Chapter Seventeen

"You can stay on Earth if you want, long as you don't disrupt my plans and keep under the radar. Give me a few days to work out the armor." Travis said as fiddled around with a circuit board.

"I meant about the fur balls. Got data up the yin yang about them, but need someone to analyze it. You game?"

"For the right price I am." Travis smirked and rubbed his hands together

"OK three thousand kin, plus ten percent of everything I earn."

"Make it twenty, through in a weekly sparring session and you got a deal."

"That's the second time I've seen you do that. What gives?"

"That's the price of using demonic magic."

"Oh. Why use it at all?"

"Because it's a part of me. Now if you'll excuse me I have business to take care of."

"Ok guess I'll go chill in the cave for a bit, later."

Phoenix popped back to cave while Travis awaited the return of Blix. The demon showed up a few minutes before sundown. He raged when Travis renegotiated the terms of their bargain. A few blasts of ultraviolent light got Blix to comply, but he would make Travis pay the first chance he got.

The next few days were spent vetting candidates for his round table. So far he'd brought an economist, engineer and physicist into the fold, but still needed a computer expert and lawyer. Right now he was about to interview the last name on his list.

Adam Lawless was a thirty-something pudgy man. Balding and self-effacing, his cuddly exterior beguiled the shrewd serpent within. He made partner at his firm a year out of law school and then started his own practice three years later. His office was decorated with tasteful modern art pieces, a mahogany desk back with matching bookshelves, and a leather chair.

Travis cleared his throat and Adam looked up, shock all over his face. He had to admit Travis looked straight out of GQ in his cream suit with matching hat and cane.

"Sorry, didn't mean to stare. I was expecting..."

"Someone older, it matters not. Shall we get down to business?" Travis smirked and took a seat across from Adam, who had no clue what the boy was doing here.

"Yes, well what can I do for you, Kid?"

"Don't let my appearance fool you. I wouldn't be here unless I had serious business to discuss. As it stands now I'm in need of someone like you to help me set...certain plans in motion." Travis tossed him a dossier then continued. "Read this over and if you agree to the terms call me on this phone. Otherwise forget I was here."

He handed Adam a disposable cell and left.

The next instant he was in a little villa outside of Rome. After gathering soil and a proper offering he formed the homunculus and invoked Athena. Pure demons couldn't exist on the human plane. Instead they needed artificial bodies to house their mind and essence.

The wind howled and a charge of static electricity set his hair on end. The earthen statue got up and strolled toward him.

"The hour is late and the burden of war lies heavy on my head. Speak your piece so I may be done of you."

"I come to strike a bargain and ask for guidance only you may give, my Lady." Travis brushed the back of his thumb down his forehead then offered her a two hundred year old brandy and freshly made bread with extra virgin olive oil.

"You remember your lessons well. And I see your glamor has improvised."

"Yes, but I still falter from time to time. If you'll forgive my rudeness I want you to align with Rose."

"What's in it for me?" Athena wiped bread crumbs from her mouth and down a swig of the brandy.

"Returning stability to Pandemonium. Necron and Eris would love it if this war were indefinite."

"Agreed but what will you give me in trade?"

"I have new knowledge about the prophecy."

"I care not about the silly ravings of lesser demons."

"True but there are others who do and you can use that to your advantage." Travis steepled his fingers and waited. Athena nodded her head and Travis told her what he heard when he went into the altar of Oblivion.

"What do you think of the prophecy?"

"You mean prophecies. There are a million interpretations all claiming to be the correct one. I reserve judgment until more information comes to light. But it doesn't matter if it's true."

"Why?" Athena sipped the brandy and twirled around, giggling as she went.

"I will forge my destiny with the power that lies in these hands." His eyes flashed blood red and a tornado of flames kicked up around him.

But he wasn't surrounded by fire he was the fire. Athena was shielded herself from the inferno until Travis regained control of himself. He lay on the ground painting as the power fought with him to come out. One mental barrier after another he constructed until the beast had been locked away. He got up, dusted himself off, then hurled all over his Italian loafers.

"What was that?"

"That was the other side of powers."

"I see and who knows of this?"

"No one. I hid it from all of you, practicing in secret so it was my trump card."

"And now?"

"That knowledge will be traded for yours. What is the best way to accumulate political power?"

"Start small and make yourself available so that when your ambition exceeds your sphere of influence they are others waiting to take you to the next level. Remember everyone has their price, but respect is priceless."

