This is Issue #97 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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“You told him what?” Lucida said, trying to keep her voice low. “Gemma! Immanis has been unresponsive for weeks! He is… he is lost in sleep! He does not wake, does not answer — he is not coming to dinner!” Lucida paced, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes, struggling to keep her temper. “Did you just leave Plaga in the feasting hall?”
“Do not scold me as though I am a child,” Gemma warned Lucida, looking irritable. “Of course not. I showed him to it, and back to his rooms so that he could make himself further presentable, and manage to get there again on his own, and I sent Secta to Jet, to let him know he must hurry. And I know very well how Immanis lies in sleep. But I also know that our Guardian has visited him many times. That he is with him even now. Immanis will wake, Lucy,” Gemma said quietly, her dark eyes shining. “Our Guardian will wake him. I have seen it.”
Lucida pulled Gemma into her arms and laid her cheek against her lover’s shoulder. “I believe you had a dream–”
“–a vision–” Gemma interrupted.
“–and I believe Jet would carve the sun from the heavens if he could, but I do not believe he can bring light back to my brother’s eyes,” Lucida said sadly.
“Have faith, bellamea,” Gemma whispered, turning to kiss Lucida’s temple. “I am not talking of Jet. Jet is but a man — the Guardian is the blood inside him. It is what makes him more than a Westlander,” she said, rubbing Lucida’s back. “Now hurry; or your grand entrance will not be fashionably late, but will be insultingly so.”
Lucida fell silent, thoughtful. When she got ready, she dressed and put up her hair, painted her face, and played pretend that this would be a fun evening. In fact, she simply felt lonely and angry, and wanted to spend the night curled up in her bed, with Gemma in her arms.
When they walked to the grand hall, Jet was already there, talking with Acer and his men. Lucida and her retinue swept toward them, and each woman found an officer with whom to talk and flirt, though Gemma stood close to Jet, watching him with her dark eyes.
“Majesty,” Jet said, bowing low. Lucida stood before him as he straightened, and she caught a brightness in his eye she hadn’t seen before. She felt the anger she held melt away as she smiled for him, and when he smiled in return, she tried not to look too astonished, smirking faintly, reaching to offer out her arm. “Shall we to dine?” she said to Plaga, when he rose from his bow.
“Shall we not wait for his Majesty, the Prince?” Plaga wondered, narrowing his eyes and looking about the hall.
“My brother–” Lucida began, pursing her lips.
“–has arrived,” Immanis called, from across the hall as he walked in, chin lifted, a knowing smile curving his lips.
“Sancte mi, qui vivificat mortuos,” Gemma intoned, and as she went down to her knees. “Praise to the Guardian who gives life to the dead,” Gemma whispered as she looked up at Jet.
“Dead?” Acer said softly.
Dressed, painted, masked, looking for all the world like a doll celebrating death, Jet held Lucida to him tightly, but reached forward and laid a gentle hand on Gemma’s head. “Accipiet benedictionem meam. Levare cor ad gloriam Ilona,” he said quietly, smiling down at her as she smiled up at him. Receive my blessing. Lift your heart to the glory of Ilona.
Gemma looked to Acer, smiling faintly. “A mutual enemy attempted to poison our beloved Prince. The Guardian protects Ilona, so too, he protects the Prince.”
Lucida dug an elbow in Jet’s ribs and smiled brightly as she whispered, without moving her lips. “And what in aetheric blazes is this?”
Jet answered her in the same fashion, though it was easier with the mask. “You said theatric. Dramatic. I’m just running with it. Thought you’d like it, but I can tone it down if you–”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Lucida said, half-laughing. “I just didn’t expect…this. You’ll have to explain yourself to me, later.” As she fully took in the sight of her brother, however, her eyes went wide, huge; she leaned back against Jet, her heart thundering. “I-Immanis,” she said. “You…”
“I am well, my sister.” Immanis promised, dark eyes flashing. He was magnificent in his royal dress, painted, tattooed, jewels at his throat, a sweeping corona of carnelian and glass crowning the long, glossy black of his hair. “It was the Guardian who revived me.”
“It was foretold,” Lucida said softly, taking a step away from Jet, to be enfolded in her brother’s embrace. She hid her tears well, holding him tightly, whispering secrets against his skin as she embraced him. “Gemma had a vision,” she said, loud enough that their small group could hear it.
“When?” Immanis wondered, releasing Lucida and moving to take Gemma’s hands and squeeze them gently.
“Days ago,” Gemma murmured, her expression beatific, “Majesty — it is a small thing.”
“And have you had any visions since then?” he asked, releasing her, his dark eyes on her, hungrily curious.
Gemma stared up at Immanis for a long moment, looking stunned and exhilarated, and perhaps even a little hesitant. “No, Majesty,” she whispered, shaking her head. Gemma backed away, watching those eyes, and stepped into Acer, who carefully stopped her. She blushed, bowing her head, and Acer bowed to her, low and admiring.
“Be sure if you do that you tell me of them,” Immanis told her. When Acer rose, Immanis was watching him thoughtfully. The Prince looked to Jet, then Lucida, then Gemma, and then gave Acer a subtle nod.
The young Lord nodded in return, looking eager. He gestured for Gemma to accompany him to the table. The other officers and various ladies in waiting, other ambassadors, and palace courtiers went to the feasting hall.
Lucida did not miss the exchange; she grabbed for Jet’s hands and squeezed them tightly, holding back a look of both fury and jealousy, her smile growing tight, looking far more like a baring of teeth than a grin. “There are gifts of Ilona I am not prepared to give,” she hissed under her breath, simply for Jet.
He squeezed her hands in return and one hand reached to caress her cheek. “Just breathe,” he whispered. “Not even things carved in stone last,” he tells her. “Come. The feast is ready,” he whispered.
“I will not lose her,” Lucida answered as she let him lead her away. “Promise me you will not let me lose her, Guardian. I would rather die.”
Jet paused, looking down at Lucida, their eyes meeting, and his heart broke for the look of misery on her face.
“Promise me,” she whispered, begging him without shame.
For better or for worse, Jet nodded. “…I promise you, Lucida.”
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