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Age Of Aquarius - Book 2

Ministries of Change - Chapter 9

Terry smiled nervously as Pat pulled up to the small hole-in-the-wall he called a restaurant. He had never been on a "date" with anyone. He'd gone out with George to movies and to dinner, but they had never dated. They were brothers, they hadn't needed to date. Of course, this wasn't so much a "date" as two potential friends getting to know one another.

Terry studied Pat as they waited to be seated. He was beautiful, tall, strong, and graceful. To Terry, Pat was something between Jase and George. If he could have melded their features, Pat would have been the result. It made him ache as he thought about it.

He's a good guy, Terry. Give him the chance to be himself with you, and not a fantasy. Terry flinched at George's comment. He still wasn't used to the idea of having a beneficent spirit traveling through life with him. It did make it easier, but Terry wanted George back.

I miss you. Terry looked away, trying to hide the tears, as the hostess came over to them.

I'll always be here, Terry. It's time you started building new relationships; you can't have too many friends.

Pat gave Terry an inquisitive look. "You OK T?"

Terry nodded. "Yeah, sorry; I got distracted."

Pat took his arm and gently guided him toward their table as he laughed. "You know how to make a guy feel special, T. Here I am trying to look hotter than hell and you're distracted."

Terry frowned. "I'm sorry, Pat..."

Pat sighed. "I was joking, Terry. We're just two guys working on their friendship; I'm not going to seduce you or anything."

"Why not?" Terry didn't know where the question came from, but it came out before he could catch it.

Pat smiled. "Because it'd only be worse for you in the long run. It would just be sex for me, and I'm cool with it. Sex isn't just about getting off for you, right?"

Terry nodded and looked at his napkin. "Yeah, you're right, Pat. That was stupid."

Pat grinned. "Not to mention, Jase would kill me." Terry blinked at him, and Pat touched his teeth with his tongue for emphasis. "I have a tendency to bite my partners, T; Jase made it clear where the boundaries are."

Terry grinned as their waitress came over with menus. "So I don't have to worry about love bites tonight?"

Pat smirked, watching the waitress's reaction. "Not from me; your virtue is safe till dawn. After that, you're fair game."

Terry wasn't used to sexual banter, but Pat made it seem so easy. He swallowed his nervousness and grinned. "I'll have to start wearing turtlenecks around you."

The waitress rolled her eyes and tried not to laugh at Terry's reaction as Pat leaned forward and raised the anti. Jase had been the only person who could best Pat at sexual sparing. "Who says I'd be biting your neck, pup?"

Sophia winked at Pat as he sat back, satisfied with Terry's blush. "If he doesn't appreciate you, you just switch teams and give me a call."

Pat laughed and smiled at Terry. "Trust me?"

Terry grinned past his embarrassment. "Yeah." He couldn't believe he was nearly five years older than Pat, and the guy could flabbergast him so easily. I'm such a loser.

No you aren't, bro. You're inexperienced and pretty innocent. Pat was a professional, Terry; he could probably make the Pope blush. Terry could tell that George really liked Pat.

Pat looked up at Sophia with a twinkle in his eyes. "We'd like waters and the house white. Start with bruschetta, then give us Caesar salads, seafood-fettuccini alfredo, and we'll finish with espressos and tiramisu." She nodded, took the menus and left with a smile. Pat chuckled at Terry. "A few of Jase's lessons sank in; not many, but a few."

Terry smiled gratefully at the handsome man across from him. He realized he didn't care if Pat was human or not; he was genuine and that was all that mattered. "Thanks, Pat."

Pat grinned. "My pleasure. I haven't been on an actual date in a very long time." His grin wavered as he thought about the fact that his last date had been nearly two years before, with Jase. "I'm sorry if I'm out of practice."

Terry couldn't believe he was seeing doubt creep across Pat's face. He seemed so confident and strong; the moment of vulnerability made him even more real. Terry slid out of his spot in the booth and slid back in beside a surprised Pat. "We haven't known each other very long, Pat, and I should warn you: I'm big on hugs." Terry had originally had difficulty with hugs and cuddling from anyone but George. When they'd made friends with Jase, Mike and Mira it became impossible to stay that way. Since George's death, he found he craved the contact. He knew his friends found it comforting as well.

Pat laughed and wrapped his arm around Terry's shoulders. "Thanks, pup. I didn't know I needed it." As he squeezed the smaller man, he realized that they would probably end up as best friends, but not as lovers. The spark wasn't there, and Pat found he didn't mind. He needed friends.

Terry sighed contentedly and let himself just melt against Pat. Physical contact was one of the few things that took the ache away. He grinned as he thought about what Pat said. "You know, I'm a lot older than you, and you're calling me 'pup'."

