This is Part 36 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
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It was hours later, and Jet was dozing in a chair by an open firebowl, when Immanis came in to the private audience chamber.
Jet stood immediately, assuming the custom, tiredness leaving him in an instant.
Immanis paused on the other side of the firebowl and watched the flames. He pursed his lips, blinking slowly, seeming to consider his words, then he walked away without speaking, to tall glass cabinets along the far wall. He brought out two glasses and a bottle.
Jet watched him over the flames and said nothing, waiting.
Finally, Immanis spoke, “My sister and I have been alone for some time now. Our parents and our ancestors are dead. We have yet to take consorts and make heirs.”
“It is hard to be alone,” Jet said softly.
“She is my life,” Immanis said, glancing up at Jet, his cold eyes burning. He poured two glasses, and handed one off to Jet. “Any man that touches her is a man I must put to the death.”
Jet nodded, tensing as he closed his hand around the glass. He waited until Immanis began to drink before he tasted the liquor — and had to turn and cough, after he did, struggling briefly for breath. It was like electricity in a cup.
Immanis drank down his first glass, poured another, and walked about, drinking, talking, and standing on the other side of the firebowl again, to watch Jet. “The dead man,” he murmured. “His name was Manu. He was to be her betrothed. I had arranged the match. He had been a friend, and might have been a valuable political ally,” he said, watching the fire. “He had been more than pleased for the honor. He had hoped for the marriage to be soon, but Lucida had convinced me more than once to put it off, citing nervousness and her desire to make a proper wife, telling me she still had much to learn, and wanted to be perfect for him. His last letters to me had hinted at impatience; I had not realized his heart had sickened.”
Jet listened carefully, and thought back to Lucy’s deliberate lies, wondering how much of the evening’s plan had been arranged ahead of time. Had Lucida actually agreed to the match? Had she ever really planned to go through with it?
“I thought I knew him better than to be surprised by this kind of an action,” Immanis said. “Tell me, Jet have you dealt with much betrayal? I have not. My eyes, my voice, command obedience, if I will it. My heart knows if one speaks the truth. It is a gift of my blood. All our people are gifted. It is what allows us to crush your armies as they approach us.”
Was that how he controlled Eisen? Jet closed his eyes against the barrage of unwanted feelings. Betrayal? The worst of it seemed that if Kieron had not run off, that Jet would not have been caught, would not now be so far from home, so close to death. Was it betrayal? Or just stupidity? He didn’t know anymore. He didn’t answer.
“Lucy tells me you saved her life,” Immanis murmured. “And while I am grateful beyond measure, I wanted to ask you why.”
“Why?” Jet said, honestly baffled. “What do you mean, why?”
“In the confusion, you could’ve run,” Immanis said, looking to Jet through the flames. His eyes were faintly glassy — likely from the drink. “In my grief, I’d have been dealing with Manu, and you could have escaped. I quite easily could have forgotten all about you.”
Jet stared at his hands, rubbing where there was still blood under the fingernails. “I did what anyone might do,” he said carefully. He didn’t know if Immanis could tell if he lied — he couldn’t command his obedience, but that could easily have been a fluke.
“Anyone with loyalty, perhaps,” Immanis said. “But you should have none, to me. You were given the choice to join my household, and you did exactly that. Not merely in name, not only on the surface. The man could have killed you. His ability with a sword was all but legendary. You had but a simple folding knife.”
“I am sorry for the loss of your friend,” Jet said slowly, weighing his words. “For your sister’s loss of her husband-to-be. But I am not sorry the man is dead. His intentions were clear.”
“You confess to killing him?” Immanis said, cocking his head to the side, swirling the drink in his glass. “Drink your aetheris; it is a waste, otherwise.”
Aetheris. Jet glanced at the pale blue liquor, nodding, and swallowed what was left in his glass, hissing briefly, feeling like he could taste lightning behind his eyes. He turned to look at Immanis. “I believe he was dead the moment he lifted a hand against your sister,” Jet answered, meeting his captor’s gaze. “He simply did not realize it yet.”
Immanis’s brows lifted. He set down his glass and came around the firebowl, then, striding with purpose, advancing on Jet. His eyes were dark, shining, and the intent on his face seemed all but murderous. He took a knife from his hip and grabbed Jet’s hand. “My will cannot control yours, Jet. Yet you chose this. You saved Lucida. I know many with strength. Many with honor. I know vipers in the court, and I know goodness, when I see it. Join us, truly. I will spare you from the hunt if you agree,” he murmured.
Jet flinched, his heart thundering as he looked at the knife. “What… what am I agreeing to?” he asked. He did not try to pull away, but schooled his trembling, barely.
“To be my brother,” Immanis said, lifting his chin. “It is an honor.”
Jet felt the ice in his veins, an ache behind his eyes.
Oh, the sharp teeth — how they bite.
There was no way to refuse and live. Jet nodded, solemn, twisting his wrist to offer up his palm. He watched as Immanis put the blade between their palms, each edge of the twice-sharp dagger pressed to their flesh. He hissed, grinding his teeth against the feel of the knife.
Immanis dragged the blade out, cutting them both. He kissed the flat of the blade, and then put the flat to Jet’s lips, pressing it there briefly.
Jet was reminded of the feel of Eisen’s warm blood against his skin, and he kept his eyes on Immanis, feeling his heart pound, but kissed the blade as well.
The dark-eyed man tucked the knife away and clasped his other hand around Jet’s, pressing their wounded hands together, the blood mingling, running slowly down their wrists, dripping to the floor. “It is done,” he said, and then he released Jet’s hand and leaned in, kissing Jet’s forehead briefly. He laughed then, clapping him on the back, and turned him toward the door out of the audience chamber. “Let us go. We will celebrate. This will call for a feast. We must wake the cooks, wake the palace itself. Wake my sister!” he crowed, smiling at Jet, his white teeth gleaming.
Jet looked to his hand, looked at the cut bleeding freely, and marveled at the burning feeling under his skin as Immanis declared the day nothing short of a national holiday. “That’s a lot of celebration,” Jet noted with amusement, assuming him to be somewhat in his cups after several glasses of what amounted to bottled delirium.
“Of course!” Immanis said. “But it should be. My sister deserves the whole of Ilona to celebrate with her!”
Jet stiffened, turning to look at Immanis, trying hard to keep himself from a look of shock.
Immanis continued, heedless, gesturing with his nearly empty bottle of aetheris, shouting down the hallways as he walked beside Jet. His great voice echoed off the stone of the long hallways, “Lucida and Jet will be married!”
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