This is Issue #47 of DeathWatch, in which we revisit Jet — you remember Jet, don’t you?
This is part of an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
The darkness lifted.
Jet came to, but it was no better than being in the dark. He could barely breathe, for the pain.
The waking world was a shock, bitter and stinging, that left him clenching his teeth and curling up like a wolf spider on a temple roof — unable to get to a cool tile in time, shriveling up under the hot sun.
Every fibre of Jet’s being was focused into the agony of his hand. Where Immanis had cut them both and mixed their blood, he remained raw and open, and as he lay on the floor unable to otherwise control his body, his hand held a white hot star that illuminated new forms of anguish in his bones. It would have hurt less for the hand to be cut off entirely, he was sure.
He knew because of the tension in Lucida’s face, in her dark eyes and the way her curls were sweatslick against her face that she was worried for him, that he was screaming, knew because of the way that the world shook, he was convulsed, writhing in spasms.
He frothed at the mouth, gagging and choking at his own tongue as his eyes began to roll back into his head; Lucida reached, fast as could be, to grab him and turn him to the side as he suddenly retched, howling.
All of these things he knew, could feel, could not control. His body was betraying him, an act of suffering and anguish so intense, it drove him from all rational thought, leaving him only with the memory of a moment–
–Kieron’s eyes, watching him, and the feel of Kieron’s lips against his–
–and then that, too, it tore away.
Eventually, the light of the world dissolved again, and there was silence, unconsciousness. It was not bliss; somewhere behind his eyes, the world hummed and tasted like aetheris that he could not swallow. It filled him and flooded him and his limbs danced and contorted.
* * *
Flashes of fire and blood and violence filled his dreams; Jet drowned in a sea of red, and was lifted from fire by Immanis and his sister. They tore his skin away and left him steaming. They took out his heart, shoved in a hot coal, pulled away his innards, and replaced his vitals with scorching desert sand, set loose a thousand scarab beetles in his chest, and slipped his skin back on. The beetles ran about beneath his flesh, and as he lay on the marble floor of Lucida’s room, Jet thrashed, eyes wide, jaw snapped open in a permanent scream, or clicked shut hard enough it seemed he would crush his own teeth.
The whole of the palace was abuzz from the sound of Jet’s cries; Immanis came to Lucida’s room, storming in, but when he saw the young man on the floor, he wondered of her, “What has happened?”
Shaking, Lucida answered, “If I did not know any better, my brother, my love, I would say it is his novo. That his change has come. This is how you screamed, do you not remember?”
“I do,” Immanis said, leaning down and lifting up Jet’s hand. As he watched, the wound there sealed up, leaving a weal of red that looked like a star. “And I remember yours. You bled and shrieked.” He put Jet’s hand over his own heart and whispered, “I will hate myself, if he fails this change. I did not mean to harm him, only to join him to our house. I wanted him in our family.”
She put Jet’s head in her lap, with his body turned to the side, and let him convulse as she stroked his hair back from his face. “If he does not survive this, I may hate you for it, as well,” she whispered. “He was already family, brother. What have you done?”
Jet’s body shook in her arms, and low groans of pain escaped his lips when he was not outright shrieking, his throat gone raw from the sheer strain of it.
* * *
Jet’s body burned with a fever unlike any the palace physicians have seen. They put him in cool baths, gave him herbs, but could do little besides wait it out. In his delirium, he occasionally screamed for his mother, and wept as he frothed and shook. He was not lucid, did not seem to see the prince and princess of Ilona in the room with him, their hands at his brow, their hearts skipping beats when he would go slack, and his breath would stop.
Now and then, either Lucida or Immanis would put their ear to his chest, or their fingers to his throat, listening for his heartbeat, seeking the pulse that would promise life.
First, it was screaming and seizures.
Then fever, in addition.
Then came the blood.
The bed upon which he lay became soaked in it as he sweat it from his body, as his system voided itself of the lifegiving stuff in every fashion possible.
Lucida, who had laid with him for days, who had held him, woke to believe his fever had finally broken, that he was covered in sweat, but in the dim light, she saw that it was blood — so much so that she wailed in fear and grief.
When Immanis came in, hearing her distress, they each lay beside Jet, and held him between their bodies, skin to skin.
Jet shook, the heat of his own fever making him tremble. Blood ran from his eyes, his ears and nose and mouth, caked in his hair, puddled beneath his hips, against his thighs. The room smelled of copper and salt and aetheris.
Lucy woke in the night to hear him whispering, and she watched his face in the moonlight, his features blood-painted, his teeth red, his lashes red. His eyes were opened and weeping bloody tears, staring into nothing, seeing something she could not.
Immanis woke as well, and sat up, looking down over them, whispering, “What’s he saying?” Lucida listened, leaning close, her ear nearly to Jet’s lips, holding her breath. She glanced up to her brother in the darkness, and her voice was a hushed whisper of worry.
“It sounds like… He’s looking for a key.”
* * *