This is Issue #115 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 stillness in Jet’s chambers made the hairs on the back of Secta’s neck stand up. He shivered as he shut the door behind himself, creeping in silently, tucking the lockpicks away in his servant robes. He picked his way through the room, smelling the stale soot from the brazier, the tang of aetheris and something… something else.
He did not see Jet; the bathroom door was shut, however; he cursed silently — the bathroom was small enough it would be hard to open the door undetected, no matter how perfectly silent he was.
He sighed heavily, and decided it was worth it — the wedding was less than a day away; either Jet would need help getting ready, perhaps if he were leaving, he would take Secta with him. The young man had no idea what else he’d do if he were sent away, at any rate; he didn’t imagine he’d last long at the Palace.
He opened the door, saying, “A thousand pardons, Guardian, but I–” and his voice was lost.
Secta felt his own heart slow, and skip a beat.
Jet lay in the tub, under jewel-red water that spilled in an unending tide over the edge of the copper and into the drains on the tiled floor around it. He was tucked in such a way that he was kept beneath the surface, and the water kept running.
“No,” Secta breathed, running for the tub.
The water was still scalding, steaming. He burned himself but paid no heed, hauling the Guardian’s prone body up. He dragged him up and over the edge and pulled him onto the tiled floor, screaming in his effort, twisting him to the side. He sobbed as he looked at the wounds on the Guardian’s wrists, at the flood of crimson that poured from him. “My Guardian,” he wept. “Why would you do this? Why would y–“
He stared as the wounds seared themselves shut, as the Black Stone of Ilona seemed to burn from the inside out.
The Guardian of Ilona shuddered, and he gasped as his eyes opened, his back arching as he writhed on the tile floor.
Secta pulled back, terrified, but the Guardian reached for him, panting, his eyes wide, his body glistening from the bath, laughter on his lips.
The Guardian sat up, looking joyous.
Secta helped him up, looking baffled and still nearly frightened.
“I am reborn,” Ilona’s Guardian laughed, cupping Secta’s face in his hands as they stood together. “My famulo. My perfect Secta,” he whispered, leaning to kiss the young man’s mouth warmly. “How I owe you so much. Come, help me up. Tell me how many days left until the wedding?”
“Less than one,” Secta breathed, left shocked from the kiss, and the complete horror of the situation. “My Guardian. My master,” he said, his knees buckling as he sagged against Jet, pulling back to stuff his hands against his mouth, to stop himself from crying.
“Shhh, shh, Secta, all is well. You’ve done perfectly. I needed to shed my old self. My old life. My old heart. Immanis needed something of me I did not know how to give, as the old Jet. I have given up that heart, bled it dry. All that is left is the new Jet. Ilona’s Black Stone. Your Guardian,” he said quietly, rubbing Secta’s back, petting his head. “It’s all right. I’m well. You are safe,” he promised.
“My heart could not bear it if you ever were to do that again,” Secta finally managed, trying to control his breathing.
“Your heart shall not have to bear it again,” Jet promised softly.
“I came… I came in to tell you that you would have to ready yourself. Tomorrow begins the festivities, if I tell Immanis you are ready. And you and Lucida will meet when the Luminora is afire, and the two of you will join yourselves as one. There will be entertainers, the streets will be full of performers, all the houses and the public will vie to bring you gifts, Immanis will present you with gifts–“
“…am I to present Immanis with one?” the Guardian wondered, biting his lower lip briefly.
“I’ve found one you can give him,” Secta said, looking proud. “The Eburneis Dea was brought down. You can give him its people. You ordered it found and brought back, if you remember, while our Prince was felled,” Secta said.
“You are magnificent,” Jet whispered, leaning to kiss Secta again, nuzzling his forehead. “You have thought of everything, have you not? You were worried I had actually ended myself, but you had prepared for me to go through with this?”
“I prayed you would wed Lucida. I prayed you would remain here, so I could remain with you,” Secta said, squeezing Jet’s hand.
“…to whom did you pray?” Jet wondered.
“To my Guardian. To you,” Secta said softly.
“It seems we can add ‘answering prayers’ to my list of miraculous feats,” Jet said, embracing Secta once more.
* * *
The wedding itself would be spoken of for eons.
There had never been such excess, such beauty, such radiance and joy. There had never been two more shining examples of Ilonan perfection — the Princess turned all heads, draped in brilliant jewels and the finest of silks, and the Guardian turned them again, enveloped in the blackest of robes, his face painted, his enameled mask gleaming in the lamplights. The streets were lined in lights, in color, in performers and flowers and dancers.
The ceremony itself, full of song and glorious proclamation, was sent out to public commscreens, shortwaved to all ships, and recorded for future posterity. Prints of it would be sold and put up in hundreds and hundreds of thousands of homes throughout the Luminoran lands.
When the new couple sat enthroned outside the palace gates so every Ilonan who wished it could show their devotion, they handed out coins and cakes and tiny tokens of blessing, touching the citizens that came to pay homage, blessing them with their very hands.
The Prince, Gemma, Acer, and Secta were in close attendance, watching with proud eyes.
Secta also waited in the background, having told absolutely no one of how he found Jet the morning before; he handed Jet everything he needed, moments before it was required, and the day went both smoothly and beautifully.
Wedding gifts included horses, guards, servants, perfumes, silks, aetheris, promises of soldiers, airships, war machines, coin, alliances, trade routes, and ran from only barely modest to entirely ridiculously excessive.
House Tenebrae made it known they would ally themselves with House Venator; the Ilonan line would be secure, without a doubt. Acer Plaga was a guest of honor and pledged his life to the service of Ilona. His father, far enough away, did not send word of dissent, which in itself was miraculous.
The Prince himself bestowed upon them four other estates and retinues.
And once Jet and Lucida had accepted all these things, and the celebrations had gone on long into the night, and revelers were unabashedly delighted, drunk on wine, high on aetheris, the Prince proclaimed it the hour for the lucky couple to finally adjourn. “Your melluna, my brother, my sister, my most precious family. You will be locked away in your own wing to enjoy only one another’s company,” he told them kissing them both upon each cheek.
“One final gift,” Jet said, looking to Immanis.
“I have given you all I can,” Immanis laughed. “Now that you have my sister, what will you ask of me?”
“Not for him,” Lucida laughed. “For you, Immanis.” Her bright eyes were delighted; Jet had allowed Secta to tell her what was planned. She nearly danced with joy for it, looking to the hall’s grand entrance.
“What is it?” Immanis wondered, his eyes widening, as he turned to look.
The doors were pulled open, and as dirty, bloody, ragged, exhausted prisoners began to be led in, each chained to the next, Jet leaned in, his lips nearly against Immanis’s ear, his whisper a warm caress against his Prince’s cheek. “I have brought you the surviving attackers of the Viridian Valley,” he murmured, listening to Immanis’s heartbeat turn to thunder. Jet’s lips curled in triumph as he purred, “My Immanis… You shall have a hunt.”
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