This is Issue #66 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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The delight in Lucida’s eyes was bright; she wrapped her arms around Jet and covered his face in kisses. “You are brilliant, caro,” she purred. “I have heard tales of the demon of inner fire, the sword of shadowglass, the ghostly princeguard who cannot be killed — you’re being called the guardian spirit of Ilona!” she cried, obviously thrilled.
Bone-weary, Jet smiled as he disengaged her from clinging to him, and moved to peel out of his overclothes, shifting and stretching, working out the knots in his muscles.
As always, Lucida attempted to help Jet out of his clothes, and as always, he slapped at her hands gently until she stopped. “I’ve run you a bath,” Lucida offered, and before Jet could object, she said, “And this time I won’t try to join you in it.”
Jet blushed, sighing, and ushered Lucida out the door, saying, “Thank you. Now kindly leave me be. Brother mentioned important news to tell us at dinner, and I would like to be refreshed.”
“I’ll bet you would,” Lucy smirked, and sauntered off down the hall, leaving Jet standing in the middle of his room, somewhat perplexed. She didn’t usually leave so easily.
He turned and strode into his private baths, shaking his head, shedding his garments as he went. He slipped into the steaming water, groaning, and laid his head back against a pillowing towel, sighing as the perfumed heat sank into his muscles.
He didn’t know he had dozed off until he felt a gentle hand at his jaw. His eyes opened, and when they spied a young man bringing a razor to his neck, they widened further, and he bared his teeth as he reached for the man’s throat, and began to crush it, pulling him into and under the water. The razor was lost in a moment, and the would-be assassin thrashed, kicking feebly, his face turning red beneath the hot water.
The noise brought back Lucida, who flew into motion as she saw the trouble. “Caro!” Her voice felt far away. “Idiot!” She slapped him, shoved him to the side.
Jet released his prisoner, lifting his hands to fend off Lucida, shouting, “What? WHAT? Stop hitting me; he brought a blade to my throat!”
“He is your famulo — your cubicularius? He is your servant. Your manservant. His name is Secta. Your groom!” Lucida said, running through the words in an effort to make Jet understand. “Your face was in need of a shave!” she exclaimed, reaching in and pulling the barely-conscious young man from the water.
Jet helped him up, looking embarrassed and angry all at once. “I can shave my own face!” he sputtered.
“I’m sorry — I’m so very sorry,” Secta said, coughing and trying to get water out of his eyes, dripping and uncomfortable. “I had thought you would prefer to relax while I took care of it.”
“Whoever would’ve given you that idea?” Jet said, turning an irritated gaze on Lucida, moving to get out of the water. “Please, please get out.”
“–Yes, yes, of course–” Secta said, clambering out of the bathwater entirely, fussing about as he looked for the razor. He picked it up from the bathwater in nimble hands, and carefully wiped it dry, shying away from both Lucida and Jet.
“Not you,” Jet said, sighing, reaching to catch the man’s wrist. “I do need a shave.” He looked over at Lucy once more, saying, “Go on. Go see Gemma.”
Lucy’s eyebrows raised, but then she shrugged, and slipped away. “As you say, Guardian Spirit,” she teased.
Jet rolled his eyes and waited for her to go.
Secta stood near, looking at Jet curiously, still holding the razor, still wet, still trembling.
Sighing, Jet released his wrist and said, “Hand me that razor.”
“Pardon?” Secta said, looking almost frightened. He clutched the razor more tightly in his fist and drew back.
“You don’t follow orders well enough to be a trained servant. Where did Lucy find you?” Jet wondered mildly, his hand still outstretched.
“Come off it,” Jet hissed. “You’re paler than I am, and you look like you might vomit into my tub–which, by the way, I advise you not to do; I have not yet rested enough to consider myself forgiving of such an act. Now hand me that razor.”
Secta offered it out, and when Jet accepted it from him, he snatched his hand back, as though the other man were going to bite him.
“Why are you behaving so strangely?” Jet wondered, pursing his lips, his eyes narrowing as they traveled over Secta’s thin frame.
