The Templars guarding the city did not know what they were seeing at first. Advancing quickly on the city walls were a thousand points of red light the size of lightning bugs. Not able to see what was really happening beyond the light of the torches, one of the guards lit an arrow and launched it into the air. It landed in the middle of the red lights, revealing the movement of hundreds of men, their eyes the source of the red lights. One of the guards almost turned to jump right off the wall to the city below, but the other guard caught him while yelling out the alarm. Then they began firing more arrows down on what they suspected were creatures from hell. It did no good.
In a matter of moments, all five hundred or so Demon Spawn had climbed over the walls, overwhelming the guards. Due to the natural armor their bodies now possessed, the Spawn were able to move much faster and attack more quickly than the heavy-plated Templars. After twenty minutes of fighting, the Spawn had built a corridor of control from the outer wall to the first of two inner walls, and continued to spread out. Only then did Dorian give permission to his lover to fly into the city, followed by Diana, her skin still ash gray. By the time Aidan caught up with Dorian, his Demon Spawn were half way to the third and final wall. Only the bravest or most desperate of the Templars stood between them and the Temple of the Mother.
It was after joining Dorian in the fight that Aidan felt a new sense of dread. This drove him to fly up above the city to see what was happening. Beyond the point where Dorian's men were fighting, several columns of Templars, armed with heavy spears, were lining up against the innermost wall in an attempt to try and hold back the attackers. Behind them was a barrier that would prevent any sort of retreat for the defending troops, except for the few gates that led inside the Temple Square. On the other side were the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Mother. Aidan could now see that, between the palace and the temple, a huge pile of logs had been set up with over a hundred stakes springing up from it like a small dead forest. Already well before noon, the prisoners were tied to the stakes in groups of three.. Time was running out.
"Sir, we can't light the fire until all the prisoners are in position!" the Templar insisted.
"Then your men have to work faster!" Niles screamed at the man. "As soon as you have three tied together set them ablaze."
"We are trying our best, Your Holiness, but the Demons are near the temple wall and the Inquisitors are trying to free their leader. We are short on men."
"Take the soldiers we have guarding the palace," Niles said as if that was obvious.
"Sir... there is a lot of activity around the palace. Are you sure they don't plan to join the fight?"
"Those cowards!? They are more likely praying that our men hold back these so-called "Demons. As soon as the bonfire is ready, I want it lit! Make sure that the Admiral and High Inquisitor are the first to burn."
"Yes, Your Holiness." The Templar bowed before leaving the High Priest.
High Priest Niles went to the balcony, trying to see beyond the high wall protecting the temple. Ever since the attack had begun he had been receiving confusing reports of demon men and angels flying over the city but he didn't believe any of it. Niles knew the real history of Jadoor, that once it had been ruled by an Angel king and a Demon high priest. The only remaining evidence of that time was the Angel and Demon etched into the gold doors of the Temple of the Mother. If the common people started to believe that real demons were upon them and storming the temple they would see it as a sign from the Mother of disfavor... that the Mother had sent her sons to punish the Church for its sins.
Knowing that Warren understood the secret histories of Jadoor, Niles suspected that what people were believing were demons were no more than an army of Inquisitors in disguise, running through the city, causing chaos. He did not know how they made it past the second wall, but Niles was sure that the thirty thousand men he had ringing the Temple Wall would hold them back. The High Priest only hoped that a few of the Inquisitors survived so they could be paraded in front of the people to prove what fakes they were. If not, Niles could always find some worthless slaves to play the part.
Turning away from the balcony, he was just about to receive the latest report from the army he had defending the Temple Walls, when the High Priest saw something fly up above the city just on the other side of the walls. At first he thought it had to have been smoke but, as it continued to hover above the city without diminishing, he began to take in its true form. Flying in the air was a man with white wings, taking in the scene of chaos below. Soon, it was joined by another winged man and then a third whose wings were black.
