This is Issue #48 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
The room that had been the site of gore, of screaming and crying and horrors that no one had expected was cleaned up and mostly silent. Windows were open, and warm late spring air blew dryly through the halls. In the distance were the sounds of the nearby market and all of the peoples going about their lives with no idea the chaos contained in the palace. One figure lay in the bed, draped in a white sheet, while another sat in the window, stricken into exhaustion.
Jet woke slowly, pulled to the surface of a dark pool that had held him for what felt like years. He found himself awake, finally, and recognized the feel of fresh sheets and bedding, while the memories of copper and salt faded like smoke chased in the wind. He did not forget, per se, but the horrors of it seemed dulled, set aside, while the memory of what he had not seemed to focus on, before — all that blood — was still so clear. The windows in the room were open, and the diaphanous canopies and curtains fluttered easily in the warm breeze; the lightness of it, the cleanness of it, felt almost absurd, given the pain and gore of the previous days.
He knew he had been incapacitated for quite some time, knew he had been ill, but it wasn’t until he sat up and saw Lucida in the window that he had any real idea of what anyone else had gone through.
She rested in a window seat, her head tipped to the side, exhaustion blanking her features into a mask of sleep, her hair spilled loose, her gown in faint disarray.
He carefully got out of bed, marking how he was not sore, not wounded in any way, though he had fragments of memories full of blood, of his blood. He looked himself over and found no wounds, no blood — the slice on his hand had healed into the shape of a four-pointed star, red and silver against the pale of his palm. Naked, he crossed the room and moved to touch her face, gently rousing her. “Lucy,” he whispered. “Mane est, Lucida. Vigilas,” he said, easily using the tongue of the people who had kidnapped him, but turned him to family, shifting a hand to her shoulder to give a gentle shake.
When Lucy woke, her eyes tried to focus as they traveled up his form, and when they met his face, they widened in shock. “Jet,” she whispered, and a smile broke over her face as she got up to throw her arms around him, tears on her cheeks. “You have returned!” she cried, laughing aloud, pressing kisses all over his face. She pulled back and ran for the door, pulling it open to shout, “He is alive! Immanis! Immanis, my brother, my Jet is alive!”
It was not long before Immanis came in, and moved to pull Jet into his own embrace, kissing his cheeks and laughing victoriously.
Jet could see how they were both exhausted, and so once they were both eased, he curled his fingers around theirs — how fragile they seemed! — and urged them both to get their rest. “I’m savagely hungry,” he said, and he found it was savagely true; he felt he could eat the meals of a hundred men. “And I feel as though I could scale the mountains and move the stars. I’ll take care of myself, and we shall all reconvene this afternoon, and you can tell me the horrors of my resting, for you both seem as though you have been through a bloody war.”
Lucida did not resist; she looked relieved, and kissed Jet’s cheek warmly. “It was a war. And it was bloody. But yes, I will rest. Gemma will be pleased that I return to my own bed,” she said quietly — only for Jet to hear.
He squeezed her hands and kissed them, and said, “Please give her my regards.” Though much of the horror of the last few days was forgotten, he did know that he’d behaved horribly beforehand, and wished to smooth over that conflict.
“I will,” she promised. “Please get my brother to sleep. We have not left your side in days, and he has much to do, much to catch up on,” she said, her voice pitched a little louder, so Immanis could hear her. “He must soon meet with a delegation from a city-state further from the Luminora, further into Intemeratus Posito. They are vipers, a greedy set of people who wish to swallow our wealth and resources for their own,” she sighed. “He must be entirely polite; they do have a sizeable army of which we could make more use…”
Immanis rolled his eyes as his sister left, saying, “You’re awake. My people are awake. There is no reason to–”
“Excellency,” Jet interrupted, earnest. “You’re exhausted. Please, go to bed. We can talk soon enough.”
“I am not used to not being obeyed, my Jet,” Immanis growled irritably; his eyes flashing with warning. “I understand I cannot compel you, but it does not mean I appreciate it,” he said, all but baring his teeth.
“On the contrary,” Jet interrupted, reaching out a hand and laying it to Immanis’s chest. “You appreciate it perfectly, my brother. You cannot make me agree — I will back you, side with you, fight for you, fight with you based on my own choice. On the true merit of your words and your actions. You will get no false love from me.”
Immanis nodded, lifting a hand to Jet’s cheek, and sighed, dropping it away again. “We will get food, and then retire, but you will not put me to bed like a tired child.”
Even if you are acting like one, Jet thought, but did not say aloud. “You will put yourself to sleep, I imagine, and I shall rest nearby, so that when you and Lucida wake, I will know,” he promised.
Immanis agreed, and while the two men waited for the house servants to bring food, he said aloud, “My blood was in you. That is why you were ill. You have been changed, Jet.”