“As though I would hurt you soon as look at you,” he elaborated.
“The princess — she named you Guardian of Ilona. I have heard that you were created to purge Ilona of its darkness. That you burn from the inside out. That you can cleave men in two with a blade of glass. That you cannot die,” Secta murmured.
“Not all of those things are true,” Jet said.
“But some of them are?” Secta wondered, his brows lifting.
“Some of them,” Jet said, nodding slowly. “But even if they were, why should you be frightened?”
“What if you thought I was a part of the darkess that infested Ilona?” Secta wondered, looking at his hands, frowning. “How do you know who is bad for the city?”
“Those who want my brother dead are bad for the city. Those who murder its citizens and steal their money, those who break its laws again and again, or seek to undermine Immanis’s rule. And I do not kill them outright–” Jet murmurs.
Secta’s interruption was sudden, and to the point, “But you do kill them.”
“Yes, if I must,” Jet said. “I do.”
“That is why I am afraid of you,” Secta said.
“Simply because I have killed?” Jet wondered, looking near-pleased at Secta’s fear, at his trembling. His expression was almost one of amused disbelief, but it faded, suddenly, when Secta spoke again.
The groom’s expression was grave, pained even, when he lifted his eyes to meet those of the man who had grown to be thought of as Ilona’s avenging spirit. “Not simply, though your way of speaking of it is frightening in and of itself — taking a life is no simple thing, to someone with only one, such as myself. But no, not simply because of that,” Secta said, “but because you have killed so many.”
“Truly,” spoke up Lucida, who had let herself back in, “you’ve become our blood.” She looked proud, and Jet felt a rush of heat and disgust all at once.
He flicked a hand at Secta, motioning him to the door. Out. Get out. Now.
Secta complied immediately, ducking and all but running.
Jet flushed, grinding his teeth, and said, “I thought I told you to visit Gemma?”
She smirked, crossing her arms over her chest. “I thought you were getting a shave, not waxing philosophic about your endeavors.”
When they were alone, Jet rose out of the tub, reaching for a towel to cover himself, the muscles in his jaw working as he clenched his teeth, reminding himself not to engage in any debate with Lucy — no matter what, she won.
“What’s the matter, caro?” she said, half pouting as she held a towel out to him in offering. “You look upset.”
He couldn’t help himself. “Lucida,” he began, taking the towel and wrapping it tightly around his hips. “Lucy,” he sighed. “Lucibellamea–” He tried to find the words, and his expression grew pained. He struggled to knot the towel and cursed, hissing breath between his teeth. He glared at the floor and struggled, finally asking, “Am I just a killer?”
The longer it took for him to talk, the more grave Lucy’s expression became until she stepped close and laid one hand at his hip, and then one finger to his lips. “Let me put your heart at ease, caro,” she whispered, reaching to help tie the towel at his hips. “You are as you should be. You are my black blade, my caro, my Jet,” she murmured, leaning in. The warmth of her body was sudden, when she pressed to him, only the thin layers of her silks stood between them; she let the towel fall to puddle at his toes. She wrapped her arms around him, sliding one to his lower back, and one up his spine, to the back of his neck as she pressed close. “See?” she purred, slipping a hand between them to give him a teasing touch. “Hard as rock, my black stone,” she laughed.
He deliberately set her aside and moved to pick up the towel, snapping it at her hip, growling, “Off with you.”
She danced out of the way easily, shaking her head. “Some day, you will not spurn me,” Lucida laughed, sauntering out the door.
Jet rolled his eyes and followed her to the door, moving to shut it, and lock it behind her, calling, “Some day, I will not have to!”
He waited until he had heard her footsteps dancing away before he sank to the floor of his room and covered his face with his hands. His shoulders shook as he wept silently, and he pressed his forehead to the cool marble, struggling not to keen. He had asked Lucida if he was just a killer… and she hadn’t said no.
He pressed his hands to the polished stone of the floor. His voice was a ragged whisper. “Ah, Kieron,” he wept. “What have I become?”
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