"Angels!" Niles swore. Angels were approaching the Temple, which meant that, if the Angels were real, so were the Demons. Niles would have liked to believe that the divine creatures had come to issue judgment to the men he had staked for burning, but he very much doubted that. They were coming for him... to punish him for all the crimes he had committed in the name of the Mother. His plans were falling apart, for he did not believe he could survive divine judgment. That left only one thing... revenge.
The three men most hated by Niles were tied to the same post: Kyle, James, and Warren. Both James and Kyle could not hold back their laughter when Warren was tied, against his will, with them, even though they too were doomed.
"I see that they were able to find one guilty man out of hundreds," James smirked. "That justifies everything."
"Laugh all you want. The pain you will suffer will be the same as mine," Warren spat as he was tied with them.
"We will at least die knowing that our souls are pure," James returned.
"Do you really believe that will make a difference? That the Mother really looks down upon us, and welcomes those deserving into heaven."
"Are you saying that, as High Inquisitor, with all the heretics you've killed, you are an atheist?" James laughed.
"Oh, I believe that there was a Mother and two Sons, but they were mortal just like us." Warren smiled, taking pleasure in trying to destroy the man's faith.
"That's all that matters," James said, a sudden calm coming over him as he looked up into the sky.
"Why do you say that? I told you they were never gods!" Warren shouted, not having the effect he had hoped for. Just then he noticed High Priest Niles running out of the gold doors of the Temple of the Mother, carrying a torch.
"But they were once real," James said, now laughing even more loudly.
Kyle, whose spirit and faith had long been broken by Warren during their voyage to the capital, did not understand how James could be laughing. "What is going on?"
"You can't see it from where you are, love, but it looks like a miracle is happening." James continued to laugh.
"What is it? What do you see?" Kyle said excited.
"Three Angels, flying above the temple walls!" James shouted just as High Priest Niles reached them.
"That's right, heretic, and do you know who is behind them?" Niles spat.
"No... and I don't care." James continued to laugh.
"Demons! They have come to cleanse the city, but before they get here, I will be sure that the sins of you three are removed first!" Niles spat.
"Give up, Niles...the only people the demons are coming for are you and Warren." James grinned.
"I am master of my own fate and, before I let the Demons claim me, I will see you in hell," Niles sneered as he dropped the torch onto the fuel-soaked wood near Warren before running back to the temple.
"See... no Demon or Angel is going to save us now!" Warren laughed, lacking any remaining sanity.
"James?" Kyle said, scared as the flames moved ever closer.
"I'm here," James said calmly, his eyes never leaving the three Angels hovering over the city.
Even though the two of them were bound tightly to the pole, they tried to stretch their hands to each other. With a great deal of effort the two of them were able to just touch, the smallest of each others' fingers making contact even with the pain it triggered from their exposed fingers. This connection was broken the instant that Warren began screaming as the hungry flames reached him.
"I'm afraid!" Kyle shouted over the cracking of wood and Warren's yelling.
"Don't be." James coughed as his lungs took in the smoke. His eyes were stinging with tears, but he could just make out movement in the sky that was approaching closer and closer. Just before losing consciousness, he felt the wind of an Angel's beating wings on his face.
From his balcony Niles saw it all... the rescue of the prisoners, the rush of troops pouring out of Aidan's palace, and the surrender of nearly all his Templars to what they believed was a divine force. All he had left was the Temple of the Mother, and it did not look like it would be his for much longer.
Seeing the red-eyed demons for himself, Niles knew this had to be the ‘end times'. It was better that all those loyal and faithful to the Mother leave this world, and go to her welcoming arms before the Sons of the Mother corrupted the faith to which Niles had committed his life. Ordering the priests in the temple into the sanctuary, he had them drink a fatal draft of Mandrake juice. Before doing so, however, they released carrier pigeons to every church in Jadoor and the Western Federation ordering that all the other priests join them in escaping the judgment of the Sons. This was to be Niles' final act of defiance. He would leave the Sons of the Mother without a single priest to worship or honor them, the churches and monasteries empty. The people, without their spiritual guidance, would fall into despair. The holy crusaders would lose their will to fight and drop their swords. Domus, not Jadoor would win the war, ending thousands of years of history. Better to die now than see such a world.
