This is Issue #133 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial.
Click that link to go find DeathWatch, then browse to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and begin from there, if you need to, or look for the last issue # you remember, and get caught up!
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Jules’s first breath back on the other side was ragged, startling. She opened her eyes as she sat up, clutching at her belly, putting a hand between her legs in frantic searching, tearing the blankets away in a panic, looking for what, her companion didn’t know. She turned toward Coryphaeus, looking around in wild terror, and he watched as her face crumpled up, as her pretty features were disfigured by sorrow. She put her hands to her face, and covered her mouth, but it was a pointless gesture — even as she screamed, no sound came. Voiceless, she sobbed, curling up tighter and tighter, trying harder and harder to howl out the awful horror of what she’d just seen, just felt.
The Legatus dropped the cup of tea he’d been drinking, and ran for Jules, pulling her into his arms and rocking her. He looked shaken, to see her so distressed, and he tried to rub her back and pet her hair from her face, shushing her calmly. “You’re safe. It’s all right. You’re safe,” he promised, though he had no idea if she was, or wasn’t — it simply seemed the thing to say.
Jules gagged, writhing, uttering a cry of pain as the finality of her return crashed over her. “The baby,” she sobbed. “I don’t know if the baby lives,” she said, clutching at Coryphaeus. Blood ran from her lips as she twisted to bend double, hunching over. Coryphaeus reached over to pull her hair out of her face as she spat, coughing, the thick, wet sounds from her throat making it seem as though she were trying to cough up the last of the life she’d just felt end.
There was a basin on the floor; he’d already set it there, waiting — he was a quick learner. “What baby?” Coryphaeus said, shivering, reaching over with a cool, wet cloth, wiping her face, her mouth. His hand never trembled; he touched her with gentleness, with a manner Jules found oddly reassuring. He offered her a glass of aetheris, which she drank greedily, coughing against the burn of it, grateful for the way it eased the sick swimming behind her eyes.
“She was so scared,” Jules wept, closing her eyes and then opening them again, unable to unsee the look on Gemma’s face, the heartbreak, the grief there. Jules had no idea what Gemma could know or see — only that to hear Luci raving and screaming must have been terrifying for the woman. “It hurt. It hurt so much,” she cried, laying against Coryphaeus.
“I’m… I’m so sorry,” he said, finishing wiping her off, and letting her lay against him, infinitely gentle. “It looks like it hurts, still,” he said, rubbing her back.
“No, not… slipping. That hurts too,” she notes. “But… birth. She was giving birth. She had the fire of Ilona inside her. And she died,” Jules breathed.
Coryphaeus flinched, carefully pulling back. “Are you… are you certain, J–Commander? The fire of Ilona?” he asked, looking worried, holding to Jules, but keeping her back so he could watch her face. His own face had gone ashen in worry; his deep bronze skin had paled to an almost sickly tone.
“That’s what the other woman… Gemmma, said. Ignus Ilona, ” Jules whispered. “She called me Lucibella,” Jules said, and upon seeing Coryphaeus’s worried expression, she began to look terrified.
“Oh, merciful light,” Coryphaeus said, rubbing his face, shaking his head. “That is the Princess and her Handmaiden. The Princess has only just married the Guardian — she has yet to become with child, but the city, the Prince, no doubt… everyone hopes for her to be soon. But…”
“It’ll kill her,” Jules breathed. “That baby will kill her. I don’t know if that baby will live, but Luci won’t,” she said, looking lost. She turned her pale eyes up to Coryphaeus, and shuddered again, allowing him to fold her into his arms. “It… she was birthing. They were alone. Gemma wasn’t worried, but then something–” Jules paused, putting a hand over her belly, sliding her fingers just past her navel, pressing in. She sucked her breath in against her teeth and felt fresh tears come. “Something… wasn’t right. It… I felt it. It burned,” she whispered. “It burned, and then it t-tore–” Jules said, and the echo of her own howling scream rose up around her, and she flinched, hiccuping, her eyes going wide with panic.
“Commander,” the Legatus murmured, stroking her back, tucking her under his chin, feeling his heart thunder, his whole self tremble with the strange desire to protect Jules, to ease the terror she displayed — she had displayed such strength, such determination, to see her so frightened shook him. He had known fear in his life, but he wasn’t sure he’d known anything to make him display horror and grief as she had. “Stay with me. You’re here. You’re safe. The vision is over,” he promised her.
“It’s no vision,” Jules whispered. “I live these prophesies. I was the Princess. I felt the life inside her burn its way out. I felt it tear her, split her in two,” she sobbed. “I saw Gemma realize she was dying. And then the dark comes. The dark comes, and it swallows you,” she said, trying to calm her breathing.
“I’m so sorry,” he said to her, holding her until she managed to even herself out, finally breathing long and slow. When she no longer seemed to shake, he carefully detangled to tuck her into the bed once more, and bring her another glass of cool aetheris. “Rest, all right? Rest now; we have another hour or two.”
“An hour or two?” Jules said, her eyes opening wide. “Is that all? I feel like I’ve been dragged on my wakeboard over Damnation Ridge,” she groaned.
“We’re invited to dine with the Prince, and you’re expected,” Coryphaeus explained, his dark eyes resting on Jules. He reached out a gentle hand and tucked a wild curl behind her ear. “Hush now. Just rest,” he murmured. “You’re my good luck charm, Commander. Help me help you.”
Jules tried to protest, but she passed out from the exhaustion, and the void that came after the rise and fall of so much pain. She drifted in and out of broken sleep for long moments, while the Legatus sat at her bedside, holding her hand. The last thing she felt was Coryphaeus’s lips brushing her forehead, his breath warm against her skin.
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