"This bargain has come to a close. May your end game come swiftly."

"Same to you my neophyte."

Travis snapped his fingers and the homunculus turned back to dust.

He returned home, devoured four helpings of meatloaf, and then slept 15 straight hours. He arise 11am the next morning and the first order of business was pumping Lip for information. He got out the mirror, cut his right hand and spoke into the mirror. Lip's pointy ears and baby face came into view as soon as the link was established.

"Is Master Travis alright? His hair and eyes be different."

"Huh?"

"They be black and brown now."

"OK. So what's new with you?"

They talked about nothing of importance, but Travis slipped in pointed questions about Abe's campaign here and there. He learned Lip and his girlfriend Lil were making preparations to leave Rose for safer pastures.

"Where will you go?"

"Master need not worry Lip will always be faith to him. We and others is going to Hanaka. Nobody has claimesies on it, so we bes safe there."

Travis paused and thought for a moment. Demon Lords were made in one of three ways. by birth, by blood, or by power.

"If no one's claimed Hanaka, then I could claim it and become a full fledge Demon Lord!"

"Yes but you'd have to compel oaths of fealty and prove yourself to Lord Abe and the others." Lip gulped and paled at what Abaraxas would do to Travis for breaking his oath of fealty.

"When the time is right I will take my place among the Demon Lords and crush all who oppose me to dust."

Lip nodded his head and agreed to help Travis as best he could. But he only wanted a safer life for him and Lil. After closing the link with Lip, Travis went to the dining hall and ate his fill of eggs and sausage. He was on his third plate when Helena interrupted him mid-bit.

"Travis dear what happened to hair and eyes?"

He paused and lied on the spot.

"Um, I dyed it back. And those color contacts made my eyes burn, so I chucked them."

"OK sweetie, whatever makes you happy. In my day if you wanted to set yourself apart you'd join a secret society. That's how your grandfather and I met in college."

"That's nice Grams. Did I get any calls while I was asleep?" He stuffed three more sausage links into his mouth, and chased it down with orange juice.

"You received three calls in the last hour, but we really must discuss your parents."

"I screwed up big time but give me a fortnight. My affairs will be in order then."

"You know I love you and want what's best for you. I'm breaking the law and my influence isn't what it used to be."

"How much damage did they sustain?"

"They're just now getting the casts off. "

"Surprised I didn't kill them," he said as if talking about the weather. "One less thing to worry about I suppose."

He excused himself and retired to his room where he spent the next three days analyzing the data Phoenix gave him and breaking down the Nekoshin armor. Thus far he found a three centimeter wide hole in the back where an energy blade could slip through and overload the circuitry. Nothing to celebrate about, but it was progress.

In the meantime Adam agreed to join the fold and set into motion the emancipation process, though the first order of business was preparing him for the trial that awaited back home.

He knew Agent Anderson would try to take him back to the Nursery. But that wasn't going to happen.

Earth to sourpuss, you done yet?

You. Me. Logos. Now!

"Someone's cranky, huh?" Phoenix said as they touched down on the third moon of Clark.

Travis rewarded him with a fist to the gut.

"I don't have time for your games."

"Aw did I catch you on the rag? Or are ya mad I didn't mention the new doo?"

Travis charged forward, changed directions and came up behind Phoenix. His leg slammed into the side of Phoenix's face and he followed up with a knee to the stomach.

"Cheap shot." Phoenix spat several teeth and set his broken jaw in place. Then he popped behind Travis and launched him intro air with a pillar of earth.

A string of purple energy issued from Travis's index finger, and shredded anything it came contact with. Chunks of the earthen pillar crashed down. The dust up gave Travis the opening he needed and sliced off Phoenix's right arm at the elbow.

"You'll pay for that you psycho." He launched a barrage of fire balls interspersed with energy blasts. Travis countered by raising a shield of diamond and gloated. A moment later it exploded, skewering him on the spot.

"In yo face mother..."

Phoenix watched as Travis was engulfed in blue flames. The diamonds shards liquefied and then were absorbed into him.

"That's... new."

"Tell me about it." The flames died down and Travis stood their back in black.

"Two things. You're still a hermaphrodite. And now you can't clap."

"You prock licking asshole." Phoenix grabbed his arm and placed it against the stub. The skin and bone joined, but it hung dead for the time being."

"Interesting, would have thought you'd need surgery."

"Very funny wise guy. Mind telling me what's up with you?"

Travis tapped his chin as he thought.