Pat grinned. "I get the impression you don't mind."

"Not really; it just struck me as funny."

Pat realized it was more to him than a cute name. He needed someone to take care of. Terry needed a lot of looking after, at least in the short term, and Pat decided he was going to be a part of it. His mind lingered on Jeremy for a moment before Pat pushed the sudden sense of loss aside. He'd probably never get to see his little brother again. His step-father had made certain of that. He let Terry's warmth sooth his loneliness for a little while. He had family; they just weren't related by blood.

It was nearly ten when the elevator doors opened. Morg smiled as she stepped into Le Maison. It had been a long time since she had simply been "out" for an evening. It had been an even longer time since she'd felt the subtle energies that surrounded "the blessed". The maitre'd smiled at her and waved an attendant over as she loosened her wrap. She took the claim check and stepped up to the maitre' d. She didn't need to be pointed to her table; though he was shielded from view, she knew exactly where her dinner party was.

"Welcome, Madame. Under what name is your reservation?"

"Giovanni Pollini."

He smiled and nodded. "Mr. Pollini is already seated." A server stepped up as he gestured to Morg. "Table seventeen." He looked back at Morg and inclined his head. "Have a pleasant meal; if there is anything you need, please do not hesitate to ask."

Morg inclined her head politely and then followed the young woman to the table. She hadn't needed the guide, but it was pleasant all the same. She could have found her way to Giovan with her eyes closed. She was tempted to do so; it made it easier for her to feel his aura.

Cardinal Pollini was sipping his wine when he felt her enter. So many of his contemporaries would have reviled her as a devil worshipping whore, but he knew better. She was one of the faithful; dedicated to the divine on a different path. She had been there for him during his crisis of faith; she had helped him find his way to God; if she needed him, he was there.

The gentle peace that normally flowed from her was disrupted. Giovan frowned; something had happened. He smoothed over his discomfort and stood as Morg arrived. "You are as beautiful as I remember." Kissing her cheek, he stepped out and held her chair. "God has been generous, Morgain; you have only become more radiant."

Morg smiled. He had always had a silver tongue, even as a child. It was hard to believe he was nearly seventy; he didn't look a day over forty-five. The power of the divine shone in him like a soft, pure light. He was one of the "Shepherds of Faith"; like her he was one of the few who knew the divine and its will. She settled into her chair and waited for him to seat himself and for the waitress to leave. Giovanni gestured to the wine and she nodded; he poured while she contemplated what she was going to say.

Her fingers tapped softly on her clutch, rhythmically swirling layers of subtle magic about their table. Giovan felt it, but said nothing. She smiled softly as the wards settled into place; no one would pay their conversations any mind. "Thank you for coming, Giovan. We have a crisis brewing."

Giovanni's eyes flicked with concern. Morg never spoke of dangers unless they were of world shattering importance. Her words echoed the dreams he had been having; visions he could not understand but knew were warnings. He took a sip of his wine. "I knew this wasn't a simple social call."

She sighed. "I need to know the truth, Giovan. Are the 'Shepherds' having problems with the radicals here in the States?" She had kept out of the politics of faith for a long time. America had been difficult to keep shepherded, and it had only gotten worse since the end of the twentieth century.

Giovanni frowned. Their inability to bring the many fractured paths of American faith into the flock had been a personal disappointment to him. Too many splinters and splinters of splinters were forming in Christ's Cross in the "Home of the Free." Setting down his glass, he nodded. "There are too many factions; new ones are forming every month. We can not seem to find unifying beliefs here."

"The Shepherds had better get their flock back together, Giovanni. If we don't have a strong hand to act soon, we may find that the sword and staff will be raised in battle again."

Cardinal Pollini shuddered. The Masters of Magic and the Shepherds of Faith had not been in open conflict in nearly four centuries. "Why?"

She looked at him over her glass; her eyes were dark. "What do you know of `Change Ministries'?"

He shrugged. "Small, televangelist ministry that cries out for peace and unified faith. Their actual practice is anything but peaceful; they practically beat the word of God into their parishioners."

"They are doing worse, Giovan; much, much worse." Sipping her wine, she let the fire rise in her eyes. "They are killing mage-borne in the name of God."

Cardinal Pollini's eyes went distant as the visions began to make sense. He saw scenes of riots, lynching, anti-religious legislations and blood; so much blood. He shuddered. For a terrifying moment he felt the darkness that was gripping the world; they had been blind, and their ignorance might destroy them all.