Passing the dead bodies now filling the sanctuary, Niles returned to his empty office. He looked down from the balcony and saw the Demons approaching the gold doors of the church. Already some of them had taken one of the stakes from the bonfire and were using it as a ram against the barred doors. Hearing the sound of clawing from underneath where he stood Niles noticed three red-eyed Demons scaling the walls of the temple like ants searching for food. Seeing his capture was imminent, and not willing to face judgment, Niles climbed up the rail and plunged the fifty feet down to the hard stone-paved square below. "They will never have me!" were his last words.
And so died the High Priest of Jadoor.
Compared to the number of men actually killed, Dorian's Demon Spawn were less destructive than the scene of death Aidan saw when he walked into the Church of the Mother. Over five thousand priests were dead, killed in a senseless act of mass suicide. It was all made worse when Diana showed Aidan copies of the messages that had been sent across the world ordering the same act of self-destruction to be committed at every church and monastery.
Hoping to put a stop to it all, Aidan raced to where the messenger pigeons had been kept only to find the few remaining ones slaughtered. He then ran to the palace and had his own scribes send messages to as many cities as they could. As the palace had fewer outposts than the church, the pigeons were only able to reach the largest cities. That left most of the monasteries, as well as some of the more isolated towns, unreachable. Still, he had to find some way to end the pointless deaths.
Diana, in seeing the stress Aidan was under, soon left, flying for the port city of Koor, the second largest city in Jadoor, containing the next highest number of priests after the capital. It was eighty miles away, but Diana was sure she could beat the messenger pigeon and stop the priests from killing themselves. Amplexor, knowing where most of the monasteries were located on the main island, flew off also.
After that, there was only waiting. It took three days for all the dead bodies to be removed from the temple. As there was no time for proper burial of so many corpses, the bonfire Niles had intended for his enemies was used to burn the bodies of the dead priests instead.
Word of the appearance of Demons and Angels in the capital spread throughout the kingdom. Pilgrims started to camp outside the city gates, but Aidan, Dorian, and his Spawn remained hidden inside the palace. This left Admiral James, the temporary spokesman for the government, to work hard at trying to calm the people.
The first to come back was Diana, carrying Galen, the Archbishop of Koor. It turned out that Diana beat Niles' pigeon by over a half day. After seeing Diana with her black wings, the archbishop agreed at once to send his own messengers, declaring High Priest Niles a heretic, and his order for mass suicide void. The archbishop had then flown back with Diana, since the death of High Priest Niles left the church without a leader. That made Galen the ranking member in the church hierarchy until Aidan picked a new High Priest.
Two days later, messages started arriving from all over the kingdom. Most of them demanded that Niles explain his orders further, a few went as far as calling him insane. Only five messages came back saying that Niles' orders would be followed.
After a good week had passed, Amplexor finally returned, looking tired. He had been able to stop the killings at every monastery except the last one, where Niles' message had beaten him. He had spent the last two days burying the dead.
With everyone back, and with the growing crowds demanding entry to the Temple of the Mother, Aidan held a council to try and decide what path Jadoor would now take.
"The first thing that you need to do is decide what to do about the pilgrims," James insisted once the meeting had started. "I have used the church stores of food to feed them, but their numbers grow each day."
"You and Dorian need to present yourselves to your people," Amplexor agreed. "They have heard the rumors... they now need to know the truth."
"But won't they be frightened, seeing Dorian and his Spawn?" Aidan asked nervously.
"What have our legends about Demons always said?" the Archbishop of Koor spoke up. "In our teachings, they are always the ones who punish the sinful. The people will be scared of having the judges of old back, but will also be comforted, knowing that true divine justice will now reign, especially since all the Inquisitors have disappeared...which brings up a new issue."
"Yes," Aidan said, turning his attention to the plump, but thoughtful man.
"When are you going to name a new High Priest?" the archbishop asked.