"Best guess, this is a power saving mode I go into. And the hair and eye color change are a consequence of tapping into a higher energy state."

"So base form and battle mode?"

"Must you be so uncouth?"

"Whatever. How `bout we take this joint on the road. We can make tons of kin and train in the process?"

Travis told him he'd think it over then gave Phoenix the info about the armor's weak point. That done he gave Phoenix the run down on the fur balls.

The Nekoshin Empire stretched a quarter light year composing thousands of planets and trillions of life forms. It was divided into four sectors. Alpha sector was home to Clark and other technologically advanced planets. Beta sector was home to Felis, the Nekoshin home world and served as the military strong hold of the empire. Gamma sector housed the commerce and trade centers of the empire. The delta sector was a lawless region known as the dead zone. Relative to Earth it was the nearest at 1000 light years.

Each sector was ruled by a general who commanded thousands of grunts below him. Felis was the exception. It housed four generals and the emperor himself. Thus far they had only encountered general infantry units.

"Shit. If they're just scrubs we're toast if we run into those generals."

"Which is why, we're upping our training regimen. I'll have a gravity belt ready by the end of next week, but first I need to sleep."

***

He avoided Helena for the rest of his stay. Most of his time was spent constructing the gravity belt and a few other devices. Travis thought it best to have Helena's lawyer handle his case and keep Adam dedicated to Camelot business. Travis spent what free time he hand training to keep his powers in check. Ever since his meeting with Artemis any unchecked emotion set off his abilities. The wards absorbed most of the damaged but Helena had to replace three lamps and a fourth window that morning.

He tried to explain it away with clumsiness. But she gave him a knowing look and just walked away. Meditation helped to take the edge off, but in the end he wound up on Pathos, a desolate but inhabitable planet in the delta sector he came across while recouping from his last mission. The planet was home to simple invertebrates and small rodents and provided the perfect place to unleash until Travis was exhausted.

The mental barriers he erected had to be refortified each day as more of his power need to be locked away. He could access thirty percent of his minimum before going into battle mode, but tried to stay in base form unless it was an emergency. Travis knew if he lost total control the destruction wrought would be unimaginable.

Bit by bit he trained under extreme gravity and timed how long at maximum he could go before the burden of it choked him and he was swept away by it.

This secret he kept from everyone by training in the pocket dimension. For he feared one day this power of his would fall into Oblivion's hand. It took a great deal of effort and energy to do but he locked this knowledge away so they even he didn't know about it. Every night the spell compelled him train then erased all memory of it. In its place memories of a regular training secession were transposed so he there was no gaps.

***

"Sweetie, we need to talk."

Travis looked up from his desk and shoved the device he was tinkering with in the nearest draw.

"Can this wait?"

"Meet me in the parlor. Now."

He slumped into love seat next her and crossed his arms.

"I know you're upset with me but let me explain. Your Grandfather Marshall joined the Midnight Society when we were college. At first ii was your typical fraternity. Then everything changed."

"How?"

"They couldn't rub two nickels between themselves. Then they all struck it rich."

"So what does this have to do with me?"

Travis eyed the box in Helena's hands and wondered if she'd ever get to the point.

"With that wealth came power which the Midnight Society has used to steer global politics. And they are the reason you have to go home."

"Clarify."

Travis sat up and uncrossed his arms.

"They know about those plans of yours and aren't happy."

"But I was meticulous. How did they find out?"

"It's my fault. When you connected the computer the internet they slipped a program in that copied everything you typed."

"Then tell them I'm coming for them."

"Travis, they know about your powers."

He stood stupefied.

"When they found out about Project Hellfire, we fell out with them because they wanted us to stay out of it. But I couldn't let your parents continue to exploit you."

"You knew and did nothing." His nostrils flared and his nail dug into his palms.

"We did what we could after you escaped."

"So why tell me this now?"

"Because your grandfather kept a journal of his time in the group. Read it over and use it to break their hold over things."

"What do you gain out of this?"

"The knowledge my Marshall didn't die for nothing. And that you promise this new order of yours will help those in need."

"What do get out of this?"

"You could do great good and usher in a golden age for us."

He turned and his red eyes sent shivers up Helena spine.

"Why should I when this world has done nothing to warrant my mercy?"

"Then make it one that does."

Travis nodded, took the box and returned to his room to think. It is better to be feared and loved rather than either. A brief call to Adam instructed him to establish several charity organizations. Aside from the good PR they'd provide fronts for laundering the vast sums of money he'd need.