This is Issue #37 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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“No,” Gemma begged. “No, please. It must be done. I must–”
“You’ve done enough,” Secta growled down at her.
“I had to.”
Her plaintive voice had once tugged on Secta’s heartstrings, had once made him feel nearly sad for her. But then he recalled the blinding pain, the sinking horror, the feel of his life slipping away. His eyes glassed briefly, and he leaned down to curl a steady hand around her throat. “Dissentio.” I disagree.
She fought, then, like a wildcat, and it was to her bringing up a fist against Secta’s mouth that Jet walked in. He saw Secta’s hand tighten as his head snapped to the right, blood welling from his lip.
“ENOUGH!” Furious with Gemma, with the situation, disturbed by Secta’s behavior, Jet stormed over to them. Guards moved out of the way quickly enough.
Secta, however, did not.
Jet laid a hand on Secta’s shoulder; he could feel the heat radiating from the young man’s body. “Enough,” he said softly, tightening his hand there.
Secta glanced over his shoulder, lifting his chin briefly, defiance in his eyes for one excruciating moment. He came back to himself, however, and looked ashamed, pulling back from Gemma immediately, kneeling in front of Jet and looking up at him, his shoulders slumped. “Master, I–”
“Enough,” Jet said softly, reaching one hand to lay his palm atop Secta’s head, in easy forgiveness and benediction. “Prepare my chambers, and see to Her Majesty. She is bereft of comfort, and that is a disgrace.”
“I will–” Gemma began, moving to get up.
“Seruate,” Jet hissed. “You will do nothing. Secta, go.”
Once his famulo was gone, Jet looked down at Gemma and offered her a hand up.
She took it, trembling, and stood before him, bedraggled and teary, biting her lower lip.
“You look frightened,” Jet said, lifting his chin.
“I am frightened,” Gemma said.
“This is a time for celebration, Gemma,” the Guardian said, his smile shifting, growing — not with compassion or warmth, but with a hungry sort of satisfaction.
“Celebration?” she whispered, looking down at how his hand circled her wrist, tightly, refusing to let go.
“On your betrothal,” he purred.
“I will not,” she said, pulling at his hand, panic setting in.
Jet’s touch was immovable; he held her like iron, like stone, resisting her fear. “You will.”
Gemma’s horror was palpable — she spoke as though her words could deny the reality of the situation. “Lucy will not allow it!”
“Lucida has disavowed you, Gemma. You have nothing and no one save your family, and it would be of the utmost shame for you to return to them in disgrace,” Jet whispered.
“My father would have me killed,” Gemma said, hiccuping back her terror. “If your plan was to kill me, why did you not let your famulo do the job?” she sobbed in fear, struggling to pull back, fighting.
“Do you want to die?”
“I want to stay with Lucida!” Gemma said, thrashing, red in the face.
“That is not an option,” Jet said gripping the back of Gemma’s neck. He rested his thumb over the hollow of her throat and said, “I will crush your throat if you disobey me, or breathe in a fashion I find disagreeable. If you remain within my sight, it will be remarkably difficult for you to avoid either of these.”
“And so you are selling me,” Gemma whispered, wincing as she swallowed, feeling her throat move against his thumb.
“No,” Jet said softly. “I have found you a husband, and you are gladly going with him. You are overjoyed. The tears on your face are merely a testament to your excitement. You are not at all saddened, and if you give the impression that this is anything less than utter perfection for you, Gemma, perhaps I will rethink it, and give this blessing to someone else, and then, of course, I will need to find a different way to deal with your betrayal.” By the time he was done talking, he leaned down, all but baring his teeth at her. He had released her throat, but it was all she could feel, his grasp at her neck, strong fingers tight against her skin. “Am I clear?”
The door to the room was opened then, creaking faintly.
“Yes,” she breathed, shivering, staring up at him.
It was then that Acer Plaga walked in, looking suffused with anticipatory joy. “My Lord,” he said, clasping his hands and looking first to Jet and then to Gemma. “Is it true?”
“Gratulatae in tuo par maximo,” Jet said smoothly, using his grasp of Gemma to spin her right into Acer’s arms. Felicitations on your grand match. She stumbled, and Acer caught her, beaming.
“My Guardian, I–”
“Now, Gemma,” Jet said, stepping forward, reaching to cup her face in his hands, even as Acer held her.
She looked up at him and fell silent, her dark eyes wide, terror in her gaze.
“I know you would die for Lucida,” Jet said solemnly, malevolence couched in a calm voice, and those smoldering eyes, every word measured, chosen. “But I also know how much you have enjoyed Plaga’s attentions. I hope you will instead accept this most generous pairing.” He waited, one brow lifting.
“The Guardian is most wise and generous. I only pray my father accepts such a gift,” Gemma, her voice trembling.
Acer adjusted his hold, cradling the woman against him, his eyes turning hopeful, even pleading toward Jet. “Please, Guardian, if you might intervene on my behalf, I–”
“I have already obtained his blessing for the union,” Jet said, smiling benevolently at them both. “Gemma’s family awaits an introduction; I have explained that you will be their guest for a very brief time, as I have important tasks to which you must attend, back in Tenebrae. They will go there, not long after you, with gifts for your family, that you might all have a grand wedding in whatever style pleases you. I will expect an invitation.”
Acer’s eyes were shining as he offered out his hand to Jet, who clasped it. “Yours will be the first sent. You are a generous man, to give me such a gift.”
Jet chuckled, all but baring his teeth at Gemma. “Ah, do not believe it is done entirely out of selflessness. It pleases me immensely to do this.”
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