. With great care the Kalorians had helped the young men tuck in their wings as they’d prepared them for their long sleep, and Jamie felt no discomfort as he lay on the soft mattress on his half of the unit.
“See you in a hundred years, love.” Jamie leaned over to kiss Nic.
“Don’t worry Jamie, we’ll get through this together,” Nic said, returning his mate's kiss. Then he gave Jamie a small smile. “We’ve been through worse.”
“Your wings might feel slightly uncomfortable lying the way you are while you’re still awake,” one of the technicians told them, “but as soon as you’re asleep, everything will be fine. We’ll take proper precautions to assure they aren’t injured or damaged.”
As Jamie lay next to Nic, he could scarcely believe the recent course of events. Everything was happening so fast that his head was spinning. Only hours before he’d been performing for the emperor, and then he’d traveled to Angels Fall. Now the Emperor was dead, slain by Jamie's own hand, and Nic and the Gahdar saved from death by a force that he still didn’t completely understand.
Staring up at the ceiling, Jamie reached into his pocket and withdrew the medallion he’d retrieved from Stephen Perkinjius shop. It was the same one he’d used to store the data from the Screen. After placing it around his neck, he took a deep breath. He felt he wasn’t really prepared for what was about to happen, but he knew he had little choice.
Jamie jumped in surprise when he felt a pair of hands began to place electrodes on different parts of his body. He hadn’t done that with Charlie.
“Monitoring devices,” the technician placing them told him. “This unit is slightly different from some of the others. It was designed especially for the two of you.”
“Are we going to remain here in Isewier… in this place?” Jamie asked. “Where will the others be?”
“We don’t know,” Gatlen answered as he peered down into the unit to survey Nic and Jamie making sure everything was in order. “All of that has been kept from us for security purposes. We’re only doing the job we’ve been tasked with, but be assured we have been ordered to keep you safe above all costs.”
Throughout their preparations Jamie had continued to grow more and more drowsy with each passing minute, and it was becoming harder and harder for him to remain awake. Exhausted from everything that had happened, once he realized his head was resting on the soft pillow of the cryo unit, it didn’t take him long before he was finally ready to accept whatever fate lay ahead of him as he allowed himself to drift off to sleep.
Laying quietly in the unit he waited for the seconds to tick away until he’d succumbed to sleep, ready to surrender to the peace it would bring to his clouded mind but suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, an unexpected thought entered his mind - Cold Sleep Memory Loss Syndrome. He then remembered there was something he had to tell Nic. After all they’d been through, he owed his pa’amore that much.
Quickly sitting bolt upright off his mattress, he turned to his mate. “Nic, there’s something important that I have to tell you.”
“Please, Sa’Crêsmané, you must lay down.” One of the nearby technicians hurried over and began to ease the prince back onto the mattress.
“But I have to tell…”
“I’m sorry, but the Baron is already asleep,” the Kalorian replied.
Jamie glanced over at Nic and frowned. The Kalorian was right. His mate was already asleep.
“I’m so stupid; I’ve missed my chance,” and even though he could barely keep his own eyes open, a frown crossed his face.
Although he’d spoken in a whisper the technician helping him had heard his words. Easing Jamie back onto the mattress, he smiled at the boy. “You can tell him when you wake up. Now go to sleep, and good luck, Sa’Crêsmané.”
“If I remember,” Jamie thought as his vision faded to black and he drifted off to sleep.