This is Issue #23 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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“The reports I am receiving from Aecus are heartening,” Acer said, handing a file back to a runner as he strode into the study that had once belonged to the Prince. He paused his pacing and stood at the spot his brother had bled to death, with Jet’s knife at his throat. Beneath his feet, the floor still bore the faintest of stains — stone remembers.
“Mmm,” said Jet, non-committally. He was looking over other papers, without much interest; nothing could hold his focus lately. All he could think of was Kieron; his childhood friend had consumed his waking thoughts. Did he survive? Had he made it back through whatever Kriegic invasion was apparently coming, or would he have been steamrolled by the northern war machine? Would they have thought the small band of survivors simply plants of the Ilonan culture, ready to invade or steal secrets?
“Guardian,” Acer said quietly, “I–“
“You are being a fool, Guardian,” Gemma said, without warning, or gentleness. “Something of your heart or head is not where it must be,” she said, frustrated. “You do not listen to your advisors, you do not take counsel where it would benefit you, you do not–“
“I do not listen to the prattlings-on of my wife’s handmaiden,” Jet snapped, turning to look at her. “You are, without a doubt, the most vexing woman I know, and that is saying something, considering I was half-courted by the princess herself,” he said through his teeth.
Gemma’s eyes were dark and angry as she left the room, saying, “You should not insult me so. I am not some idiot to be so cruelly handled.”
When she was gone, Jet regretted it almost instantly, sighing and putting his face in his hands. “How is it she can be so infuriating?” His shoulders slumped, and he looked over at Acer, who was still watching the door through which Gemma had left.
“Perhaps, if I might be so bold, Guardian — perhaps you are simply too hard on her?” Acer wondered. “You are not nearly as hard on Lu–” He caught a glance at Jet’s expression, and shifted his words, finishing with, “–the Princess?”
“And you have a soft spot for the woman who is growing to be an ever present thorn in my side,” Jet said irritably. “I’ll tell you what, Acer: Manage her, and she’ll be yours to manage.”
Acer flushed, turning to look at Jet, and began to stammer. “Guardian, I am– it’s an honor– I don’t know how to thank– it’s very–“
“Calm down, Plaga. No doubt you’ll hate me as much as she seems to by the end of it,” Jet said darkly. “Now I know within fifteen minutes, my wife will come in to try to smooth things over by guilting me. Seeing as I already feel terrible for being rude to her handmaiden, I’m going to try to circumvent the whole issue.”
Secta stepped in, took Jet’s documents and carefully packaged them back up, putting them in folders for easy reviewing, picked up his pens and immediately shadowed him, waiting, silent, ever present and ready. He nodded politely to Acer, who was already off in his own wonderland of thought — he’d been mooning over Gemma since she introduced herself to him when he nearly invaded Ilona — and then left with Jet, without any further hesitation.
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“I regret most decisions I have made, lately, the instant I have made them,” Jet said quietly. “I fear I am distracted beyond all measure,” he sighed. “I need… I need to do as I had done before the hunt. I need to go out in the streets again.”
“It is not as safe as it was,” Secta began.
“But I make it safe,” Jet said, insisting. “That is my purpose, yes? That is why I exist? To guard the city, to bring light and warmth to the cold, dark, and unforgiving world of alleyways and illicit dealings, to expose graft and corruption and murder, and make our citizens desire peace.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Secta said softly, nodding. “I understand. Shall I make ready your robes and knives?”
“Do,” Jet said. “And the mask. Let us terrify those who still work to bring down the beauty that is our Empire, hmm?”
“Yes, my Lord,” Secta said, and could not tell if the beating of his heart was from excitement, or fear.
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The city itself was unquiet as Jet skulked through the streets; he could hear both revelers and rioters — though the main thrust of the city’s self destructive urges were quelled by the guards flooding the streets and enforcing order on the populace, there were still those who sought to take advantage of the political disruption by reaching for more than what they’d earned.
The first group he came across was busily storming through a shop; the keeper was being held down, was being beaten, and merchandise was simply being bagged up and carried away.
Others in nearby shops were awakened; they watched in fear as the small group of thugs sparked torches and prepared to burn the place down.
Jet watched as the owner was tied hand to foot, dragged into the center of his shop, and beaten until he could not move.
“All right, boys,” laughed the leader. “Let’s show them they still need our protection.”
Certain he’d understood the nuances of his forthcoming actions, Jet strode in, knives in hand. He walked up to the leader, moving to draw his hand back, ready to cut into the man who so clearly was in the wrong, when the leader turned, laughing, and said, “I was hoping you’d show up.” He looked past Jet and snarled, “Get him!”
Expecting to be able to attack from behind, to crush the Guardian’s skull and render him inert, the men were quick and focused, but not ready for anything except winning quickly.
They brought their weapons down quickly, but Jet was ready for them — he shifted just enough to take the blows against one shoulder. While it was dislocated, he simply twisted and swung his arm around; it popped back into place — the knife that hand held sank home in the throat of one of the men, while the other was pulled into a headlock. The now-bloodied knife went into each eye, quick-as-you-blink, and the second thug dropped.
The leader staggered back as Jet advanced. “Did you think such a trick would ever work on me more than once?” Jet’s voice was thick with cruel laughter as he drew ever closer. “You could never provide such distraction,” he taunted.
The leader’s screams climbed high into the night as the torches died out.
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