This is Issue #136 of DeathWatch, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find ‘DeathWatch’ then go to ‘#0 – A Beginning’ and read from there, or go find the issue # you remember, and catch up from there!
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Immanis rolled his eyes, laughing, and turned to look at Jules, saying, “Cover yourself, servus. I don’t imagine our dear Legatus is interested in that kind of slave.”
Coryphaeus’s skin darkened at that statement; he said nothing, but glanced at Jules as she quickly squatted to grab her robes and cover herself, murmuring, “Yes, your Majesty, of course.”
Jules stood back up, replacing her smile as she re-smoothed her clothes — but the smile faltered as her world greyed out. She held quite still for a moment, keeping her expression as neutral as she could; when she could see again, she moved to be closer to Coryphaeus. She nearly bumped against him, saying something quiet to him as her eyes unfocused again, staring out at nothing and no one.
Sharp-eyed Gemma seized Secta’s wrist, hissing, “Did you see that?”
“No,” Secta said, looking around curiously, watching the gathering of the crowd, everyone talking, laughing, even the prisoners eating, talking with the group, even if wary. “What am I looking for?” he asked her.
“The girl’s a seer,” Gemma whispered, shifting to have Secta turn and look at Jules, who still looked slightly unsteady.
While they watched, Coryphaeus touched her gently, fingertips brushing her lower back.
Jules’s face mostly wore an expression of tight control, and when it wavered, it looked faintly nauseated.
“I’m certain of it. That look on her face,” Gemma said, talking lowly so only Secta could hear her.
“She looked dizzy from standing quickly,” Secta dismissed. “Or possibly nauseated from the spectacle her life’s become.”
“No. No, I know it,” Gemma murmured. “I know it.”
Secta was quiet for a time, watching both Coryphaeus and Jules. “The Prince is half-pleased with Coryphaeus because the Legatus pointed out that the boy was a seer,” Secta said. “I never did figure out why he hadn’t conscripted you. You’ve been living in the palace for how long? He knows your gift.”
“Lucida forbade it quite some time ago,” Gemma said. “She told him if he used me in that way, if he profited from my pain, she would never forgive him. This was back before we knew how to use the aetheris to ease the pain of it,” she said, and her face grew grave, serious. “When I was younger, when the visions came, they were a terror. The pain and fear were…” She stopped talking, clearing her throat, and looked around, as though coming back to herself, realizing where she was. “Nevermind,” she said tightly. “Look at her face. Look at her eyes, Secta. Can’t you see it?”
Secta focused, watching the interaction between Coryphaeus and Jules; his expression grew shrewd, and he said, “What I’m seeing is the Legatus, and how he protects her. The Prince has instructed Coryphaeus to care for the gift as though she is a precious thing. Any other master might revere the servus as an object. Legatus Aecus is deliberately behaving as though the servus is not a precious thing, but a precious someone.”
“A scandal, certainly,” Gemma agreed. “But I’m speaking of proditio, Secta. Impietas.”
Secta’s eyes widened, and he glanced at Gemma sidelong. “You believe the brother of two of Ilona’s most celebrated generals, a ranking officer in his own right, who facilitated the wedding gift from the Guardian to the Prince of three hundred enemy soldiers… is plotting treason?”
“I heard there was doubt of his lineage; there are whispers Mirus never had a brother,” Gemma said, shrugging.
“But Summus Nixus claims him proudly,” Secta returned. “The missives from the battlefield proclaim him proudly, almost to the point of taking credit for the entirety of the victories.”
“So you think he’s merely guilty of thinking with his cock,” Gemma snorted. Her dark eyes moved over both Coryphaeus and Jules, and she frowned, pursing her lips. She did not watch them long; eventually, her gaze drifted to where Lucida leaned against Jet, talking boldly with the Captain and Quartermaster of a ship the Ilonans had named the Eburneis Dea, the Ivory Goddess.
“It’s what drives everything, from the politics of nations to the tiniest valued life,” Secta said simply, following her gaze, watching the way she looked upon Lucida, the way Gemma’s eyes softened, the way her lips parted, the way something about her shone, simply to gaze upon the woman she loved. “Desire. It’s what makes us get up, and it’s what makes us fall down,” he sighed, shrugging, and while he imagined she was no longer looking at him, he dared spare a glance toward Jet, and felt the strange pang of his own heart leap.
“Oh, sweet Secta,” Gemma whispered, putting an arm around him, leaning her cheek to his. “He was chosen even before you knew him.”
“And yet,” Secta said, smiling faintly, sadly. “And yet.”
“It is good that you love him well,” Gemma said. “It will make it easier for him.”
“Are you certain, Gemma, on what you’ve seen?” Secta wondered. “And if so… why do you not tell His Majesty?”
“Do you not remember the morning the Guardian threatened your life? Might’ve killed you, if Lucida hadn’t run for her brother?” Gemma said.
“I remember,” Secta said quietly, his cheeks darkening in shame. He knew he failed his master in those moments; he would have given anything to go back and make it right. “I would have let him,” he said miserably. “I would have let him.”
“Thank goodness you didn’t,” Gemma said. “He needs you. He’ll need you even moreso, when–”
Just then, Immanis’s lordly presence could be felt, right behind them. He stood tall and beautiful, dark eyes flashing; his bronze skin gleamed in the light of the palaces torches and chandeliers. His expression was somewhere between predatory and amused, like some great cat ready to toy with its prey. He looked at both Secta and Gemma, his full lips curving, hinting at a smile, somewhat conspiratorial. “And just what are you two gossiping about?”
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