This is Issue #12 of DeathWatch, Book II: tentatively called Heart Of Ilona, an ongoing Serial. Click that link to go find DeathWatch, the first in the series, or start from the beginning of Book II!
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Aching, scarred, exhausted, Coryphaeus walked side by side with Nixus; the hot sun beat down on them as they strode through the marketplace, discussing the war that was coming to Ilona, ready or not. “I don’t know if we can trust Tenebrae. Plaga the younger, perhaps, but his father?” The Legatus paused to stretch, to put one hand against his ribs and hiss, fighting the urge to scratch the itch that plagued his stitched skin.
“Is it worse than what you’ve already had done?” Nixus wondered, looking Coryphaeus over.
He glanced down, frowning at himself, and then looked to her, saying, “About the same? But for part of that, I could say I felt triumphant. Reborn. This just hurts.”
“Tenebrae can’t be trusted, but it can be bought. They have power, and we have money. Conscription will take time, but there are already fleets than can hit the sky with skeleton crew. Do we think there will be any ground forces? Honestly? The Kriegs live for sky battle, and the rest of the worm skin won’t come crawling through the southern pass on foot. The rod sickness would get them long before we’d ever have to,” Nixus said, pausing at a stall to pay for a few skewers of roasted meat. “All wounds just hurt. Think of this as being reborn. He didn’t kill you. I expected him to.”
“And you let me go?” Coryphaeus said, taking an offered stick from his sister’s hand. He watched her eat without thought or care, waving the meat around as she talked, gesturing.
“What did you expect me to do? Tie you down? You looked half dead and still full of fire. You would’ve fought me, and it would’ve been a waste,” Nixus shrugged, smiling. “We don’t always agree, but we don’t always have to. I respected your choice to come back and submit yourself for judgment. The Guardian spared you; you’re being promoted. Why are you looking at me like that?”
There were tears in Coryphaeus’s eyes; he wiped them away shaking his head. “The girl–“
“The Westlander?” Nixus said, rolling her eyes and looking exasperated. “Phae, you cannot be serious–“
“She has the sight. Mortem Vigilas,” he murmured, looking to her. “She saw you kill me.”
Nixus looked stunned, pausing in the street to stare at Coryphaeus. “What? But why?”
“Because you were in league with Tenebrae. With Plaga’s traitors,” he murmured.
“See,” Nixus spat, “This is why I put no stock in prophecy. It’s a false trade. I had friends in that group. Lovers. But I wouldn’t betray you for any of them. Or a hundred of them. Or all of them. Nothing could make me.”
Coryphaeus’s dark eyes shone, glittering with unshed tears. “I’m so sorry I doubted you.”
“Augh,” Nixus sighed with disgust, giving his shoulder a slap. “God, you’re such a woman. Cease this ridiculous display of tears, or I will be forced to give you something to cry about,” she said, mock-irritated.
Coryphaeus teasingly slapped her in return, which caused her to ball up her fist and punch him, playfully. He pulled her hair, but when her knee came up and he twisted poorly to shield himself, she paused as he cried out, and then pulled him close to hold him up.
“Looks like we can’t roughhouse while you’re still a weakling,” she snorted, clapping him on the back.
He winced, putting a hand over his ribs, and laughed, shaking his head. “If I weren’t half dead I could best you, entirely.”
Nixus roared with laughter, releasing him, and stepped back, reaching out a hand to touch her brother’s cheek, to make him meet her eyes. “My Legio says she hasn’t left the city, you know.”
“You had her followed?” He said, looking stunned, and suspicious.
“You fucking well know I had her followed. Can’t have some stupid weakling Westlander woman gallivanting about making you act a fool,” Nixus said calmly, though her words seemed harsh enough.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” Coryphaeus said, looking at his hands. “I–“
“Never ask me to justify my heart to you, Coryfrater. I will not ask the same,” Nixus said, shrugging. “We do not control the rush of our blood any more than we control the wind. We can harness it. We can examine it. And we can destroy ourselves to stop our hearts from beating, but like as not, they will love who they will love, and in that war, there is nothing to be done but surrender.”
Coryphaeus looked up at Nixus, and his dark eyes were wide, watchful. “Do you–“
“That is as close to a blessing as you’re going to get for any woman you may love who isn’t me,” Nixus said dryly. “I won’t braid her hair or paint her skin for your wedding night,” she said, rolling her eyes, “so keep those thoughts to yourself.”
Coryphaeus blushed, his skin darkening to the roots of his hair, and he growled, “Tace, soror. You know that would never happen anyway.” A look of anguish only barely touched his eyes, but Nixus noticed.
“Are you certain?” she wondered, half joking. “No doubt she is grateful you saved her friends. Marriages are built on less,” she shrugged. “She’s only a Westlander, Coryfrater, she–“
“She is a warrior, Nixus. By the Guardian, she reminds me of you and your strength. She reminds me of Mirus, before…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “She is a Westlander, Nixus, yes, but she is more than only that.”
“The way you were more than what father believed of you?” Nixus wondered.
Coryphaeus reacted as if struck, pulling back from Nixus.
She looked shocked at his reaction, and reached for him, gripping his shoulder. “Phae,” she said.
He turned his face away, gritting his teeth.
“Look at me!” Nixus hissed.
Turning his face, Coryphaeus pressed his lips in a thin line, and met his sister’s eyes.
“Frater,” she whispered. “Brother. You are my brother. You are my blood. You are half of me. You who shared the womb with me. I know you. You are not some mutilated monster.” Nixus’s voice got low, determined, commanding. She lifted her chin and stared him down, dark eyes flashing. “You are more man than Mirus, than father, and that pale-skinned bitch, warrior or not, should worship the ground upon which you walk.”
Coryphaeus blushed, pained, and said, smiling, “I love you, too, soror.”
Nixus smirked, winking, and said, “Summus.”
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