This is Issue #161 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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“What is this?” Garrett said, frustrated. “We cannot stay here. We are all injured, and–”
“Silence, Westlander,” Summus Nixus sighed. “I am transporting you north. There are horses north of us. I’m escorting you to the northern borderlands.”
“Why would you do something like that?” Garrett wondered, frowning.
“I would do anything my brother asked of me,” Summus Nixus said, matching Garrett’s frown, glaring at him. “He and I don’t always agree, but he is my blood. Family is of the utmost importance,” she said, looking back to Coryphaeus. Cory kept his eyes on Nixus, awed and grateful for her response, for her presence; after their brief reunion, she helped him up and said, “Come, brother. Let me take you to–”
“Them. You’re taking them. Full north, and then come back. The city… the city will be weak,” he explained, wincing as he let her touch the wound along his side. “It will need someone of your strength. The Guardian, if he lives, will need you,” he said quietly.
“It will live,” Garrett said darkly.
“You’ll live,” Nixus said to Coryphaeus. “Come,” she insisted. “Lets get to the horses,” she instructed him, trying to pull him along.
Squeezing her hand, Coryphaeus said “No, Nixus. Take them, and leave me.”
“Leave you?” Nixus repeated, looking incredulous. “Coryfrater, are you drunk on aetheris?”
“I have to do this, Nixus, please,” the Legatus said, looking pained.
“Whatever it is you’re doing, get on with it,” Garrett groused. “Time’s wasting, and everyone is still bleeding. I have contacts in the borderlands. If you can get us that far, we’ll be out of your hair.” He moved to pick up Sha, but Nixus rolled her eyes and did it, pulling the body up into her arms and then throwing it over her shoulder to carry it like a side of meat. He moved to pick up Kieron, more gentle about it, but ending up holding him in the same fashion.
“It’s her, hm? Your toy?” Nixus’s expression was piercing; she stared at Coryphaeus without flinching, holding Sha without complaint.
Coryphaeus kissed his sister on the cheek, saying, “You are my blood. I told you everything in my letter. Think of me what you will, but I swear I am doing all that I can to be honorable — to not bring shame upon our family.”
“She’ll ruin you,” Nixus said quietly. “She will ruin you, I fear.” She offered out a hand to help him up, even as she was holding Sha. “I can’t allow her to do such a thing, Coryfrater. Not for the sake of shame, but because you are my brother, and I will destroy anyone who tries to hurt you.”
“Let me have this,” Coryphaeus said softly, helped to stand. “As your brother, I am asking you to let me come to this in my own way. I must learn the best way to honor my promises, or I am nothing.”
Garrett watched them talk, feeling his impatience grow; he tamped it down the longer he held Kieron, knowing his own strength and reserves were suffering after the hard-fought battle in the hunting grounds. He looked from Coryphaeus to the woman he called Nixus and back again, and narrowed his eyes as he struggled to make sense of the details he was seeing.
“Ego semper amo te,” Nixus said, reaching one hand to grab the back of Cory’s neck, pulling him forward, touching forehead to forehead. “Coryfrater,” she whispered. “Whatever happens with her, you are my brother. Come back to me, yes? Come home.”
Garrett looked at the perfect symmetry of their features, the dark curls, the full of their lips, and wondered if fraternal twins could look so alike as to be mirrors. It was only the most subtle lines and angles between the two that let him see their differences.
Coryphaeus turned to go, walking with a pained hunch, looking exhausted. He paused, on his leaving, to look over his shoulder and say, “Oh, and Nix?”
“Don’t trust anyone from Tenebrae, soror?”
“Tenebrae?” Nixus said, snorting. “We who dwell in Ilona stay out of the shadows, Coryfrater.”
Coryphaeus laughed ever so faintly and limped away.
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Kieron’s head throbbed; he rolled over with a groan, and the sound came out was broken, wretched. He planted his hands beneath him, and felt the solid, swaying presence of a ship’s deck under his fingertips. He licked his lips and opened his mouth to speak, but someone else beat him to it.
“Where is he? What happened?” Sha sounded groggy, lost.
“Stay down.” Kieron knew that was Garrett.
“Tell me where he is. Tell me what happened–”
There was a brief struggle, but Kieron sat up, clutching his head, his eyes wide as he took in the site of Garrett carefully pinning down Sha, who was bandaged, furious, staring up at him. “Let. Go. I don’t care how good of an assassin you are,” she growled.
“Captain–” Kieron began, looking concerned.
“Don’t, Brody. My head hurts. I ain’t in a listening mood, and this bastard won’t fucking tell me what I want to know,” she hissed.
“Sha–” Kieron tried again, feeling his heart climbing up into his throat. All he could picture was that one bloody hand, reaching up for him, Nathan’s face already lost in the shadow, in the mist. All he could see, over and over and over again, was the ledge, muddied and torn up from the fight, the grass pulled loose, the last patch of earth scored in five lines where five fingers clawed desperately to hold on — and then fell, anyway.
“Where is he?” Sha roared, arching her back, staring up at Garrett, seething. “WHERE IS NATHAN?”
“He fell!” Kieron sobbed. “I couldn’t catch him!”
“You couldn’t catch–” Sha began, looking to Kieron, wild-eyed and furious, confused. It registered, after a moment, what Kieron said, and she reacted as if struck, flinching back and laying down against the boards. She stared up at Garrett for a moment, then turned her head toward Kieron, looking him over.
Kieron, for his part, wrapped his arms around himself and wept — first, Jet, then Hana, then Djara, now Nathan. All of them, dead, all because of his stupid decisions and his inability to set things right. He clenched his jaw shut and choked back the sobs that threatened to overwhelm him, squeezing his eyes shut to keep the tears from coming. Don’t cry. You can’t cry. You’re a fucking soldier now, you stupid little boy. You don’t get to cry.
“Brody,” Sha called. “Brody, stop–” She moved to sit up, but Garrett was still holding her down. More than frustrated, she said, “Look. I can follow orders, if you’re commanding, but that’s my cadet you’re keeping me from, and unless you’ve got a brig to put me in–” And here, she paused, while Garrett leaned in, looking at her. “–LET ME GO!” she shouted, leaning up to crack her forehead against Garrett’s already broken nose.
He reeled back, cursing colorfully, clapping a hand to his face, and Sha rolled away, immediately moving to put her hands on Kieron’s cheeks. “Look at me!” she barked. “Cadet!”
Kieron flinched, hiccuping, but then his eyes went huge as someone else walked in to the room, ducking slightly, to get through the door.
“Alec,” boomed the large, blonde, bearded man, his expression wry. “This is not an effective manner of assisting your soldiers.”
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