Terry had never danced so long in his life. He'd always felt self-conscious and clumsy, but Pat had assured him he'd do fine. Of course, he felt a lot less inhibited after Pat had run his tongue along Terry's ear and whispered, "Live a little." It also helped that his date was one of the best looking men at the club. Terry never had a moment where he felt Pat wasn't paying attention to him. Even when they danced with other partners, he knew Pat was aware of where he was and what was happening. The fact that he had a friend watching out for him let Terry enjoy himself. He wasn't going home with anyone but Pat, so he was free to have a good time.

A couple of times, a few men got aggressive, but Pat was there to make it clear Terry was not "on the market". The kisses he'd pull them into to illustrate the point only made Terry feel better. He was buzzing on the energy of the music and the sexual tension in the place as they pulled up to the bar.

"Enjoying yourself?" Pat's smile was dazzling.

"Yeah; you?" Terry stared into Pat's eyes, losing himself a little bit in their depths. He could understand why people were so hot for vampire fantasies; he was beginning to have a few of his own.

Grabbing them a couple waters, Pat nodded toward the stairs. "Let's hit the roof."

Terry was game, and they hit the roof laughing. The club was designed for partying and dancing on the roof. It was late fall, and the chill was just enough to dissuade most people from partying up there. Terry shivered. "I forgot how cold it is tonight."

Pat grinned. "You're the mage; fix it." He wiggled his eyebrows with his challenge.

Terry's spine stiffened. "Don't think I can, do you?"

"I know you can; my question is, 'will you?'"

Terry brought his hands together and concentrated. "Armthway." The magic rippled about him and he felt the chill of the night fade. He smiled defiantly at Pat. Terry's confidence faltered slightly as Pat slid an arm around his waist and drew them into a slow dance. They moved to the soft music that was piping in over the speakers.

Terry melted. "That wasn't fair."

Pat chuckled into his hair. "What wasn't?"

"You're not supposed to be seducing me." Terry realized a part of him wanted to be seduced. He wanted someone to take the ache away.

"I'm not seducing you, T. I'm just being your friend." He didn't stop their slow dance across the roof.

Terry sighed, feeling Pat brushing against him. "So, what part of being a friend is pressing against me?"

Pat slowed them to a stop and looked into Terry's eyes. "That's just me being a guy, pup. I may have a bone, but I'm not asking you to play fetch."

"What if I want to play fetch?" Terry couldn't believe he was saying it. He knew Pat's kisses were responsible for it, at least in part, but he didn't care.

Pat leaned in. He knew he should put a stop to it, but he could feel Terry's need against him. He breathed into Terry's lips, keeping them from touching. "Then we have a problem."

Terry was jolted from staring into Pat's eyes as the vampyr spun. There were others on the roof. None of them were human. Pat slid Terry behind him protectively as he growled. The sound of it was nothing close to human; it was feral and dark. The rage in it snapped Terry out of his self-induced haze.

Five vampyrs, two females and three males, waited for the command of their master. They were all dressed in grays and blacks; it reminded Terry of a cross between Matrix and Blade. Several of the vampyrs had weapons; not guns, but swords, throwing blades and the like. If there wasn't the growing bite of fear in his gut, Terry would have laughed. The attitude quotient of the area had just gone up by a factor of fifty.

Their leader faded into view; it was as if she had simply separated herself from the shadows. She stood, wrapped in a sheer cloak of black, looking like the pale visage of a woman of moonlight. Were it not for the aura of darkness that permeated the air about her, she would have been captivatingly beautiful. The elder vampyr made a "tsk-tsk" clucking with her tongue and frowned at them from the far side of the roof. "You've been a very bad little slave."

Pat's eyes narrowed. "I have never been, nor never will be, your slave."

Her fangs caught the light as she laughed. "Oh, but you were, and you will be again." Her eyes flicked to her minions and they moved like dark blurs towards the duo.

Matrix indeed, George's thoughts came to him as Terry stepped back in surprise. He didn't want to get in Pat's way.

Pat flexed, his mage-blood powers rose to answer his anger. With a thrust of his hands, the vampyrs stumbled back as if struck by invisible fists. Their blurred forms tumbled to the ground and they snarled at him like rabid dogs.

The Master's eyes narrowed. "You have a mage-thrall." She lifted her hand and swung her arm as if to slap the air. Pat felt as if a truck had just hit him as he soared across the roof like a discarded sack of dirty laundry.

Pat twisted in the air, flexed his will and stopped his flight. The powers were instinctual; he didn't need to know how they worked, he needed only to think about it. He grinned. "No, I have friends... something you've probably never had." He stood up, walking as if on the air itself and focused on the opponents leaping at him. He wished he knew martial arts; the bitch's flunkies did.

Terry watched in mute horror as Pat spun, punched and elbowed his way past his attackers. It was obvious Pat knew how to handle himself; but he fought like a street kid and not like a professional assassin. The others were better; it didn't take them long to prove it.