"You want the job?" Diana laughed.
"No... I don't think I could lead the people during these chaotic times."
"I know that Warren wanted the job," James said with disgust.
"Do we know where he is?" Amplexor asked.
"No... he disappeared along with his followers, including their small fleet of black sailed ships," one of Aidan's generals reported.
"Good riddance," Aidan sighed.
"No. It would have been better if we had kept a hold on him, your majesty. Trust me. That man will cause you trouble in the future," James warned, also worried about Harper, who had also disappeared.
"Let's not worry about unseen problems for now... we have enough known problems to deal with as it is," Amplexor said, ending the debate.
"Who do you have in mind for the role of High Priest?" the archbishop asked again.
" Amplexor and I have talked about it, and I am going to name Dorian to the post."
"But he is not even a Jadoorian!" Galen said in shock.
"Having a man with... uhmmmm... Dorian's appearance might pose a problem, your majesty," James agreed nervously.
"The people are saying that their gods have returned. What better role could I give Dorian than the same post as the first Demon had? He was not a Jadoorian."
"Be that as it may, your majesty. The people might not take well to a ... a Demon as the head of their church, especially one that can barely speak the language," Diana spoke.
"He is learning..." Aidan said as he looked lovingly at Dorian, whose tail, now two feet long, was swishing behind him.
"He would make a good symbol," the Archbishop agreed. "But he needs help getting the other bishops to endorse him."
"Are you offering to fill that role?" Aidan smiled, seeing the game the man was playing.
"I'm willing to help teach him church protocol." Galen bowed.
"Then it is decided," Aidan said. "Dorian will be High Priest of Jadoor and you, archbishop, will be his personal secretary."
"There might be just one problem, Aidan," Amplexor, never big on titles, said.
"Yes?" Aidan asked.
"With the archbishop spending so much time with Dorian, there is a risk of himself becoming less acceptable to the people," Amplexor said.
"What do you mean?" Aidan said, confused.
"What would happen if our good friend the archbishop became one of Dorian's children?" Amplexor explained.
"A Demon Spawn?" Aidan sighed.
"Yes," Amplexor nodded.
"What's this about?" Galen asked suddenly nervous.
"Let me just say you don't want Dorian to kiss you, your grace," Aidan chuckled.
"Are you saying that, if he kisses me, I will turn into one of his Demon Spawn?"
"Yes." Aidan grinned, loving how the color was draining from the old man's face.
"Thinking of withdrawing your offer?" James laughed.
"May I, your Majesty?" the archbishop said in a pleading voice.
"There is a way around that problem," Amplexor offered before Aidan could reply.
"Yes?" Aidan asked, curious.
"You could kiss him and make him one of your children," Amplexor told Aidan.
"And grow wings?" the archbishop laughed.
"Yes... you will also become younger, giddier, and completely loyal to Aidan. Also you will be bisexual if not totally gay," Amplexor explained. "In the days of the First King and High Priest, the army was made up of the High Priest's Demon Spawn, while the church's clergy was made up of children of the King... who were called Saints."
"I would not mind looking younger... but I would rather not deal with the rest of it, thank you."
"I don't think you will have much choice." Aidan grinned. "With me as King and Dorian as High Priest, there will be significant changes taking place. To start with, there will be major changes in what the church teaches on sexuality. You might find that easier to accept if you share our feelings on this."
"I see..." the archbishop said after a long moment of thought. "Well, if you can stand kissing an old goat like me, then I am willing to become one of your Saints, your majesty. Who knows? A sunnier disposition might do me some good."
"Good... we will take care of that latter... next, what to do about the war?" Aidan asked, going to the issue most on Dorian's mind.
"Peace..." was Dorian's one word response.
"That's harder than you think," James sighed.
"Why can't we just call the troops back home?" Aidan demanded.
"Because our generals would never agree to it. They are winning this war. Why would they want to give up a chance to defeat the Empire for good. To avoid a civil war, you must let them continue until either we lose or Domus surrenders."
"The Centurions will never surrender, though," Aidan pointed out.
