This is Issue #113 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘A Beginning’ and read from there, if you need to catch up.
* * *
She was awake. Suddenly. The bed creaked with the additional weight of someone kneeling over her. She stiffened, opening her eyes wide in the dark. A hand went over her mouth and nose, and something hot and stinging touched her throat. The burning came on hard and fast, and when the hand pulled away from her mouth, she struggled to breathe, to scream.
A lantern came on beside her, and Nixus’s hands and face came into view. She was covered in blood, and her eyes were wide and pained.
“You chose her instead of me, Coryfrater,” she hissed. “This is what you get. I’ve found a new family now. Vivat Tenebrae.”
Jules sat up, gagging, an awful whistling noise pounding in her ears. She couldn’t catch her breath, and all she could do was try to cough, but the front of her was drenched, soaked, she looked down at her hands as she felt a chill settle against her bones, sudden and freezing, and then all the world went dark.
* * *
“Commander. Commander!” Legatus Aecus’s voice was concerned.
Jules opened her eyes, frowning. “What?” She realized she was being hovered over by Coryphaeus, and she squirmed out from beneath him, distressed. Dizziness overwhelmed her, but she stood up, stepped back and sat on the edge of a footlocker, panting.
“Are you well?” he asked, concern on his features. “You fainted.”
For a moment, Jules was caught in how his eyes watched her, in how they seemed truly worried for her. “I slipped,” Jules corrected, looking around.
“There was nothing on th–“
“–the visions. The prophecy. Kieron calls it slipping. Where’s the Captain?” Jules wondered, still looking around, running her hands over her body, looking for gunshot wounds.
“Navarchus,” Coryphaeus said. “He missed. Couldn’t focus because of his head injury. He’s been removed. I’ve taken temporary command of the ship while his primus has put him in the infirmary. You had another vision?”
“Nixus, again, Legatus,” Jules said, putting a hand to her neck, closing her eyes. She tried to rid herself of the feeling of her own steaming blood pouring over her hands, her chest, the bedsheets, but succeeded only in making herself nauseated. “She kills you because you believe me,” Jules explained.
“She’s out on the field. I’m more interested in why the navarchus tried to shoot you,” Coryphaeus sighed.
“I’ve been on this ship once already. I fell out of my ship, onto this ship, got captured, broke free, strangled the capt–navarchus–and jumped off this ship. Hit the ground, killed a small troop of Ilonans, ran for the hills, got captured by your troop, here we are,” Jules said tiredly.
“I fear the only reason I may need you to keep me alive is because I will be forever in danger if I attempt to keep you alive,” Coryphaeus muttered, rubbing his eyes.
“Faith’n’fuckall,” Jules sighed, exhausted. “Don’t seem like y’wrong, that’s f’sure.”
* * *
“But Summus — the Guardian’s orders were explicit. They must be brought to the capital to face judgment at once.”
Nixus leveled a sword at the runner, baring her teeth. “They want them at once? Fine. Commandeer the Tropaeum.”
“But Summus — the Tropaeum has already been commandeered. Legatus Aecus–“
“Damn him,” Nixus snarled under her breath. “Get another ship. We’ll bring back the prisoners, the legios, and–“
“But Summus— It was declared the soldiers would march back through each village, to assist the remaining villagers in reparations and to ready all defenses for other possible attacks before returning.”
“…You will gather the legionibus,” Nixus began, and when the runner opened his mouth again, she turned and looked at him with such fury, he closed his lips. She leaned in and shouted in his face, “If you ‘But Summus‘ me again, dromus, I will gut you from mouth to muttus, do you understand me?”
“Now get out of my face. I’ll summon my own legio, and we shall march back toward Ilona, and when we return, the gates will open before us, returning heroes and re-builders of the nation,” Nixus hissed.
* * *
“You’ve commandeered the ship,” Jules said, looking thoughtful.
“True,” Coryphaeus murmured.
“Have you given thought to my offer?” she wondered.
Jules looked to the Legatus, hopeful, almost wringing her hands.
Aecus began. “Commander, please understand, I–“
She interrupted him, when she saw he wasn’t complying. “I dinnae want to have to do this, Legatus, but you’re not leavin me with much of a choice now, are ye?” Jules said, lifting her chin and crossing her arms over her chest. “Agree to my offer, or I’ll have to tell your secret to whatever Ilonan will listen. And while they’re busy figuring out what to do with you, I and my crew will make a break for it. Once they know, no one will follow your orders, and you know it.”
Coryphaeus looked confused, for a moment, and his expression was half-pained, half bewildered.
“I was in your body, Legatus. I know you,” she said darkly. “All of you. And you’re Ilonan, that’s true, but it’s also true that we are more alike than I had ever imagined.”
Legatus Coryphaeus Aecus drew himself up sharply, and squared his jaw. Tears stung his eyes. He stared at Jules for long enough that she quailed and looked uncomfortable. “I had thought we had found common ground,” Aecus says softly. “I had believed us quite alike,” he said, swallowing roughly. “But now… I think you are more like my sister.” He turned away and went to the door.
Jules reeled as if slapped, and then her cheeks flushed red. “Legatus!” she called. “Wait — please, I–” Thoroughly embarassed, she gave chase.
He got his hand on the door when Jules was at his side, one hand at his shoulder. He shrugged it away, whirling around, passionate fury on his face. “How dare you,” he hissed, “use such a thing against me. You pretended to be civilized. Honorable.”
“Coryphaeus,” Jules pled. “You don’t understand–“
“What don’t I understand, Commander? What is it you think is so foreign to me that I cannot both comprehend it and yet deny you, according to my duty?” he wondered of her, his jaw clenched.
“I’m sorry–” Jules choked. “I just–” She panicked as he stared her down, unmoved.
Legatus Aecus shook his head, beyond hurt, and pulled open the door. He grabbed Jules, and hauled her through the portal, handing her over to another soldier. “Caliga — see this one is put in the hold with the others. Gag her and bind her,” he said, stalking away. “We lift off when the rest are in chains.”
Jules could see the white of his teeth bared in fury, and the pink rim of his eyelid, black lashes blacker, wet with disappointment as he refused to look at her until his last words, where her gut was twisted with chill.
“…And find me Summus Nixus.”
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