Pat tumbled back as he was kicked across the face while trying to avoid two other slashes from other opponents. They jumped him while he was disoriented, but their claws hit only air. Like a living smoke, he flowed around them and solidified beyond their grasp. It took Pat a moment to realize he'd broken a sweat.

"Poor little neophyte; didn't anyone tell you that using the powers of mage-blood was more taxing than simply using your normal vampyric skills?" She taunted him as she flicked her fingers absently. "You really should have studied harder."

Pat dodged, but she had launched too many things at him. Tables, chairs, lanterns; they all flew at him with unerring accuracy. He stumbled and rolled, trying to get away from the objects and attackers. Everything was moving in a blur. He'd been too cocky and too confident. He didn't even see the blade as one of the vampyrs thrust a katana through his side and pinned him to the roof.

Terry recoiled from the unearthly scream Pat unleashed as he was pinned to the roof by a three foot blade of steel. He'd been unable to help; shaking and completely helpless. George was screaming at him. DO SOMETHING, TERRY! ANYTHING!

Terry trembled. He tried to think of a spell, any spell, but he choked as he watched Pat's blood spray into the air and spill onto the rooftop. It was all too familiar. The scene distorted as images of George's death replayed along with Pat's.

The last thing Terry remembered was the sensation of George wrapping his arms about him and whispering, I'm sorry, Terry; I'm so sorry. It all went black.

Morg smiled at Giovan as she enjoyed the flavors of the salad. She could still remember him as a young, frightened man. He had grown into a man she admired. Fifty years of friendship supported her affection. She hoped for at least thirty more. "I'm sorry if I've spoiled dinner," her lips curled with dark humor as she tried to coax him into conversation.

Giovanni smiled. "You have the most troubling habit of bringing me bad news and expecting me to take it gracefully enough to enjoy your company."

"Eve did have the apple." Morg loved teasing him with some biblical references that were so directly opposed to her own faith and beliefs.

"True, but Adam tasted it of his own free will." Lifting his wine, he took a sip. "What do you propose we do?"

Morg laughed. "I think it is a bit late to worry about the apple, Giovan. I'm not even that old."

"I meant about our more recent problems."

Morg's eyes were serious. "We call in more Shepherds. If I can get decisive word of their position in this, I may be able to persuade the Masters from reacting to this situation in an emotional and ultimately stupid way." She sighed. "More than simple magic-borne have been killed, Giovanni. One of the Masters was murdered; in his own sanctum."

"Blessed Mary." He looked at Morg and saw the fear in her eyes. It was more than that; he could see memories there. He reached across and took her hand. "How close have they gotten?"

Morg shuddered. "They destroyed the sanctum, Giovan. If it hadn't been for my apprentices, we would not be talking now."

"I can not believe they could call upon God's might to do this."

Morg blinked. "They didn't. There was nothing holy or even spiritual about them. They had devices with them that disrupted magic." Her eyes burned with the memories. "They were nothing more than mercenaries; thugs given heavy weapons and toy boxes that changed the rules."

Giovanni's shoulders relaxed. He had been afraid that some how, God had granted power that was misused, or worse, evil had granted it in God's stead. It made the fact that "the faithful" were murdering in God's name no more palatable, but at least it made it clear that the divine was not involved. They were deluded fanatics; they would be dealt with. "I'll get the word out, Morg. I should be able to gather representatives from the faiths within a month."

Morg nodded. "I will do my best to keep the Masters restrained till then."

In all his years of knowing her, Giovanni had never seen Morgain afraid. She was; deeply afraid, and it tore at his soul. They changed the subject to idle conversation; he told her of his great-nephews and nieces, and she spoke of her "children" and their aspirations. They had conducted business; now they were just old friends. Giovanni preferred it that way.

The evening air was crisp as they stepped onto the sidewalk. Just being in Giovan's presence had helped renew her faith. The Shepherds were not involved, but they would be, and it would be to stand with the Masters. In that, she was satisfied. She turned, pulling her wrap a bit tighter to her, and smile. "Thank you for coming, Giovan."

He smiled, looking down at her to express his own pleasure, when his heart stopped. Three, small, bright dots of red light moved across her; head, heart, abdomen. He threw himself over her and felt the searing pain of bullets as they sank into his body. They should have passed right through him and into her, but his call to the divine was answered. They stopped, held by his prayer and will, as he collapsed.

She clutched Giovanni's body as he sank against her. His warm, wet blood seared her flesh and soul. He was a Shepherd; he was touched by the divine. Harming him was worse than sin; it was blasphemous. Her rage rose as she felt her restraints unhinging. Three spots of laser light converged on her chest, and her power erupted like an explosion from hell. The pain meant nothing; she was death, and her prey was waiting.