At the same time, Jet said aloud, “I’m not in love with Lucida. I can’t marry her.” He flinched back from the potential response, but then relaxed, confused, saying, “Changed me how?”
“You may not be in love with her, but you love her, and it will do her good to have you as a husband,” Immanis said dismissively, shrugging. “Changed you — it was your novo, your… metamorphosis. You have this word, yes? Your change into man.”
“Ah,” began Jet delicately, an expression of bafflement crossing his features. “That’s just… isn’t that just puberty? Maturation? Normal people don’t fall into bloody fevers for days,” he said. “They just go through horribly awkward times where they grow too quickly and voices change and it’s all a matter of… of–” Jet’s brow is crinkled as he struggles to find the right words to articulate the horrors of adolescence. “Hormones?”
“The shift from being unable to breed to being capable of breeding is of little consequence,” Immanis said, waving a hand dismissively.
That statement, in and of itself, showcased a difference between Ilonan culture and Centralis culture that was so remarkably vast, Jet nearly felt his head spin. “Of little consequence? It… it–” Jet struggled, his eyes widened. “It’s the most significant change in a–”
“It is primitive,” Immanis said, pursing his lips. “If the ability to breed was the most significant anything, it would mean inanimate objects and childless unions were worthless,” he said. “It would mean art was nothing, and the elderly were obsolete. Considering this is so far from the truth as to be offensive toward it, I require your silence!”
Jet opened his mouth again, but Immanis snarled immediately, “I am not interested in the backwards customs and shames of the childish people who walked away from civilization to die of starvation and common diseases!”
Jet narrowed his eyes briefly, and his jaw was set for a moment before he sighed, saying, “I apologize for interrupting you.”
Immanis sighed as well, rubbing his face, and reached out to take Jet’s shoulder, and walk him to a mirror in his dressing area. “I am speaking of the abilities I told you of, before. Lucida’s speed. My voice. There are others who have grown great strength or skill of the mind,” he explained. “You.. I do not know what it is you possess. Only that because of my blood, you achieved your own novo — it was this that afflicted you for so many days,” he said, gesturing to Jet in the mirror.
He recognized himself immediately, and yet not at all. Gone was the boyish rounding in his cheeks; the bones of his face had gone sharp, his jaw a clean smooth line. Gone was the pallor of his unsunned skin; his flesh bore a golden-bronze sheen. Gone was the short, spiky haircut of the Academy; not it spilled past his shoulders in a thick black fall. Gone were any traces of softness to his expression, his body. He was muscled and lean, and there was something unforgiving about him, something hard. Most stunning of all were his almond-shaped eyes — their color had shifted to a brilliant gold.
Jet looked shocked, and leaned in to stare at himself, lifting one hand and putting it to the glass. He saw in the mirror that his hand was changed, too, and it made him glance down and trace a finger over the red weal. “You did this to me?” he wondered, glancing over at Immanis.
The prince of Ilona could not comprehend if Jet’s expression was one of wonder, one of worry, or one of anger. “Yes,” Immanis said.
“But you don’t know what it did to me,” Jet continued.
“…yes,” sighed Immanis.
Jet’s answer was practical, if wry. “Let’s hope it’s something useful, then.”
* * *
It was early in the afternoon when one of the servants came running to the antechamber of the princes suites. Jet was leaving, having finally gotten Immanis to agree to rest, and he spun toward the servant and hissed, “Morieris!”
The young man panted, looking fearful, and said, “Mactabilis Plaga of Tenebrae is here and demanding to be seen.”
“Take me to him,” Jet said, shrugging.
“Yes, lord,” the servant whispered, and hurried back to the audience chamber, with Jet in tow.
When he walked into the chamber, he saw a dozen well-armed men with their hands on their weapons, looking by turns arrogant and lazy. He pressed his hands together and strode forward, smiling calmly, and called out a greeting. “Salutatem! Innumeris gaudia in domum tuam,” he offered. Entirely polite, Lucida had said. Jet wanted to make sure he kept to it.
It didn’t matter. Immediately, the men were on alert, all but snarling, while the man Jet was certain would be revealed to be Plaga himself lifted his chin and snarled epithets. He spat on the floor and snapped, “Immanis. Iam.”
Jet pursed his lips and sighed, rubbing his face. He slipped into his other tongue, looking apologetic. “I’m terribly sorry, but Venator is not to be disturbed. Can I offer you any other hospitality? You have come earlier than was planned and you are welcome here, to be sure, but–”
“Plaga!” Immanis called from across the chamber, having entered behind Jet and the servant. “Coivit bestia! Vestram deprecor tuam sphaeram exicederes!”
Jet’s jaw dropped; that certainly wasn’t polite.
* * *