"I know, but you have to give our generals a reason to not fight. With all the progress they have made, they will not be in any mood to give up, especially since it was Domus who attacked first," James stressed.
"Would the army turn on me if I called them back home?" Aidan asked his other generals, only to see them nod their heads.
"Fine... but they are not to enter Domus proper. Force them back to their mountain passes and seal the valley shut." Aidan sighed as he looked sadly at Dorian.
"We also need to retake Aquanos," James added.
"Why?" Aidan demanded.
"It is their only deep water port. If we don't hold it, our shipping will always be in danger of raids. I ask your majesty permission to seize the port."
"I would also like to be made governor there."
"Why governor?" Aidan asked suddenly curious.
"All I can say is that I found myself a home there. I know you want Jadoor to become a more accepting place, your majesty, but it will take time. At Aquanos I don't have to wait. It already has all I need."
"You want to take Kyle back there," Aidan smiled knowingly.
"Yes... we and my men were happy there."
"Then you have my blessing and the governorship, my friend."
"Thank you, your majesty," James bowed smiling, not noticing the interested look Amplexor was giving him.
The rest of the meeting was taken up with the change of power. Diana was to be reappointed Prime Minister of the Merchant Guild. The state of holy war, with the heavy taxes it involved was to be ended, and the pilgrims were finally going to be allowed into the Temple Square. All of these were easy decisions to make, and all was going well until there was a knock on the door.
The Eastern Confederacy ambassador came in, looking pale and nervous. Not a word had been heard from him since the siege. "Your majesty." The man bowed.
The man shook as he spoke in a voice that did not match his words. "I am here to report that the great Eastern Confederacy, seeing the injustice suffered by Jadoor at the hands of the tyrannical Domus Empire, have joined their brothers in the west by declaring war against Domus."
"No..." was the only response in a near silent room as Aidan looked at Dorian's ashen face.
Captain Harper looked at the small flotilla of warships and merchant vessels that were massed together. With all sails set, and oars moving in their circular pattern, the fleet pushed rapidly south, away from Jadoor and certain punishment. At his side, wearing the facemask of a dead Centurion to cover his fire-scarred face, was the High Inquisitor Warren.
It had been Harper and his men who had rushed the burned man out of Meltor to the port city of Koor, hiding aboard a war galley while Harper tried to gather the surviving Inquisitors to the fleet of ships he had confiscated.
Then, when word came for his arrest, Harper knew he could wait no longer. Of over a thousand Inquisitors, only three hundred had reached the relative safety of the ships.
The question that Harper had not yet dared ask Warren, was what to do now. The Inquisitors were not just unpopular in Jadoor, but in the entire Federation. Going to Domus, where they would be treated as slaves was not an option, which left only the Confederacy. But to which kingdom should they attempt to flee?
The day finally came, however, when he could no longer wait, as they were now reaching the wilderness gap between Qopo and Domus, beyond which were the kingdoms of the Confederacy.
"Where to now, your grace?" Harper asked after taking a deep breath.
"The Empire of Lahore," Warren said in a voice muffled by his mask.
That took Harper aback. "Lahore, across the Desert of Flames?"
"Yes... does that prove to be a problem for you, my servant?" Warren asked, his violet eyes glaring at the sea captain.
"No your grace...I just do not see the wisdom of it."
"That is because I have not told you the true history of this half of the world, nor will I tell you now. What I will tell you is that the knowledge of the appearance of Angels and Demons on this side of the world would be of great interest to them... knowledge for which they will give us sanctuary."
"But they will demand that we follow their tribal beliefs.
Warren hardened his fist and slammed it against Harper's face. "Have you not guessed, you fool, that there is no true faith? What difference will it make to our goals if we worship the Sons or Kaal? They both come from the same source, so it makes no difference.
"Then who do we worship?" Harper demanded.
Knowing that in his weakened state, his fellow Inquisitors were looking toward Harper for leadership, Warren kept a patient tone to his voice, even as rage boiled in his mind. "You may worship me."